Friend and I ate last night at Ma Ma Yolanda's, a sleepy place overshadowed by the more well-known restaurants on S. 8th Street.
I had eaten there in July 1990 (with this same friend, no less) and rememered it favorably. I'm pleased to say a meal there is still a very worthwhile experience.
Started with fried calamari -- chewy, modestly breaded with a perfect spicy tomato sauce and lemon accompaniment -- and stuffed mushrooms with crab. I love stuffed mushrooms, but was a little dubious of the crab filling. It was very tasty, though -- good balance of the oily, earthy mushroom and the lighter crab.
I selected the Veal Giovanni -- cutlets wrapped in prosciutto, spinach and mozzarella, in a white wine sauce -- as a second course. Very, very good -- fresh, almost fork tender veal the highlight. Friend selected the seafood fra diavolo medley of clams, scallops, etc. over linguine, in a red sauce. Fish pieces were fresh and flavorful.
Service was great -- waitress fit more of a diner profile, but her bluntness and friendliness were appreciated. The space definitely matched the basicness of the food...with the 1950s tiled walls and antiques and knick-knacks dotting the place, you could almost feel like you were in someone's dining room. Very family-oriented atmosphere -- several school-age children, kin of the owners, roamed the front and back, very respectfully, though.
One warning: the menu is not tremendously comprehensive, so don't go with any fussy diners looking for lots of exotic choices.
In sum, Ma Ma Yolanda's isn't the best place in the world...and it certainly doesn't have the original, cherished breadth of options a place like Cucina Forte (located steps away) does...but it's well worth a casual night out for some good, authentic Italian food.