As an eclectic mix of bundled up attorneys and crack dealers
scurried by his brand-new downtown restaurant this week, chef Paul Luna
back in the kitchen with the gas on full blast.
Entertaining wine-bearing foodie neighbors from the adjacent
Castleberry Hill neighborhood, Luna shoves a plate of poached pear under the
nose of one, drizzles a red wine reduction over the dessert and asks: “Do you
like goat cheese?”
When she replies affirmatively, he smears a taste on the
plate and says confidently: “Try that. If you tell me that doesn’t pair
perfectly with everything I’ve just cooked for you, I’ll chop off my left [male
reproductive organ]. It’s OK. My wife knows we’re not having kids.”
Yes, Atlanta’s original bad boy celebrity chef has blown
back into town.
The man who graced the city with Peachtree Road’s late,
lamented Luna Si, banned saltshakers from the table and routinely pranced
unclothed through the joint is once again stirring pots in the city where he
first gained fame.
After helping to fuel a national addiction to Spanish tapas
via Eclipse di Luna and Loca Luna late in the last millennium, Luna took a
He ended up working and consulting everywhere from Miami to
London and Mexico, finally lighting in San Rafael, Calif. where, last fall, he
phoned us and reported his intention to return to Atlanta.
On a bicycle.
“I have to admit that I missed Atlanta,” Luna says, crashing
at a table inside his latest experiment, Lunacy Black Market
, a high-ceilinged,
hardwood-floored storefront at 231 Mitchell Street designed to function as
Luna’s living room and laboratory.
“I have a love/hate thing with Atlanta. It’s like a mistress
As always, Luna’s loony, irony-spiked sense of humor
percolates throughout the place. The eatery’s dining music ping-pongs between Latin percussionist Tito Puente
singer Frank Sinatra
and disco diva Yvonne Elliman
like a pork sandwich with tangy mint will set you back an entire $1.75.
The sign in the front window reads: “Lunacy Black Market
“I’m the first person to make fun of myself,” Luna says
cackling. “ ‘Uninspired Cuisine’ doesn’t mean that I’m not inspired. It’s just
that all of the ingredients are already here in front of us. When I cook now, I
get inspired in the moment. I want people to come in and cook with me and
whatever it is we make will be on the menu tonight.”
And Black Market?
“Our prices are illegal,” Luna explains with a grin. “And I
wanted the neighborhood drug dealers to feel included.”
Indeed, on the dinner menu this week, roasted whole mullet
for two with lemon, lime and extra-virgin olive oil was going for $9. Mediterranean-style cumin curry cardamom roasted chicken legs were $2.95 a
piece and that poached pear dessert was a measly $1.75.
“This isn’t about turning tables for me,” Luna says. “This
is about cooking for pleasure and sharing that with the people who come in. I
feel bad for the first [dining] critic who tries to review this. They’re going
to have a tough time.”
He puts a slug of milk into his coffee, smoothes his silver
ponytail on the back of his chef coat and adds: “I’m not here to get reviewed.
I don’t want to be one of those [expletive] celebrity chefs.”
Prospective Black Market diners shouldn’t expect a
necessarily grown up Luna either.
“I’m still gonna throw you out if you’re an [expletive]. If
you give us attitude, you can go [expletive] yourself.”
Oh, and did Intel happen to mention that Luna is now the
author of a children’s’ book?
Last year, he published the incredibly sweet “Luna Needs a
Miracle,” based on his years as a kid from the Dominican Republic in the early
1970s trying to learn English.
“I wanted kids today to know that it’s OK to be different,
that they’re still going to be OK.”
While Luna has noshed around town since his return, aside
from the ethnic eats on Buford Highway, he’s not much impressed.
“Atlanta doesn’t create trends, it follows them,” he sighs.
“This city tries too hard to fit in. Everybody is doing tacos, pizza and
cooking pig’s ears here right now because it’s happening elsewhere. Why the
[expletive] should I do foam? Now, the only competition I feel is in my own
[expletive] head. Why can’t the chefs here be comfortable enough in their own
skin to cook what they enjoy?”
And just when you think Luna can’t say anything to shock
you, he ends the interview with this: “I want to get politically active.”
Mayor Luna’s campaign platform: legalizing prostitution and
the drug trade, for starters.
“Why not?” Luna says with a shrug and a smile. “Atlanta
always says it wants to be a cosmopolitan, international city. Atlanta has too
much potential to keep playing it safe.”
Lunacy Black Market
231 Mitchell Street, SW
Hours: Mon-Sat. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.