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Classy eats, local drinks 

Luna Red brings European-style dining to SLO

click to enlarge DINE IN! :  Luna Red is set up to encourage plate sharing and group dining. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • DINE IN! : Luna Red is set up to encourage plate sharing and group dining.

Robin and Shanny Covey own two of the most respected restaurants in San Luis Obispo County: Novo in SLO and Robin’s in Cambria. They’re currently working to add a third success story to that list.

In September, their attempt to offer Pan Asian flavor in downtown SLO ended after less than a year. Chow closed its doors, but the Coveys didn’t give up on the Monterey Street location near the Fremont Theater. They redesigned the interior and brought Robin’s chef, Shaun Behrens, to create a new menu with a culinary philosophy that encourages smaller portions and plate swapping amongst friends and family. The result is Luna Red, which opened in late October.

“The main difference is the concept, the way people feel when they’re here,” Behrens said. “We want to build a neighborhood place that people can claim as their own, where they gather around the table and experience new flavors.”

The restaurant focuses on pairing local wines with tapas, small plates that feature several items with a common flavor theme. They’re mostly finger foods meant to be shared around the table. This European style of dining limits the potential for American-style gluttony.

Even though the end result is globally influenced, Behrens said most of his ingredients are produced locally.

“We go to three or four farmers markets a week. We get daily deliveries from local farms, and we only serve fish that’s wild or farmed in sustainable aquaculture systems,” Behrens said.

He said he gets some bad looks when he admits some of his fish is farm-raised, but added that he’s done his homework and only shops from farms that use proper filtration and don’t use hormones.

“We’re taking the sustainability element to a new level with this place,” he said.

The décor is ultra modern, with abstract oil paintings, mellow magenta walls, and stylish furnishings. Euro-beat and Afro-jazz play in the background while a knowledgeable wait staff explains the unique menu to patrons.

“We explain everything and give tips for how to eat the dishes, because most people aren’t familiar with this kind of stuff,” my server told me.

 I was certainly unaccustomed to such finery and appreciated the help. I was guided through a course of hummus, tabuli, and tzatiki served with crisp flatbread. Aside from the hummus, it was all Greek to me (sorry), but it was also delicious. There was enough for my daughter and me to try some of everything before digging into our vegetable soup with chunks of succulent squash.

The smoked fish came next and was served with little pieces of bread and lettuce. My tongue danced in ecstasy as the tender fish fell to pieces in my mouth. The oysters were less lovely, but they’ve never really been my thing.

I finished the meal with a flight of housemade and imported cheeses paired with an earthy red wine. The spread ran from creamy and mild to strong and slightly stinky, but an assortment of fresh pomegranates, caramelized nuts, and apple slices helped everything go down easy.

The fresh, local ingredients are a key element in chef Behrens’ plan to keep the menu “approachable, nutritious, and affordable.” Considering the exotic nature of the dishes, the great taste was indeed approachable, and the vegetable concoctions certainly seemed nutritious. As for affordability, my meal for two cost about $60, which isn’t outrageous, but it’s not casual dining, either.

Luna Red is at 1009 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information, call 540-5243 or visit

Fast facts

Cal Poly eggnog is back. The concoction is available at the university’s Campus Market and all the Spencer’s Markets across the county, providing the opportunity to support premium, local products. It’s made from the university herd’s fresh milk and is thicker and creamier than most blends. Call Tyler Parthemer at 756-2582 for more information. …

For those who want a break from the commercial and traditional aspects of the holiday season, Nipomo Native Garden will be hosting a Winter Solstice celebration on Dec. 21 at 3:38 p.m. The event will take place at the foot of the Bill Denneen Coast Live Oak, an ancient tree with a twisted trunk that epitomizes the natural wonder of our surroundings. For more information, e-mail Bill Denneen at

Contributing writer Nick Powell can be reached through Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach. Send comments to

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