167 Nassau Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ Great
Cards: All Major
Hours: Tues-Fri 11:30AM – 11PM, Sat 12PM – 11PM, Sun 12PM – 10PM
Brunch: Lunch daily
Booze: Full bar
Subway: G train to Nassau
NY Times says:
Who seeks nuance in a side of rice and beans? Yet here it is at Lucky Luna, the rice faintly marine from an overnight soak and simmer in a broth of kombu and shiitake stems. The beans, too, are not the usual congealing muddle, but discrete drops of heirloom yellow-eyes, scented with coriander. This is the moment when Lucky Luna, possibly the only Mexican-Taiwanese restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, makes good on its hyphenated premise. Elsewhere on the menu, the two cuisines are neighborly but distinct: posole here, congee there, chips and salsa next to bok choy. Boundaries are for the most part respected, perhaps too much. But that bowl of rice and beans, against all odds, intrigues. It shows that Lucky Luna has more ambition and finesse than its underdressed dining room and low-key, snackish, $10-and-under menu might suggest.
The chef, Howard Jang, cooked at Daniel, part of an eclectic résumé that includes stints at Danji (where Hooni Kim, another Daniel alumnus, applies French technique to Korean fare) and Mission Chinese Food in New York (which — coincidence or zeitgeist? — now has a Mexican offshoot, Mission Cantina).
Mr. Jang gives Peking duck a French tinge, cooking duck leg confit and rendering the skin like bacon. In lieu of the traditional ultrathin pancakes, the meat (shredded) and skin (crumbled) come in hoisin-daubed bao buns, packed until nearly tumbling out, with a bed head of scallions.
A native of California, Mr. Jang subscribes to the notion of eating local. Accordingly, the bao buns are from Peking Food in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and the tortillas from Tortillería Nixtamal in Corona, Queens. The tortillas serve as vessels for what Mr. Jang calls “reverse” carnitas, in which the pork is seared first and then braised, rather than the other way around, so it arrives juicy and streaming. This is delicious, although I missed those magical charred bits that some may argue are the whole point of carnitas.
Tortillas also stand in for Chinese pancakes in a take on moo shoo pork minus the pork, with fresh shiitake mushrooms subbing for dried wood-ears, grilled frisée for cabbage and salsa verde for hoisin. The result is neither Mexican nor Taiwanese, but merely, anemically, vegetarian.
Apart from tacos, the only Mexican entree is an honorable if slightly delicate posole, made with a stock of duck bones instead of pig head. Pork shoulder is present, but the focus is the hominy, fantastically fluffy kernels (also from Tortillería Nixtamal) wisely left al dente.
The Chinese dishes are the strongest: lu rou fan, rice buried under ground pork that has been saturated with soy, rice wine, garlic and ginger, plain-spoken and primal; congee thickened with shredded duck and topped with a fistful of peanuts that have been braised rather than fried, yielding more creaminess than crunch.
Desserts are small in scale, hinting at parsimony in the kitchen. Once more there is rice, this time cooked with a cinnamon stick and sweetened with dulce de leche, an escalation of the classic Mexican arroz con leche, which is made simply with condensed milk. The distinction does not quite elevate.
Mr. Jang opened Lucky Luna in January with Ken Ho, who oversees the bar, and Marisa Cadena, who runs the floor. They raised $28,000 via Kickstarter to renovate the modest space, east of McGuinness Boulevard, which was formerly a pirogi-and-goulash joint.
The money could go only so far: The graffiti on the brick facade is real, not art directed. Inside, there are nods to Mexican folk art, with punched-tin stars as sconces and a clock engulfed in a flaming heart. But the lights are too bright, glaring off the glossy black tables and bruised-looking tile. The place could use a little soft focus.
I wished that the menu were closer in spirit to the restaurant’s logo, a mash-up of the Chinese character shou, which stands for longevity, and the eyelashed crescent moon from the Lotería (a Mexican form of bingo). Perhaps in time Mr. Jang will dare more.
For now, the excitement lies in unexpected details, like the house-made hot sauce, which starts off Chinese, with a strong hit of vinegar, and finishes Mexican, with a swaggering heat. It’s too bitter to eat alone. But add it wherever it’s needed, and suddenly everything flares into life.
Time Out says:
New York is no stranger to head-scratching fusion fare: The city’s seen Jewish-Japanese at Shalom Japan, Jamaican-Cantonese at Milk River and an Italian-Korean hybrid in Piora. A trio of San Francisco transplants—Boulevard alums Howard Jang and Ken Ho, along with Marisa Cadena (Palomino)—add to the list of oddball mash-ups with this Mexican-Taiwanese restaurant. Chef Jang’s cross-cultural eats include vegan sautéed-shiitake tacos, cumin-and-coriander beans over steamed white rice and Peking-duck confit bao with hoisin mayo and chicharròns. The bar program, helmed by Ho, reps both countries with cocktails (micheladas, absinthe-lychee martinis) and beers including Bohemia and Taiwan. The 44-seat space—outfitted with Mexican black-pottery votives and punched-tin light fixtures—also acts as a supper club, hosts sustainability workshops and showcases artists, such as the Bay Area’s Amina Lei and Brooklynite Julie Paveglio.