The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Restaurant Review Followup: Dinner at DePalma's

In my previous review of DePalma's Italian Cafe in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I described a wonderful lunch experience there. I also detailed the service and general ambiance as well as providing the location and contact information. If you have not read that review, please find it here: 

Having only lunched at DePalma's, I promised myself a return visit for dinner. And for that occasion I chose Valentine's Day. I mean, why not review a place at the peak of dinner service on one of the busiest, most hectic days of the restaurant year? You'll either catch them at their best or at their worst. Not surprisingly, DePalma's was at its absolute best.

The good service we had previously experienced was not impeded in the least by the enormous crowd filling every seat at every table and extending into the waiting area before spilling out onto the sidewalk. Our server appeared immediately after we were seated. Even though she was obviously and madly busy, she still managed to make us feel as if we were the only customers in the place as she greeted us, took our beverage orders, and explained the night's specials. Our drinks were served within minutes and, considering the crush on the kitchen, our food arrived with amazing promptness.

And it was amazing food. My lovely wife, whom I affectionately refer to as “Queen of the Carnivores,” started out with an uncomplicated salad of mixed greens complimented by a perfect, creamy Gorgonzola dressing. Then she tied into a thick, lush Angus steak topped with more of that exquisite Gorgonzola cheese and a rich beef reduction sauce with Portobello mushrooms. She pronounced it her new favorite steak. She was also effusive in her praise for the accompanying garlic and Parmesan mashed potatoes, which were creamy and flavorful without being cloying and overpowering. And she declared that the grilled asparagus was done to perfection.

When it comes to Italian eateries, I'm a “pasta first” man. I'm not so impressed by the frills if a place can't get the basics right. And I don't think I've ever been so impressed by a simple plate of spaghetti marinara. The rich sauce was made in-house, fresh and delicious. (I did cringe every time our sweet server pronounced it “mare-uh-nare-uh.” Aaaarrrrgghhhh! I corrected her as gently as possible considering my affronted sensibilities. “Mah-ree-nah-rah, my dear, mah-ree-nah-rah.” The flat, twangy American pronunciation just grates on my ears.)

What impressed me more, however, was the quality of the pasta itself. So rich and textured was the noodle that from the first forkful, I thought I was eating spaghetti rigati. I was intrigued enough to inquire. The server didn't know, but the owner said that it was just “regular” spaghetti. Now, I know “regular” and there was nothing “regular” about this pasta. The owner further explained that the pasta came from a vendor in Atlanta who made it fresh every couple of days. Ahh! Now we're getting somewhere! Obviously, the supplier uses the age-old artisinal Italian method of extruding the spaghetti through brass dies. This process imparts a much different quality and texture to the end product than the more commercial procedure involving plastic or Teflon dies. Pasta extruded through a brass die has a rough, almost lightly ridged texture that causes the sauce to adhere to the noodle much more effectively than does the smooth surface provided by plastic or Teflon extrusion. It's a little thing that makes a big difference. Even though the accompanying “garlic bread” was in the familiar American fashion rather than the authentic Italian, the overall composition and presentation were a perfect take on a classic staple.

I know conventional wisdom dictates the consumption of red wine with beef, but my wife is anything but conventional, so she opted for a wonderful Moscato d'Asti. Made in the Piemonte region of Italy, Moscato di Asti, a fragrant and fruity wine that is lightly sparkling and low in alcohol, is usually considered a dessert wine. But my wife thoroughly enjoyed a couple of glasses with her meal. And anytime and anyplace I can find Peroni Nastro Azzuro on tap, I take advantage of it. A refreshing beer with a smooth, clean taste and just enough of a bitter bite to distinguish it from its weak, watery domestic relatives, I go for Peroni every time.

Dessert was divine. We opted for the familiar cannoli we had previously enjoyed, although the delicious white chocolate bread pudding and the molten chocolate cake were tempting. Curiously, the cannoli are among the very few things on the menu that are not made in-house. But since they are imported from a place in New York's “Little Italy” I'm perfectly willing to overlook the digression.

The single red rose on the table was a nice Valentine's Day touch. I suggested positioning my plate of spaghetti in the center of the table and reenacting a romantic scene from “Lady and the Tramp,” but my wife demurred.

With wonderful service and fabulous food for both lunch and dinner, DePalma's has cemented its position as my “go to” Italian restaurant in Tuscaloosa. Now if I can just talk them into serving breakfast.

DePalma's Italian Cafe
2300 University Blvd
Tuscaloosa, AL 25401
(205) 759-1879

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