Classic Italian, Courteous Waiters
When incoming students aren’t sure whether to study the culinary or the baking arts, The French Culinary Institute offers to give them a “personality aptitude survey.” The idea is that people are happiest when their personality type is matched to the demands of the job. The chef type (they tend to be extroverts) needs the challenge and stimulation of a fast-moving kitchen. The baker type, on the other hand, tends to be more introverted and detail-oriented. Baking requires repetition and precision, and the baker has the patience required for doing the same thing day after day.
I wonder if the same can be said of restaurants. Some seek the spotlight with innovative food and modernist presentation; others quietly turn out the classics its regulars love. If so, Mulino’s, an Italian restaurant in downtown White Plains, belongs to the latter camp. Set right across the street from a complex of county government buildings, Mulino’s is the place to head for a power lunch, after-dinner drinks, or a convivial dinner. It has a large and loyal following—we were impressed by how busy it was on a Thursday night.
It’s easy to find, as all the trees on the corner of Court and Quarropas are wrapped in white fairy lights, and the valet parking service means no search for parking in the dark. The restaurant itself is in the basement of a small office building. Through the glass doors and down the stairs, you face a display case holding a sampling of an extensive bottle collection. In the eighties, wine and spirits producers began commissioning artists to create beautiful packages in limited editions. I always wondered who bought these, and here they are: a complete set of Courvoisier bottles designed by legendary art deco designer Erte; and the Taittinger Collection, vintage brut Champagne in bottles designed by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein.
Step inside, and there are more bottles. A spectacularly lit collection of blown-glass grappa bottles in the shapes of ships, horses, tigers and whatever else might strike a glass blower’s fancy, lines the glass shelves from floor to ceiling. There are—I don’t know—more than a hundred, perhaps.
The dining room is exceedingly comfortable, with fabric-covered chairs and nice-sized tables set with linens. The tables are well spaced so that you don’t feel crowded, and the ambient sounds are pleasantly muted. A large glass wall overlooks a fountain and waterfall with tropical plants—a rain forest in the temperate season. This time of year it is transformed into a spectacular winter landscape, part of Mulino’s highly touted Christmas decor.
The service is friendly and prompt. No sooner had we sat down than little dishes started arriving—bruschetta, slices of sopressata, and a mixed bean salad. Best of all, the waiter served us pieces of excellent Parmesan Reggiano from a large wheel and left it for five minutes or so, should we want more. The quick appearance of all this unordered antipasto is part of Mulino’s appeal. People like to feel cared for at a restaurant—and complimentary food, courteous waiters and generous portions go a long way.
For starters, we tried a half-size portion of one of the evening’s specials—homemade linguini with good quality shrimp and scallops served in a light broth that could have used more character and seasoning. The tricolor salad made of arugula, radicchio and endive also needed a little work—literally: The pieces were so large that it was difficult to eat. Classics that might be better choices include beef carpaccio with Parmesan, melon with prosciutto di Parma and portobello mushrooms with garlic and olive oil.
For our main dish, we tried piccata di Vitello, a tender veal scaloppine sautÃ©ed in butter and finished with the bright flavors of lemon, the most successful savory dish of the evening. Missing the mark was the special fish of the evening, mahi-mahi, which was overcooked and served in a salty tomato sauce. Again, I would stick with traditional dishes from the regular menu, such as shrimp sautÃ©ed with Champagne and saffron, stuffed rolled veal braised in brandy, cream and mushrooms and grilled Black Angus steak. Vegetable side dishes include broccoli rabe or spinach in garlic and oil; fresh peas with prosciutto, sage and chopped romaine; and fresh asparagus with Parmesan.
Desserts were a strong point. Mulino’s is so proud of its cheesecake that it attaches its name to it, and I loved its subtle flavor and sophisticated texture. The tiramisu was also flawless.
MULINO’S OF WESTCHESTER
99 Court St., White Plains
Mon. to Fri., 11:30 am-11:30 pm
Sat., 5-12 pm
Appetizers: $5.50 to $13.50
EntrÃ©es: $16.50 to $31.50