L.A. Legend Raphael Lunetta Indulges Grilling Obsession at New Diner
The chef is grilling every single day at his new elevated diner concept, Lunetta All Day—and the smoky prime rib is already selling out.
Chef Raphael Lunetta has always had a deep passion for grilling foods you might not think to grill.
“I’ve always loved to grill,” he says. “We were doing grilled lobster and grilled côte de bœuf on the sidewalk for the Fourth of July in 1996.”
This was at JiRaffe, the elegant fine-dining restaurant in Santa Monica that resulted in Lunetta and Josiah Citrin being named Food & Wine Best New Chefs in 1997. Two decades later, L.A.’s dining scene has taken a turn toward the casual, so the new, more relaxed restaurant Lunetta opened in late March is billed as a “modern neighborhood diner”—and the chef is grilling every single day.
The new restaurant, called Lunetta All Day, uses its grill—powered by charcoal, mesquite and almond wood—to finish whole prime rib. The meat is marinated overnight in herbs, started in an oven, slow-cooked in another oven for about six hours and then carefully placed on the grill.
The goal is to serve the meat medium-rare, “but the grill has to be hot enough to just sear it, put marks on it, get an essence of the smoke,” Lunetta says. “Then we take it right off.”
The prime rib, which has been selling out during dinner service, is served as an entrée alongside a baked Yukon potato that gets an extra layer of flavor and smokiness when it’s wrapped in aluminum foil and placed on the bottom of the grill, directly atop the wood, before finishing in an oven. (Lunetta admits he got the idea for cooking potatoes this way from his “closest friend” Citrin, who has been cooking with open fire at his Charcoal restaurant in Venice.)
Lunetta is using his grill to prepare breakfast, too.
“We’re doing this memela in the morning,” he says. “It’s a traditional Mexican dish, it looks like a sandal. It’s fresh masa with a tomatillo salsa. I’ve been eating it for dinner with grilled chicken or grilled steak.”
Since the spot is a modern diner, you can order anything on the breakfast menu for lunch or dinner.
“The most interesting component is making the tomatillo salsa on the grill,” says Lunetta, who leaves skin-on onions directly on the coals overnight and roasts garlic and tomatillos on the grill, as well.
For his wood-fired eggs, Lunetta roasts a medley of tomatoes from the Santa Monica farmers’ market. That dish is finished on the grill, too.
Next month, Lunetta will open a more formal restaurant and cocktail bar next door to Lunetta All Day, simply called Lunetta. The spot will serve higher-end ingredients like foie gras and more elegantly composed dishes. The chef is thinking about a filet of beef with a potato-and-pear gratin, crispy pancetta, a Madeira sauce and Swiss chard. The filet might be served alongside a julienned Hawaiian hearts of palm salad topped with a mix of Dijon mustard, tarragon and crème fraîche.
Lunetta All Day, meanwhile, is where chef Lunetta is thinking about serving chicken parm. But the chef is still using his fine-dining chops, and he can’t help but put modern twists on popular dishes. He might update the chicken parm with wild arugula and add sea-urchin cream to linguine with clams.
The chef’s version of a “loaded baked potato,” which he serves with prime rib, includes harissa Greek yogurt, either ramps or green onions (depending on what’s available at the market), cherry-smoked bacon, some Espelette and a little aged Gouda.
Lunetta loves cooking meat “the French way” by pan-roasting it in a cast-iron skillet, so his Jidori chicken preparation involves both grilling and pan-roasting.
Lunetta All Day is about smoke, but it’s also about nuance.
“We have to figure out how to keep this as a diner, but an interesting diner,” Lunetta says.