Dramatic Shifts

Cheerful, bustling lunches give way to quiet, pricy dinners at Via Quadronno.

All restaurants essentially are dual-natured, shifting character between lunch and dinner, but it’s rarely a complete transformation. Key traits—like décor and the tone of the restaurant’s kitchen—provide continuity as day morphs into night. Yet, sometimes, as at Via Quadronno, the change is more dramatic, which makes the critic’s job trickier. In the space of a few hundred words, barely enough to tackle one restaurant, we’re challenged to evaluate two.

During the day, Via Quadronno is flooded with sunlight, which fills its L-shaped bank of windows and glints off the restaurant’s pale, rough-cut marble-and-glass interior. Situated on the busy corner of Main and Court Streets, VQ is popular with business lunchers, who sit ringside to a bustling streetscape, enjoying the privilege of coziness while crowds schlep by outside.

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In warmer weather, sidewalk tables offer the charm of an outdoor café, with sunglass-wearing diners greeting acquaintances in between bites. A bright red Vespa, always parked outside, sets an appropriately Italophilic tone at VQ—which is the Westchester outlet of a 10-strong (and growing) international chain.

With a genial daytime hostess and a cheerful, casually efficient waiter (present during both afternoon visits), our two lunches were the favorites among the meals we ate at Via Quadronno. We felt instantly welcome and appreciated, and would return for VQ’s lunch appetizer of polenta “cremosa”—actually, slices of the Italian corn pudding in a salty, tangy Gorgonzola sauce. A great start, but VQ’s real seduction comes with panini, which are not available during dinner. It’s a 30-deep list, with many of our favorite (mostly) Italian ingredients getting re-shuffled into satisfying, tasty, pork-centric sandwiches.

We loved the proteinaceous “Praga,” an almost too-rich Prague-style ham spread with goose-liver pâté, arriving—as do all of Via Quadronno’s panini—on a pressed, brittle-crusted, tablet-shaped loaf of Tom Cat Bakery bread. Ditto VQ’s signature panino, a delicious handful of Genoa salami and creamy celery sauce. We also liked a juicy, vegetarian tartine (an open-faced sandwich) of briny mushroom chunks tossed in truffle oil and gooey, funky, melted Fontina cheese.

Cheerful, bright, bustling—and not too painfully priced for lunch, with the polenta at $13 and VQ’s most expensive (but delicious) sandwich, “non ti scordar di me,” a panino of speck, Brie, and pâté, at $14.50. Things change at dinnertime.

As street crowds wane and darkness falls, VQ’s in-flooding light disappears—as does its lightheartedness and middling price point. VQ’s innovative panini menu is replaced by a less exciting lineup of the usual Italian suspects—including salad caprese, pasta fagiole, grilled octopus, and branzino—offered in a less freewheeling dining room. In fact, when our party of three asked to share a couple of pastas (we’d ordered appetizers and were moving onto mains), we were flat-out denied, with our waiter claiming that “the pasta servings were too small to split.” Actually, as became obvious when they arrived, they weren’t.

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While our appetizer of beef carpaccio was tasty, and a special salmon crudo fine (though $25), our grilled octopus was seriously bland, and not even a drenching with fresh lemon could disguise its need for salt.

Lunch at Via Quadronno.

Americano Panini, with brie, fresh mozzarella, corn, arugula, and tomato.

Pastas offered a change. Two versions of fettuccine (in a tasty amatriciana sauce and a disappointingly one-note Bolognese sauce) were cooked to split-second perfection—yet VQ’s pastas were often over-salted, especially a briny squid-ink tagliolini with smoked prosciutto and leeks. And, ranging from $20 to $24, they’re not cheap.

Saltiness also plagued a saltimbocca-like dish of monkfish medallions ($36) wrapped in prosciutto and sage. Better was a special of tuna steak ($32), covered in a simple but tasty dressing of saute´ed cherry tomatoes and bright, bursting caperberries. We also liked a grilled sirloin steak ($38), but its accompaniment—a mound of Tuscan white beans—begged for a face-lifting splash of olive oil.

Desserts ($7.50-$20) are also mixed, with an overly gelatinized, parfait-like ricotta mousse with strawberry sauce bringing up the rear. However, a plush, book-sized dish of coffee-rich tiramisu was the clear winner. It was pillow-soft, mouth-fillingly rich and heady with the aromas of coffee and cocoa—a revelation after the ubiquity of lesser versions. Also good, a tasty crespella: a wedge of mocha-sauced layers of bouncy crêpes. Gelati, neither outstandingly good nor bad, are offered in a changing roster of flavors.

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One of VQ’s best assets is its wine list, which is seductive if not exactly bargain-priced. We became fans of Eugenio Collavini’s cheerful Tocai Friuliano, $12 per glass, and Feudi di San Gregorio’s surprisingly complex Greco di Tufo “Cutuzzi” at $15. In reds, a Castello Romitorio Morellino di Scansano at $9 pleased better than an unimpressive (and stiffly priced) $19 Oddero Barolo. VQ’s wine list changes frequently, and wine specials are posted behind the bar.

Overall, our experiences were mixed, but we’ll gladly return for our next stolen afternoon. As you read this, we’re marking our calendar for more wine, panini, and another slab of that dreamy tiramisu.

Via Quadronno

★★ ½

199 Main St, White Plains
(914) 288-9300; vqwhiteplains.com
Hours: Lunch (including panini menu) Mon to Fri 11:30–3 pm; panini menu only–Daily 3–5:30 pm; dinner Sun to Thurs 5:30-10:15 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30-11:15 pm; brunch Sat and Sun 11-3 pm. Appetizers: $14-$22; panini: $7.50-$13.50; pasta: $12-$24, entrées: $36-$40, desserts: $7.50-$20.

★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
★★—Good ★—Fair

Photos by Cathy Pinsky

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