I've been mostly trying to focus on the food and only describe the atmosphere as a bit of preamble but you can't do that with Salumi, it's more of a dining experience.
Salumi is basically a family-run hole in the wall lunch sandwich shop if a) they cured all their own meats, b) were world famous and constantly mobbed and c) deserved every bit of that fame and attention due to their fabulous food. I got there five minutes after they opened at 11 am on a Friday and the line was already halfway down the block. That's mainly because the place is tiny with just a few individual tables and two bigger eight person tables. They seem to have a system set up where taking and fulfilling an order takes just long enough for a seat to open up. The line moves slowly, but steadily and is livened up by the occasional plate of samples passed down. The line was a mix of neighborhood locals who were stretching their lunch-hours that day, Seattlites who took the day off to go (Salumi only does weekday lunches and Friday dinners for long-time customers and friends of the family. I get the impression that those two categories inevitably overlap. And they do mail order, too.) and touristas like me.
After about twenty minutes I made it inside, checked out the menu and days specials, placed my order at the counter and tried to find a seat. I found one at the eight person table in the back room. The three people already sitting there, it turned out, were a couple from a local community kitchen and one of the owners, Armandino Batali (Mario's dad), who were chatting while sampling everything Salumi makes. Now I was all in favor of minding my own business, but the table filled up, people got chatty and one must be polite. So I've got about three weeks worth of dinner recommendations for my one night without a reservation.
But now the food. I got the cured meats and cheese platter. I honestly couldn't tell you what's what and since it was all great in various ways I'm not certain it really matters. I'm pretty sure there's a smoked paprika salami, sopressata and mole salami (made with chocolate) in there. I also got to try a bit of Salumi's cooked meats shared by the other folks at the table and it was equally as good--some of the most flavorful, tender and moist roast pork I've ever had.
And then the Harvard Glee Club came in a sang a tune. Really; they're touring the country and had a concert in Seattle that night. See? I was busy seeing William Gibson being interviewed that night or I might have gone.
And that's about it, really. In a way I regret going. Whenever I try top quality versions of a product I'm ruined for the cheap stuff. It happened with beer, chocolate, bread and potato chips (I favor Kettle Chips Krinkle Cut Salt and Pepper). With the CSA subscription it happened with vegetables (which is why I've been trying to cook more with meats and grains this summer) and now I think it's happened with cured meats. I think my only recourse will be to start hunting around Miami for the best jamon serano. Any suggestions?