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It's a big-box Italian face off on State Street.

In one corner, from LEYE, Osteria Via Statto. On the other corner, the newcomer from the people who brought you Gibson's and Hugo's Frog Bar, Quartino. Both are big, both are loud, but the food?

I was happy on my one visit to Osteria Via Statto. I thought the food was well executed and I enjoyed only having to choose my entree. All of the other food was just brought to me. Quartino, on the other hand, involves about a million choices. The only thing just brought to you are clean plates and bread.

The menu at Quartino runs the gamut from hot/cold appetizers to pizzas to crudi to carpaccio to pasta to risotto to fish to meat, with stops in between for salumi and cheese. Prices range from $2 per plate for some olives to $12 for fish. The rest of the items on the menu are generally priced between $4 and $8. Mind you these are small plates and the intent is for the diner to order quite a few, but prices are still extraordinarily reasonable for what you get. Wine is just as reasonably priced, with some pretty decent table wines served by the 1/4 liter (there's the Quartino), 1/2 liter and full liter. We did a liter of some sort of Montelpulciano for $30 and were quite happy. This after we did a half liter of the same for $15.

For food, once I wrapped my mind around all of the different choices on the menu (most of which sounded pretty darn good), I decided to start us off with some salumi and cheese. We started with some soppresata and duck prosciutto. The soprpresata was good, but a bit dry. The duck prosciutto was outstanding. The meat had just enough fat to give it a nice melty mouth feel. and there was a little bit of a spicy kick in the aftertaste. We also ordered two types of cheese: a telagio and a pecorino. Both were quite good. The meats and cheese were both served with appropriate garnish.

Moving on from salumi we chose three appetizers. Over the objections of the table I ordered the white anchovies in olive oil. Since I was alone on this one I only ate a bit but I enjoyed what I had (for $4, who cares?). The anchovies weren't quite as silky smooth as those at Schwa, but this was a good attempt. We also ordered the mussels, which were a complete miss. I don't think they were off, but the taste and texture were just a little to funky for everyone at the table (our waitress kindly comped the dish when we mentioned we didn't like them, a nice touch). For our third appetizer we went with the polenta fries. Mmmm, fried polenta. Hard to go wrong here.

From the pasta section we ordered the house made fettuccine. The pasta was excellent, but cooked just a tad past al dente. The simple sauce of grape tomatoes and garlic was perfect for mopping up with bread (which we definitely needed more of at this point in the meal).

Not wanting to leave a section of the menu untouched, we moved on to the Risotto Milanese, the Sturgeon, and the Crispy Duck Leg. The risotto was cooked perfectly, and was nice and cheesy. Prepared with pork stock the whole dish just had a nice flavor to it. Sturgeon I'm not always nuts about. I think I like it about 50% of the time that I order it. Unfortunately this sturgeon fell into the 50% that I don't really like. Just a little to dry and meaty for my tastes. The crispy duck was outstanding. The skin was perfectly crisp with just enough fat between the skin and the meat to make it interesting. The dish may have been slightly over salted, but that never really bothers me.

Dessert? Why not. We had a split decision at the table between the profiteroles and the nutella panini. Clearly we ordered both. The profiteroles were two softball sized beauties covered in chocolate and shaved almonds. The nutella panini was hazelnut chocolate nutella pressed between slices of bread and toasted. The key here was mopping up the melted ice cream from the profiteroles with the panini. Welcome to flavor country my friend. We finished off the meal with some glasses on Vin Santo.

The check came to about $160 for all of this food and wine (there were four of us), making Quartino a simply outstanding value. Granted, not all of the food was out of this world, the room is loud, and you are practically sitting with other people the tables are so close together. However, it is a fun place and most of the food is quite good. At least in my opinion, this round would have to go to Quartino.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I have to second your thoughts about Quartino on a couple of points: First, I thought that the menu presented so many items that it was difficult to decide what you wanted. We also had the duck prosciutto and polenta fries, and thought both were excellent. I'd also recommend trying the pizzas, which happened to be thin and crispy, but also had a decent amount of cheese and a nice chew to the crust. One of the better italian style pizzas I've had in the city.

Second, I thought Quartino provided a very good value (and you didn't even mention the $5 valet parking--a steal in the city). My wife and I walked out of there with an extremely filling late lunch (including 500 ml of wine) for $45. Can't beat those prices. We've also eaten in the front area of Osteria Via Stato, which provides similar items, and I have to say that the in both the terms of value and flavor, we prefer Quartino.

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Yeah, we wanted to stay away from the pizza. It looked good, but I didn't want to fill up on it and not be able to try other things. Maybe next time.

As for valet parking, it is a great deal. I'm not sure where else you can valet park for $5. However, Friday night + cheap wine + live in the city = taxi.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I really like Quartino, too. I go there at least once a week. On Friday 3 of us had wonderful fried smelt, tricolore salad, caponata, duck prosciutto, a sausage pizza, gnocchi, arugala and orange salad, 2 glasses of wine and an ice tea. With tax and tip it was less than $25/person!

Of my numeorus visits, there have only been a few misses: one really bad risotto (tasted of sausage grease and was way too soupy), one overcooked/oversalted pasta and one time the caponata was also way oversalted. The rest of the time (representing dozens of indiviual dishes), the food has been really good. Their salad greens have always been ultra-fresh and perfect...best $5 salads in town!

Since they opened, I haven't been back to Osteria via Stato.

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when i was in town in january, i took a walk to freeze my ass off. during that walk, i walked by Quartino and it caught my eye. i liked the name, i admit, and the menu and concept seemed interesting to me.

question: if i'm in town this summer with a few friends (just the "boys", as they say), and we're only planning one meal, would this be a good enough/fun enough place for 3 guys to drink some wine and nosh on some decent food? or am i clearly missing the point of the place and dismissing other options that might be much more interesting/better.

for those who don't know, i'm from new york, if that's a consideration regarding my daily options at home.

any help, as always, greatly appreciated!

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tommy,

For your purposes I think Avec might be a better option. Quartino is a great option for us locals or if you were going to be in town for a few nights, but if you're only going to be here for one night Avec is more interesting food-wise (plus a killer, but more expensive than Quartino, wine list).

Edited by jesteinf (log)

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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thanks Josh.

i should have specified that a great wine list isn't really important. one guy doesn't drink wine really, and the other drinks what i tell him. :smile:

also, don't want to break the bank.

and if iirc, avec doesn't accept reservations, which drives me bonkers.

i guess what i'm asking is if Quartino is at least pretty good and fun, then i think it's a fit, unless there's something about it that i'm not getting, which is entirely possible.

i know, i know, i myself hate when people request this type of thing, so i know how annoying it can be.

Edited by tommy (log)
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No problem. If you're not really concerned about the wine, and price is more of a consideration, then you could definitely do a lot worse than Quartino. I think the Trib gave them 2 stars (out of 4), which I would agree with. The food is good to very good, but the value proposition is the key (sorry for the consultant-speak). You can get pretty decent table wine for $30 or less per liter.

Also, it is loud (even by NYC standards), so it would be a good place for whooping it up with the guys.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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  • 6 months later...

Finally made it to Quartino last night and had a very nice time. We enjoyed great service but on balance, the food ended up being just ok. The meal started out relatively strong with the antipasto selections (Salumeria menu) and tailed off steadily as our meal progressed.

The antipasto is ordered in similar fashion as sushi often is. A list of selections is brought to the table, along with a pencil. You simply check off the items you want and hand the list back to your server. We were told that all the meats were cured in-house. I'm guessing this also was true of the non-meat items which are offered. In any case, we chose a satisfying assortment of items including a variety of olives, roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, duck prosciutto, bresaola, soppressata, asiago vecchio and taleggio. For me, this was the highlight of the meal. I loved just about all of it. The 'pickles and salads' were tasty and suprisingly subtle. I had a tough time deciding which I liked better -- the duck prosciutto or the bresaola. They were both great with floral, complex flavors that can only be produced by time. I also enjoyed the somewhat fiery soppressata, just not quite as much as the other 2 meats. Cheeses were terrific too but portions were somewhat skimpy compared to all the other Salumeria items we tried.

Next up, we went for a few of the Dinner Menu items, which are mostly small plates. We tried 5 items with mixed impressions. Overall, our favorite was the Veal Meatballs Napoli with sun-dried tomatoes and raisins. Happily (for my tastes, anyway) the tomatoes and raisins were in the sauce, not in the meatballs. Flavors here were great, although the meatballs themselves were a bit mushier than I am used to enjoying. Still, I'd order this again. The flavors in the Gnocchi with Arugula Pesto were great but the gnocchi were a bit dense. They lacked that certain lightness that great gnocchi offer and had no ridges in them to help absorb the sauce.

Pan-Roasted Clams (little necks if I'm not mistaken) with Pinot Grigio and Red Chili Broth were tasty but after a while, their intense saltiness started to build up. As it did, we left them unfinished. Also left unfinished were the Polenta Fries with Red Pepper Sauce which, in spite of being perfectly cooked and served piping-hot, right out of the fryer, were almost completely devoid of flavor. We joked that they tasted like hot, crunchy water. Too bad too because they were perfect in every other way. The Funghi Pizza was a bit of a letdown too as it seemed to suffer a bit of "less is more" syndrome. The quality of this pizza and most of the ingredients which comprised it was high but the sauce tasted like canned tomatoes which had been applied directly to the pizza. This could have benefitted greatly from some additional tweaking. The thin and crispy crust was delicious and the mushrooms were fresh and meaty. The cheese was tasty and aromatic. But, at the bottom of it all, the weak-flavored tomato sauce simply torpedoed the effort.

Desserts were tasty, for the most part. The Copa al Banana, which was comprised of caramelized banana and vanilla gelato was very good. Ditto for the Strawberry gelato, which we also enjoyed. Unfortunately, the Zeppole were burnt and extremely disappointing. I'm sure we could have asked for another order and been accomodated but we were pretty full, so we deferred.

In spite of the mob scene at the corner of Ontario and State, our 7 pm reservation was honored without delay. Valet service, which is now up to $8, was relatively efficient too. At first, I was a bit disappointed when I saw that we were being seated upstairs but that turned out to be a good thing because even though the noise factor was quite high, it wasn't quite as high upstairs. And again, we enjoyed great service, provided by Tony, who just did everything he could possibly do to keep us happy, never abandonned us and provided us with some solid guidance.

Would I go back? Definitely so. I love eating in this fashion and I think that ordering differently might have produced a better result. My wife and I agreed that if we'd been there by ourselves or with another couple, we probably would have ordered differently. That doesn't guarantee that it will be better next time but the menu is fairly large and we left several interesting-sounding items untried. So, I'd like to give Quartino another shot in near future.

=R=

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We were told that all the meats were cured in-house.  I'm guessing this also was true of the non-meat items which are offered.  In any case, we chose a satisfying assortment of items including a variety of olives, roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, duck prosciutto, bresaola, soppressata, asiago vecchio and taleggio.  For me, this was the highlight of the meal.  I loved just about all of it.

These are some of my favorite things at Quartino, too; I love the way they're served, and the little dishes of house-made condiments that come with them.

Also left unfinished were the Polenta Fries with Red Pepper Sauce which, in spite of being perfectly cooked and served piping-hot, right out of the fryer, were almost completely devoid of flavor.  We joked that they tasted like hot, crunchy water.

This surprises me. That certainly hasn't been the case when I've been there. I mean, these fries are blander than say, fried potatoes, but they taste pretty much like polenta (aka cornmeal mush) to me. I'd suggest you somehow got a bad batch, but I can't imagine what you could do to make polenta more flavorless than it is naturally -- that is, subtly corn-y. Maybe I just like hot crunchiness better than you do. :smile:

I love eating in this fashion and I think that ordering differently might have produced a better result.  My wife and I agreed that if we'd been there by ourselves or with another couple, we probably would have ordered differently.  That doesn't guarantee that it will be better next time but the menu is fairly large and we left several interesting-sounding items untried.  So, I'd like to give Quartino another shot in near future.

My favorite thing about Quartino is probably its hours -- there aren't many places in town where you can get food like this after midnight (and it's much quieter late at night). Some other things I enjoy that you might want to try are the cipollini Modenese, baby onions braised in balsamic vinegar; the grappa-cured salmon; the bigoli with duck ragu; and the Tuscan sausage, which is also house-made.

I also like the house wines, which are a terrific value. Too bad that the parking's gone up, but $8 is still a few dollars cheaper than most places in that part of town and the valet stays on duty till closing time.

LAZ

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I love Quartinos. There are very few places that you can "eat not dine" in this neighborhood. I am sorry to hear about the parking. It was one of the best things about the place. I think the pizza is very good but I am not as crazy about the pastas that I have ordered. I love all the appetizers from the duck to the white anchovies. I also like the veal skirt steak and the capponata. I do wish it were a tad less noisy but we sit in the back and it is better there.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I spent a couple of days in Chicago at the beginning of the month, and based on all that I had heard about Quartino and a look at their website, I decided to give it a try. I have to say, I had the worst dining experience that I've had in quite some time. I only went one time (and am not keen on going back, based on that experience, so I acknowledge that it's possible that I was just terribly unlucky, although some of the problems were so basic that I have my doubts.

First, the good things: the appetizers were quite good -- we opted for some taleggio, bresoala, and artichokes -- and the various condiments and sides that came with them were every bit as good. There were so many small plates that sounded good that it was difficult to decide, and I suspect that many of those we didn't order would also have been quite tasty.

Unfortunately, that's were the good ends and the bad begins.

To start, the place was so noisy that my dining companion and I were yelling at each other and could barely even make ourselves understood. While I have no problem with some noise and activity -- I like a lively and bustling scene as much as the next guy -- by the end of our dinner, my ears were almost ringing, and I was getting hoarse from the yelling.

Given the name of the place and list of wines by the quartino, I was all the more disappointed with the wine; we tried four different wines, and they ranged from uninteresting to downright bad. If I were forced to return, I'd skip their various quartinos and head right for the bottle list, which looked fairly promising.

After all the antipasti, and since our ears were beginning to ring, my friend and I decided to split a pasta dish, and being a fan of duck and a good ragu, we went for the bigoli with duck ragu, which was a disaster. The pasta was unevenly cooked, with some strands being just fine and others so undercooked as to be crunchy. By this point, I was so underwhelmed that I decided just to leave it on the plate rather than complain, and I paid the check and headed out as quickly as I could.

I've read the other reviews, and it seems that my experience was unique. I'd like to think that I just stumbled in on a bad night and that normally the food, wine, and service is much better. But I must admit that I'm skeptical...

On the upside, during the same visit, I had great meals at Frontera / Topo and Bin 36 and I had some great sausage and duck fat fries at Hot Doug's. I had hoped to stop by one of my old faves, Cafe Iberico, but ran out of time.

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  • 11 months later...

I just got back from a fantastic meal at Quartino, 626 N. State St. at Ontario. Everything we had was very good, and some things -- the duck prosciutto, sopressata, taleggio cheese, olives, and caponata -- were outstanding. The pizzas were very good, but having recently enjoyed an Al Forno grilled pizza back home in RI, I was struck by the thickness of the crust.

I had a conversation with Bob Kanzler, a FOH fellow, about the cured meats, and it would seem that their gamy brilliance is likely to continue, if not intensify, in the coming months. For that alone -- and the accommodating wine options -- I'd hustle there in a heartbeat whenever I got a chance.

Bustling ambiance, decent cocktail fixin's at the bar, great waitstaff: what's not to love?

ETA that I merged this post into the existing topic (which I didn't find initially).

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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Fantastic, thanks for that report, Chris. Quartino's menu is very attractive to me... good salume selections are hard to find here in Kansas City.

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