WILDWOOD - It was the week following Memorial Day that we went to Luna, and although this holiday usually signifies the official start of the summer season, it was apparent that local businesses were not yet in full swing. My guest and I dined alone for most of the evening, so we didn't experience what it's like to be fully entrenched in the Wildwood restaurant scene.

But, I imagined the dining area bustling with activity: servers dashing from one table to the next; customers engaged in rowdy conversations as they pass around plates piled high with steaming food. This is how I envisioned Luna must be on a busy night, because the reasonably priced menu offers popular Italian-American fare that most folks go crazy for.

It's not a terribly fancy place, but it has a casual European feel to it, with an outdoor caf� attached to a brick-floored dining room filled with tables, and booths dotted with vases of silk yellow daisies. A bouncy Italian opera soundtrack had my guest singing along throughout the meal.

After our server greeted us, she brought a basket of sliced bread that had an end-of-the-day dryness to it, but dunking it in olive oil infused with a fistful of roasted garlic quickly took care of that problem.

Our first appetizer, two deep-fried fresh mozzarella triangles ($7), was terrific due to the absolutely yummy homemade marinara that we poured on top of the crisply breaded warm cheese. Move over, mozzarella sticks!

I was miffed as to why the crab sliders ($9) were named as such. Sliders originally started as mini hamburgers and have evolved into practically any type of tiny sandwich usually eaten as an hors d'oeuvre or a snack. This dish had four fried crab balls served with garlicky, fresh tomato-bruschetta topping and a side of watery remoulade, which traditionally is a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce with thicker consistency. The crab balls had plenty of crabmeat, were flavorful and creamy within, but the heavy garlic taste completely overpowered them. Missing was the sandwich bread or roll that makes a slider a slider as we know it.

At first glance, the house salads that came with out entrees excited us. What we thought would be nice Caesar salads with housemade croutons were drowning in far too much Italian-style dressing that seemed pre-made, and we couldn't fully enjoy or finish them. Someone needs to toss with a lighter hand.

A huge portion of homemade lasagna ($17) came to the table bubbling hot in a casserole dish bursting with layers of cheesy filling and pasta sheets covered with perfectly seasoned bolognese sauce and melted mozzarella. I found very little ground meat in the "gravy," but it didn't matter. The lasagna was excellent. I took almost half of it home and enjoyed it just as much the next day for dinner.

The chicken rollatini dinner ($23) was also plentiful. A pounded-thin chicken breast was heartily stuffed with prosciutto, fresh spinach and provolone, then lightly browned and baked, cut diagonally and propped on a bed of creamy garlic risotto. The chicken was a tad overdone, but everything worked well together, and the presentation was lovely.

We were less enthused about our desserts, even though our server said the blueberry cheesecake ($8) was "to die for." A crust made of soft ladyfingers gave it a unique twist, but the blueberry topping was cornstarchy and overly sweet, like the kind you get from a can.

A ball of fried ice cream ($6) practically melted by the time it arrived, and whatever crust it was fried in had slipped away, so we couldn't even guess what it was made of.

Even though she wasn't busy, our server obviously was very experienced. You can spot a seasoned pro when she or he approaches the table, and we immediately knew our waitress would be as good as she turned out to be. Judging on a slow night may not always be the most accurate way to size up service, but I'm pretty certain she would be just as competent serving half a dozen tables at the same time.

There is no question that you get a bang for your buck here, and I suspect Luna is popular among locals as well as tourists. It's also a dance club after 10 p.m. My advice is to try it.

(Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Food Editor James Clark at jclark@pressofac.com. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)

Luna Ristorante

& Club

3800 Pacific Ave.

Wildwood

Phone: 609-729-0120

Rating:

Hours: 4 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday as well as Sunday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Liquor license: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Credit cards: All major

Price range: Appetizers, $6 to $11; entrees, $12 to $27

Our bill for two: $70 plus tip