Recent Visit to Naples
My husband and I were in Naples over the weekend for the Naples National Art Festival. We'd read good things about Osteria Tulia so we planned an overnight stay. We're very glad we had a chance to eat there. Lovely rustic Italian food.
The evening did not begin well for reasons having nothing to do with the restaurant. We had to wait through three or four changes of the traffic light before we could make the turn off 9th St. S onto 5th Ave. The back up was the result of volume on 5th Ave -- folks stopping at valet stands and drivers stopping for pedestrians simply launching themselves into traffic to cross the street. Moving about 2 miles per hour made the trip to the restaurant very slow. We've learned our lesson and when we visit again. we'll approach from Central Ave.
We didn't find any parking in the restaurant lot and had to drive around the streets for a considerable amount of time before finding a legal spot. We really wished Tulia had offered valet parking so we could have arrived less stressed. Happily, the warm reception and good food quickly puts us right.
My husband began his meal with a half order of the stracci with wild boar sauce. He loves wild boar and this version did not disappoint: tender braised meat in a very full-flavor sauce. I began with the char-grilled octopus. The octopus meat was extremely tender and picked up lovely grill flavoring. The accompaniments -- potato, egg, and especially paper thin slices of chorizo -- were a lovely counter point to the octopus.
My husband enjoyed his roast chicken entree, but he didn't talk about its virtues and I didn't ask for a taste. I had the Bucatini with cacio and (black) pepper. You've just read the total list of ingredients for this dish. (Okay, some folks add butter or oil) It's a killer dish to make because the cook really needs to know the proper speed at which to add the cheese and to correctly gauge the amount of pasta water needed to produce a creamy integrated sauce that clings to the pasta strands. When done properly, the result is luxurious goodness with a peppery accent. Tulia gets its version right. Our server offered to sprinkle some additional red pepper on the dish and I accepted the offer. The limited amount I used intensified the contrast between the creamy saltiness of the cheese but did not turn the dish into a chilehead's favorite pasta dish.
We did not have dessert.
Our surprise delicious meal was at lunch at Captain Kirk's. We arrived at the Festival in late morning when the sun had had a chance to really bake the black asphalt 8th St. S. By the time we had finished touring the booths on the street, we were looking for a comfortable place to sit indoors. A sign on the street listing lunch choices that included grouper sandwiches led us to Captain Kirk's. Great results. The seasoning mix used for the blackened sandwiches was not overly salty or roo incendiary and the taste of the fresh fish could come through. Also, the fish itself was cooked perfectly. The cole slaw was fresh and appealing -- no excess mayonnaise or heavy hand with sugar and lemon. Just bright vegetable taste. The most striking thing about our meal was the number of times that employees walked around the restaurant asking patrons how their meal was going and was there anything they wanted. The woman who had taken our order once did so when she came out from behind the counter to get some supplies at the back of the restaurant. A young wearing a Kirk's shirt, did something out of sight but when he walked through the restaurant he checked in on the diners he passed. (He also offered restaurant recommendations to out of towners who were staying over.) An older woman sitting at the counter near the front and apparently monitoring the scene, did so. And, finally, another of the order takers, checked on everyone in passing. I know that may sound like a lot of interruptions in the course of a lunch, but I didn't mind. The obvious desire to please in this small, utilitarian restaurant was so strong that feelings I might have had about too many interruptions in a fine dining restaurant were not useful. The next day, we passed Kirk's early in the morning nday when we went back to the Festival. The regular schedule listed a Sunday closing but I don't know if the place opened that Sunday considering that there were hundreds of Festival patrons right outside the door.
Inca's Kitchen is amazing Peruvian food. They are a bit geographically challenged but are opening a 2nd location across from the Mercato(I'm sure you know that shopping center) later this spring. Also in Mercato is a contemporary Mexican restaurant called Masa. It's not tex-mex-I love it.
Since we thought the quality of the art at the Naples National was extremely high, we'll almost certainly come back next year. Doubtful we'll be back before this winter season ends and we head north. However, I'm a great one for advance planning. What other Naples restaurants should we put on our radar?