Piave is the sort of middle-of-the-road Italian restaurant that’s useful to have in the neighborhood but unlikely to be on your list of top choices for a night out. It’s the kind of place you go to and focus on the conversation, not on the food. The food is generally pleasant, but it is unlikely you’ll walk to your car trying to figure out when you can next come back, or saying, “I just have to tell so-and-so about this place.”
Mahogany walls lend warmth to this former home of Café Meze, and a tarnished bronze Venetian winged lion overlooks the bar area and front dining room. The visual focal point, though, is a counter heaped with plates and platters of vibrantly colorful antipasti and a gleaming fire-engine-red meat slicer waiting to be called into service. On both a crowded night with a lively, though not unpleasant, noise level and a visit during which only a handful of tables were filled, the room felt cozy and comfortable. (Comfortable, that is, setting aside the annoyance of a banquette cushion that slid around every time we adjusted ourselves ever so slightly.)
From the lush display of antipasti, we ordered the chef’s platter of eight selections: nicely seasoned broccoli rabe punctuated with sweet contrast from caramelized cippolini onions and pignoli); simple grilled pencil asparagus; an assortment of olives; a dish of mixed grilled vegetables, which included tender, flavorful fennel, radicchio, and endive; an innocuous bean salad; lightly dressed grilled Portobello mushrooms; bland frittata; and a caponota with chunky vegetables that managed to retain some of their individual character through the nicely melded overall flavor.
It’s hard to go wrong with the classic arancia salad, which combines fresh, sweet, juicy orange slices, briny, intense olives, and the light licorice flavor of fresh fennel. Still, though, on one night the salad was bright and refreshing; on another, it was overpowered by the sharp sting of raw onion. The Caesar salad is a better choice, with just enough dressing to lightly coat the lettuce in the traditional combination of anchovy, acid, and nutty Parmesan cheese.
You know a dish is good when your dining companion, in a show of false manners, says, “Here, have that last bite,” but doesn’t actually hand you the plate. Such was the case with the grilled baby octopus salad. Tender octopus; nutty, warm, and creamy chickpeas; and wilted arugula dressed in a truffle-infused olive oil and lemon earned this dish accolades from all at our table.
On the other hand, the galletto al mattone: one bite of the chokingly dry meat was enough for everyone at the table. The whole roast branzino, thankfully, was moist and seasoned very simply, tasting only of sweet, mild fish.
The pasta dishes seemed to be the best entrée choices, although we had an odd experience with the pappardelle con l’anatra, which is described on the menu as “duck confit, wild mushrooms, artichoke, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil.” All at the table, three of the four culinary professionals, agreed: the dish was tasty but the duck was MIA. We told the waiter there was no duck in our pappardelle, which he dutifully reported to the kitchen.
Here’s where it gets weird: he came back and told us there was duck in our pappardelle.
Um, no there wasn’t. Like many diners, all four of us know when we have and have not eaten duck. And frankly, even if there had been a single little nugget of duck hidden between the layers of noodles, what counts is that four diners perceived the dish to be devoid of duck, and the kitchen at the very least should have apologized.
Fortunately, our other two pasta experiences were better. A hearty dish of rigatoncini con pollo had all the requisite ingredients: chicken, of course, and sun-dried tomatoes that added lusty punch to the robust sauce with pignoli and Kalamata olives. On a gentler but no less tasty note, linguine with clams was classically dressed in olive oil with garlic and a touch of red pepper. Oddly, the portion of pasta was meager, though clams, both in and out of the shell, abounded.
We were intrigued that ginger was listed in the description of zuppa di cozze e vongoli—but couldn’t detect even the subtlest hint of it in what turned out to be a very tasty dish: mussels and clams bathed in a rich white wine, herb, and tomato broth; accompanying grilled Tuscan bread was perfect for sopping it up.
Desserts were disappointing: we barely tasted the coffee in a bland tiramisu, a lemon-and-caramel flan was gummy, and a chocolate lava cake tasted like a brownie. The best bet for dessert was a light ricotta cheesecake with a hint of lemon flavor.
Piave Bistro Italiano â˜…â˜…
20 N Central Ave, Hartsdale
(914) 428-2400; piaverestaurant.com
Hours: Lunch Mon to Fri 11:30 am-3 pm; dinner Mon to Thurs 3:30-10 pm, Fri 3:30-11 pm, Sat 5-11 pm, Sun 1-9 pm
Appetizers/salads: $7-$14; entrees: pastas($16-$24), secondi ($20-$33); desserts: Around $7
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good