BY CLAIRE McCURDY
Mon – Fri: 8am – 11pmSat: 9am – 11pm
Sun: 10am – 9pm
When I decided to invite to dinner my friends the anthropologists, in one of their yearly cameo appearances in New York, I chose the restaurant Via Quadronno. It was close to their hotel. It had a reputation for fine food, serving authentic Northern Italian fare. Since I had recently been introduced to the joys of Irish pig-keeping, I was delighted to find the restaurant’s emblem was a sprightly flying pig, emblazoned on the wall directly opposite our table. The restaurant explained:
“Mankind trained dogs and pigs to sniff for white truffles, assisting in the quest for this heavenly treat. Wild boars don’t need training: they instinctively know how to locate truffles, for they have been enjoying them for millennia. It is the boar’s nose for truffles that helped fuel his reputation as the undisputed gourmet of the animal kingdom
I should have had the sense to pay attention to this very broad hint that pork or bacon or ham would be the thing to shoot for at Via Quadronno.
But we were foolish, or let’s say I was foolish. I was seduced by the convenience of the location, barely two blocks away from my friends’ hotel. And by the brilliant flashing blue lights of their Christmas decorations—bright blue teardrops, lights set in trees, constantly appearing to drip and fall down the branches, brilliantly illuminating the place. It was just gorgeous, gorgeous. Of course, I reasoned, a place that pays this kind of attention to detail and presentation would also have only delicious specialties. We could hardly go wrong.
Well. At first it was fine. We got a charming young waiter, evidently Italian, a weightlifter with amazing tattooed arms, who was very eager to help us choose red wine and to urge us to go for a bottle as opposed to a series of glasses. And the wine was delicious- a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008 – as its blurb stated, it was “smooth with a lingering, slightly peppery finish. “ Bravo to the peppery finish!
We loved the wine. And it fuelled our conversation. We were determined to pay homage to the spirit of the flying pig overhead.
My friends, who had just spent time conducting anthropological interviews for a relief agency, with Central American disaster survivors, noted that their local guides tended to be their cabdrivers, often the first point of contact for a foreigner. Similarly, in Ethiopia, as I said, my driver, a former colonel under Haile Selassie, got us both out of a bad brush with the army, out in the desert , and continued to send me Christmas cards a decade after I had left.
But no matter how entertaining the conversation, the meal – minus pork, bacon or ham- was nearly a disaster. They wanted to love the food, so did I, but we couldn’t.
Luckily, I was the one who took the worst hit. (Or made the wrong choice.) Gnocchi with pesto was the consistency of library paste, both the sauce and the filling, which quickly got cold and lifeless. I could scarcely finish half of it — and I never turn down a good meal. My friends also ate slowly and with evident hesitation- very uncharacteristic. Signifying dissatisfaction. One had the risotto, which she said, delicately, was nothing special; her husband’s opinion of his petto di pollo was that it was a fair piece of chicken but nothing that should give the restaurant four stars. It could have been lifted from the plates of a fair to middling diner.
Secondly, the wine! We were determined to enjoy ourselves, if not with the food, then with the wine. But, when we finished the first bottle the restaurant didn’t have a second bottle of the same vintage, and offered us a different kind, with a screw top. We all felt uncomfortable with screw top bottles (especially at these prices), despite the fact that the wine was acceptable.
We wrapped up this dismal meal with some excellent butter cookies and cappuccinos, but this perfunctory dessert alone could not save the meal.
In sum: despite the lovely ambiance and the charming waiter, we spent a great deal too much on mediocre or bad food at this time.
If you’re a local, and you can navigate the menu and the timing of their freshly-cooked meals, grabbing the right time and entrée, you can undoubtedly get good food here. But I found myself thinking of my dearly departed original neighborhood Twin Donuts, where a breaded chicken breast would be called the Chicken Don Blue (their version of Cordon Bleu; they also had a Veal Don Blue) and would cost a cool $5.95. Now that’s a meal, and a deal.
Coda: And on the homeward route to northern Manhattan., I relived the conversation. My cabdriver, a charming Nigerian named Mike, a student of New York history via the Encyclopedia of New York City and Gotham, was lively, funny, and very sharp. He corrected me on points of local history such as the origins of the name Spuyten Duyvil. A wonderful ride. Even poor food could not entirely spoil this evening.
But don’t order the gnocchi!