As a rule, I live vicariously through the dining adventures of The Robotic Gourmand and Cookbook 411, but in the past two days I've had the chance to eat at two of the city's favorite small places: Via Tribunali and Kingfish Cafe.
Both are legendary for their long waits as well as their vivid food, so Zorg and I made a dash for Via Tribunali early Sunday evening. Indeed, we were seated immediately and service was swift. We started with the excellent Salumi antipasto (meats from Salumi), followed by a Quattro Stagione pizza. Some reviews of Via Tribunali say that their ultra-thin crust pizza can, at times, be limp in the middle, and unfortunately that was the case. Since ultra-thin is not Zorg's kind of pizza in the first place (he favors the thick Chicago style, with extra cheese) the sub-par crust took the zing off the main course for him. (I was purring, he was looking puzzled.) A dessert of tartuffo (chocolate ice cream drizzled with espresso and crushed expresso beans) cheered us up, though.
I'd been to Via Tribunali once before, but tonight was my first time at the Kingfish Cafe -- also a good place to arrive early. The food there is rich and Southern, with hot, spicy and sweet the prevalent flavors. (Salt is noticeably underplayed, which is a little disconcerting initially but by a second taste, this absence really lets some other great flavors come forth.) The house salad has lot and lots of bacon. Very good bacon. Our friend Mary ordered the shrimp (spicy and sweet), I had the crawfish/crab cakes with a delicious tartar-aoli, and Zorg got the near-perfect macaroni and cheese -- an immense, tangy block of it.
We all ended up getting much of our main courses boxed to go, and Mary and I decided to split an order of strawberry shortcake. It turned out to be massive, and ferocious, with layers of fresh, sweet berries their own juice, fresh fluffy whipped cream, biscuit-style shortcake that really held up, and a transparent carmelized sugar glaze over the whipped cream on top. We each ended up take a box of that home, as well.
Eat well. Eat early.