Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, November 14, 2002
Josephine’s Little Italy
Linguini with whiteclam sauce $11.95
Veal saltimbocca $16.95
Shrimp Fra Diavolo $15.95
Tiramisu $5.95
Spaghetti Eastern

Find a Little Italy — Josephine’s, that is — in the suburban blunder of Southlake.


Josephine’s Little Italy

1239 Main St, Town Square, Southlake. 817-912-0990. Daily 11am-10pm. AE, DC, D, MC, V.

Any regular patron of Marco Polo Pizza in Arlington knows that proprietors Jimmy Chidiac and his father Ray have for years longed to open a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant. Jimmy’s dream is Southlake’s dream come true. Josephine’s Little Italy opened in late September in the pre-fab Southlake Town Square to strong word of mouth. The residents of the ’burb have been packing Josephine’s because it’s a classy restaurant with reasonable prices and fantastic food. Although some of the members of the Chidiac family play roles at the restaurant, there is no Josephine on staff. The restaurant is a family affair, named after Jimmy’s paternal grandmother.

The roomy corner space is a visual feast, decorated like a Pottery Barn store with an Italian accent. Colors are muted and natural, and the restaurant’s floor plan is a large “H.” The bar, the crossbar of the “H,” resembles a Tuscan patio, replete with fake chickens and a rooster on the roof inside. Two sections of the high-ceilinged space are somehow more intimate than the main room. Even the bathroom is decorated — one wall of the women’s is gussied up with antique hand mirrors hung from silken ribbons.

A fancy finish-out does not typically guarantee good food, but it does in this case. Josephine’s relies on well-prepared items that are familiar to Americans as Southern Italian dishes — with a few Northern goodies tossed in for balance. One of the entrées we tried, called veal saltimbocca, was an amazing jumble of flavors and textures. It’s a Roman dish whose name means “jumps into the mouth.” Two large slices of veal scaloppine (Jimmy will make it with chicken if asked) were fried in butter and placed on a bed of fresh baby spinach. The veal was topped with a reduction of wine and lemon (although sage is mentioned in the menu, it was not evident in the dish, nor was it missed) and prosciutto ham. The whole was topped with melted mozzarella cheese. My companion called it “deadly,” his eyes on the rich ingredients. But I noticed that, far from deadly, the dish was lively as it jumped into the mouth — his as well as mine. What made it spectacular was the juxtaposition of flavors. Potent lemon, strong mozzarella cheese, mellow veal, and tangy spinach each contributed to an elaborate dance on the tongue.

Another dish that red-lined the yum-meter was baked lasagna: fine layers of pasta, separating layers of ricotta spiced with fresh basil, and flavored by the most perfect marinara sauce in the universe. Heed one warning: Anyone who has ever made lasagna may become depressed with the futility of attempting to make this theoretically simple dish after trying it at Josephine’s. The ricotta was fluffy, and the pasta, topped with a delightful golden-brown crust of melted mozzarella, was perfectly cooked.

The one order that missed was the linguini with white clam sauce. The pasta was fresh, perhaps too fresh, as it had a doughy consistency. It had a thin, lean texture that reminded me of my own pasta when I make it with too much white flour and not enough semolina. The wine used to flavor the dish wasn’t fully reduced so it elicited a strained, alcoholic taste. The same entrée at Marco Polo was a marvelous blend of herbs, clams, wine, and clam nectar. If the dish at Josephine’s had been the same as the linguini with clam sauce that I fell in love with at Marco Polo, the evening would have been damn near perfect.

The Shrimp Fra Diavolo (an Italian phrase that means “brother devil”) that we tried on a busy Saturday night was average but would have been better with gravy (which is what many Italians call marinara sauce) rather than a less-zesty marinara sauce specific to the dish. Although the sauce had lots of black pepper, the dish was missing the one ingredient that the linguini had in spades — the piquant flavor of wine in the marinara. The five shrimp were plump, and, while the linguini was cooked perfectly, it lacked substance.

Honorable mention must go to the tiramisu. The cloud-light filling of mascarpone and cream cheese that topped the spongy ladyfinger cookies soaked in liqueur was firm enough to support the dessert but not make it obnoxiously sweet.

Josephine’s is popular. During lunch in the middle of the week and then dinner on a Saturday night, the good folks of Southlake were lined up for tables. Other restaurants in Town Square were also busy, but none, on the days we visited, was as packed as Josephine’s.

My biggest complaint is not with the food or the atmosphere; it is with Southlake Town Square. The square is a mixed-up assemblage of offices, upscale retail space, and restaurants, with city hall plunked in the middle. Add to the mix a gratuitous gazebo and a fountain rendered invisible by the profusion of large vehicles, and you have a suburban blunder. The street signs, though handsomely done in black and white, are damned near impossible to read even when you’re this close. None of the stores has visible street numbers, and the pull-in street parking can account for long traffic lines, what with one driver waiting for another to back out to save 10 or 15 steps. At least Josephine’s will make the hassle worthwhile.

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