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A Voce: Andrew Carmellini goes Italian


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Based on the recent good reviews, I was more excited about my dinner A Voce tonight than any restaurant I've been to in the recent past. The restaurant didn't quite live up to expectations.

If you've been to the Modern, then the decor at A Voce will seem very familiar. It is very sleek, very modern, and very comfortable (including swivel chairs).

Service at A Voce was great. Our server was always around when we needed him, but he was not at all obtrusive, and never once rushed us.

Our first taste of A Voce came from a delicious bread basket with warmed bread that tasted homemade. In terms of ordered food, my boyfriend and I shared an order of the duck and foie gras meatballs. There were four meatballs lined up on a rectangular plate, each on a small bed of celery root puree and surrounded by a cherry sauce. The meatballs were tender, rich, and very good.

For his main, my boyfriend ordered the lamb tortellini. The serving size was relatively small but balanced by the fact that each piece of pasta was filled with a generous portion of hearty lamb meat. After a full day of eating, I opted for something lighter--the olive-crusted cod. This was served over sliced fingerling potatoes, fava (I think) beans and pureed fava beens. The cod was well-prepared, although not mindblowing. Perhaps if I had opted for a more traditional Italian dish, I would have been more impressed.

The true disappointment of the meal was dessert. I chose for the chocolate amaretti cake with gelato. The cake was just too dry. It's rare that I don't finish a dessert, but this one went largely uneaten, except for the gelato on a bed of golden raisins.

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Here's an unexpurgated press release (fulsome, unctuous prose unedited) I recieved about A Voce which might be of interest:

"The word is out: chef Andrew Carmellini, the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef New York for 2005, and Marlon Abela, the restaurateur behind London's Michelin one-star eatery Umu and the one-star with two-stars rising Greenhouse, have teamed up to open a new modern Italian restaurant: A Voce ("word of mouth"), on the edge of chic Madison Square Park. At this sophisticated modern oasis, overseen by Maitre D' Dante Camara, the emphasis is on grown-up, deeply delicious Italian cookery set against a backdrop of Italian style and organic East Coast elements. Desserts are conceived by April Robinson, a veteran of the pastry kitchens at Ducasse and Café Gray; the wine director is Olivier Flosse, former cellar master at Café Boulud and a veteran of the renowned wine program at England's Manoir aux Quatre Saisons.

Carmellini earned a Michelin star, a Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine magazine and two Beard awards-the first for Rising Star Chef-during his time at Café Boulud. As Jonathan Gold wrote in Gourmet, "Andrew Carmellini's modernist riffs on traditional seasonal cooking, laced with Greenmarket vegetable worship and leavened with an list of rotating specialties, are the sorts of things you can eat every day." No stranger to Italian cookery, Carmellini spent a year studying and working in Italy and two more at the iconic San Domenico in New York City. A widely traveled culinarian, he "always comes back," he explains, "to the simple pleasures of Italian cooking." At A Voce, he redefines those pleasures: at his table, deeply flavored classic Italian dishes are infused with a downtown city sensibility and the refined touch that has made him justly celebrated as a "chef's chef." With Carmellini at the helm, A Voce promises to become both a neighborhood hangout and a hot destination.

A Voce's menu, says Carmellini, is "inspired by the spirit of seasonal simplicity in Italian cooking," but his dishes are hardly strict renditions of traditional classics. For instance he pairs incredibly tender Grilled Octopus with peperonata, chorizo and lemon. While his Rigatone Pugliese with sweet sausage, ceci, and broccoli rabe, is a classic combination of legumes and pasta often found in the heel of Italy's "boot," the dish is transformed by refined classical technique and hand-raised American ingredients. The same is true of his Pollo Cacciatora with sweet peppers and garlic, a true redefined classic. Braised Fennel with Orange, a well-known southern Italian combination, is deepened and intensified with Sambuca; Scampi Peperonata with cannellini beans, sweet-water scampi, rosemary and peporanata draws on the time-honored Italian flavor blend of sweet and sour peppers, bringing together regional flavors and textures in a dish that is Carmellini's own.

Robinson, too, draws on well-loved flavors and textures to create irresistible contemporary desserts inspired by regional classics. Her Sicilian-style Coffee Granita is pulled straight from the streets of Palermo; her Diablo Gelato, bittersweet chocolate ice cream spiked with chile flakes, draws on the flavors of Aztec-style chocolate making, a style that was brought to Southern Italy by travelers in the 16th century, that lives on today in the work of artisanal Modica chocolate-makers. Robinson's Tiramisu is classic in its best possible imagining, because, Robinson believes, "sometimes a classic should be left exactly as it is."

Flosse believes that traditions are served best when they are looked at with fresh eyes; hence the French-born wine master's cellar features the best Italian wines alongside a wide range of fine offerings from France and America. Categorized by country [50 percent from Italy] and region, Flosse's over 600 selection list offers affordability as well as luxury, ranging from $18/bottle to $9500/bottle. Eighteen wines are offered by the glass, a majority organic, including: Moscato D'Asti, La Spinetta, Bricco Quaglia, 2004, Vino Rosso, Tavola, Paolo Scavino, Piedmont, 2004 and Soave Le Mandolare, Corte Melini, 2004. The list features 64 half bottles including: Alois Lageder, Pinot Grigio, 2003, Pianrosso Brunello Di Montalcino Piccolomini, 1999 and Yalumba Museum Muscat, NV. In addition Flosse has selected 30 magnums, including: Dom Perignon 1961, Honig, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2003 and La Vieille Julienne Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2000 and two Rehoboams. A firm believer that one need not spend excessively to enjoy quality wine, Flosse has dedicated 40 percent of the list to selections under $80 including: Calera, Chardonnay, Central Coast, 2003, Stefano Massone Gavi Masera, 2004, Macon-Village Domaine de Verckezes, 2003, and Château de Jau, Macabeu, Languedoc Roussillon, 2003). In addition, A Voce will offer monthly wine dinners featuring guest winemakers.

A Voce's design reflects a natural as well as a modern urban aesthetic. The dining room is enveloped by two "garden" spaces, one literal--the 100-seat outside dining piazza adored with lemon trees, flowers and herbs--and the other figurative--an impressive indoor art installation entitled "Falling Twig." The restaurant interior features a mix of modern accents evoking Italy's industrial history: stainless steel and high-gloss chocolate and vanilla lacquers, while American walnut floors, leather-topped tables, and horsehair-upholstered banquettes lend the space an urban elemental feel.

A Voce is the first MARC property to open in New York City under the leadership of Christian Palikuca, Chief Operating Officer of MARC US. MARC is the brainchild of London-based Marlon Abela; he founded the group in 2001 with the aim of creating exceptional restaurants around the globe. MARC's properties include London's Michelin-starred Japanese Umu, the private club Morton's, The Greenhouse-recipient of a Wine Spectator Grand Award-and Gaia in Connecticut.

A Voce is open for dinner seven nights a week from 5:30PM until 11:00PM. The restaurant is also open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30AM until 3:00PM and brunch on Sunday from 11:00AM until 3:00PM. The restaurant is located at 41 Madison Avenue [the entrance is on 26th Street, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South, 212-545-8555]."

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Seems to strengthen my point (made in several other NYC restaurant threads). The problem with most, if not all, Manhattan Italian restos is they try to be something other than Italian. They put things on their menus that have no business being there.

Italian cuisine is terrific as is. There's no need to gimmick it up. I'll go back to my original statement - the best NYC Italians exist in the outer boroughs (sans Staten Island). They don't seem to be as pretentious or self-conscious there.

Outer boroughs are more proud of their Italian heritage and roots. Manhattan types try, for the most part, to be all things to all people and lose something in the translation. Maybe it's just an economic thing - higher expenses (rent especially) cause them cast a wider net and they fall into the "something for everyone" type of menu.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I don't care if it's traditional Italian or not. That meatball dish sounds lovely. Just for that I made a reservation for my next visit to NY next week!! Don't Italians modernize and modify their cuisine in Italy though? I know we do in Japan and evolution is not necessarily a bad thing...

ahh where's the button for the fries?

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Had dinner last night at A Voce and really liked it.

The service staff is so well trained - I mean, the bussers were actually removing stuff correctly from the right side - one of my pet peeves is when servers and bussers reach across you to place or remove something - that actually did not happen once at A Voce.

Yay!

The food, imo, was very good as well - we started with the duck meatballs as mentioned above and I thought they were delicious.

Next we shared a portion of "grandma's ravioli," not gimmicked up, the fresh pasta was perfectly cooked and the filling was wonderful.

From the secondi portion of the menu, my wife ordered the lamb shank torellini - to me the portion size seemed right, and as noodlebot made note of, the filling was hearty and the lamb taste shone through.

My veal cheeks over polenta were the highlight for me - fork tender, full of flavor and a dish I may have to order again, real soon.

Dessert was simple this night - just a bowl of baci gelato - 3 scoops and good.

Along with a reasonable ($40) bottle of Morrelino di Scansano, the tab came to $130 before tax and tip - proobably a bit higher price point than Lupa, but certainly a nice value for the quality of both the food and the service. I'm also sure you can spend a lot more; while the wine list certainly has some choices in the $30 - $40 range and some for even less, it gets expensive fairly quickly.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Seems to strengthen my point (made in several other NYC restaurant threads). The problem with most, if not all, Manhattan Italian restos is they try to be something other than Italian. They put things on their menus that have no business being there.

Italian cuisine is terrific as is. There's no need to gimmick it up. I'll go back to my original statement - the best NYC Italians exist in the outer boroughs (sans Staten Island). They don't seem to be as pretentious or self-conscious there.

I don't know that I agree with this assessment - if you ask an Italian from Piedmont, one from Apulia, and one from Lazio what Italian cuisine is, you're going to get 3 different, distinct answers. As a matter of fact, I'd venture a guess that if you ask 100 Italians what "Italian cuisine" is, you're going to get a lot more than that.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Would you complain that Bouley "isn't French" because it serves dishes you wouldn't see in France but that grow out of the tradition? Do you think Italian cuisine is different from French in this respect? Is it because there really is no "Italian cuisine", but rather a bunch of regional cuisines? Do you think that American cooks working in an Italian idiom must be straightjacketed like that?

Do you think that part of this is that if you grow up with a certain cuisine you might have problems with variations and elaborations on it? (Note how similar Rich's response to A Voce is to Soba Addict's response to Cendrillon.)

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Seems to strengthen my point (made in several other NYC restaurant threads). The problem with most, if not all, Manhattan Italian restos is they try to be something other than Italian. They put things on their menus that have no business being there.

Italian cuisine is terrific as is. There's no need to gimmick it up. I'll go back to my original statement - the best NYC Italians exist in the outer boroughs (sans Staten Island). They don't seem to be as pretentious or self-conscious there.

Outer boroughs are more proud of their Italian heritage and roots. Manhattan types try, for the most part, to be all things to all people and lose something in the translation. Maybe it's just an economic thing - higher expenses (rent especially) cause them cast a wider net and they fall into the "something for everyone" type of menu.

I couldn't agree less. I'm curious to know when you last traveled in Italy. Cooking it Italy today is quite often not what it used to be. That's true not only in the restaurants recognized with stars by Michelin, but in the restaurants most highly rated by Italy's own respected guides such as Gambero Rosso. Sure the wonderful trattoria can be found serving local dishes, but not every restaurant is meant to be a trattoria. Nor should Sneakeater's point about the regionality of Italian cooking be taken lightly. A trattoria in Venice will serve a much different menu than one in Florence or Rome. Even in a rather humble trattoria in Bologna, a bastion of traditional cooking, I had a large meatball that was crusty on the outside and raw in the center. I was even warned when I ordered that it was not your average meatball and I was given a spice grinder filled with mustard seeds to season my dish. Not very Italian, I suppose. We should all be careful about bringing our prejudices about what a restaurant should be, to the table. We need to find the chef who pleases our palate and not berate those who don't on the purely subjective terms of what we think he should offer. That Carmellini is cooking Italian food after the years at Cafe Boulud excites me. It's in line with his heritage and culinary experience and I assume the results will profit from his heritage and culinary experiences outside of Italian cuisine. Which reminds me, I believe a part of his heritage is Polish and I seem to recall that making an appearance on the Cafe Boulud menu. What I don't seem to recall were any complaints that it wasn't French cooking.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A Voce is slightly disappointing only because it isn't as good as Cafe Boulud was under Andrew Carmellini. (More on that later.) In every other way, it's a highly recommendable spot.

The room is nice, although a bit cold (in aspect, not temperature [Duh]). The already-famous swivel chairs are among the most comfortable restaurant seats I've yet experienced (now I sound like Frank Bruni). Service is slightly over-friendly, to my taste, but you can't say it's inattentive.

The food is sort of deracinated upscale Italian. (More on that later.) But it's very good. I started with the duck meatballs, served in a tangy sauce. I was going to say that I can't imagine anyone not liking them, but if you're one of the people who find the Mongolian Cauliflower at Devi too cloying, you might think the same of these.

As is common -- and as people who've had Carmellini's pasta dishes at Cafe Boulud would expect -- the high point of our meal was the pasta (although I want to emphasize, pace Babbo, that I didn't find the secondo unworthy; I just found the pasta extraordinary). We had what I think was a special of pumpkin ravioli with sage. Sometimes this dish can be a little wan, but here it bursted with flavor. The ravioli themselves were very delicate, though. Dishes that can be simultaneously delicate and strongly flavorful are, to me, a real treat.

Trying to create my own duck, duck (oops! only two ducks!) dish (that was the waiter's joke, actually), I had as an entree roast duck with "tuscan spices", whatever they are. It was perfectly fine -- but it wasn't a patch on my dining companion's veal dish (which she graciously shared with me after she saw me looking at it in a way that suggested I was about to strangle her for a few tastes). I seem to recall its being listed on the menu as a veal "sformato", but I must be remembering wrong (maybe there's another similar term I don't know that I'm confusing it with), because I didn't any sformato component. What I did see -- and taste -- were fork-tender bits of veal (among the tenderest I've had) thinly coated with what I took to be a lightly-spiced tomato paste. If you go, I strongly recommend this dish.

The desserts were good, although I didn't think they were great. I had a special of cheesecake with huckleberries. My companion had the citrus coppa with black pepper, which, although good enough, frankly sounded better than it turned out to be.

The wine list is very good (not all Italian, BTW). As has been noted, there are more choices in the $40 area than you'd expect at a restaurant like this (although we decided to have a bit of a blow-out with a super-Tuscan called Il Futuro, an extremely smooth 100% sangiovese that had all the flavor of that grape but was refined rather than earthy -- a delicious wine that I thought complimented the food perfectly).

So what do we have here? Perhaps you could say that the food at A Voce is what Babbo's would be if it were more subtle, or what L'Impero's would be if it were less complicated.

What's mainly interesting to me, though, is that although A Voce is a very good restaurant, it doesn't approach Cafe Boulud under Carmellini. And I have to say that, despite the skepticism I had expressed, I think the reason might be what Rich said earlier in this thread. For all sorts of historical reasons -- Italy didn't develop a restaurant culture the way France did, Italy never developed a national cuisine -- it may be that French cuinsine lends itself to haute elaboration better than Italian (especially since there is no such thing as "Italian cuisine"). For whatever reason, though, Carmellini's food at A Voce is very good, whereas his food at Cafe Boulud was truly special.

On the other hand, A Voce is also cheaper than Cafe Boulud (entrees, as best as I recall, are under $30 and, if I remember right [i'm really bad at this], mainly not more than $25). It's very good. It's highly recommendable. It just isn't all that Carmellini can do.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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OK, having looked it up, soffritto is a Tuscan preparation wherein you cook and cook a bunch of vegetables and herbs until they sort of loose their physical integrity, and then you use them to flavor meat or I guess some other protien. So that's what I took to be a "lightly-spiced tomato paste" coating the veal. It's REALLY good.

I should add, BTW, that the lamb shank tortellini were NOT on the menu last night.

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About the wine: I just looked it up, and contrary to what the sommelier told me, Il Futuro isn't 100% sangiovese, but rather a sangiovese/cabernet/merlot blend. That would explain its extraordinary smoothness for a sangiovese (i.e., because it isn't just sangiovese). I have to say, though, that there wasn't a pronounced cabernet flavor.

I mainly am pointing this out because, although I'm not complaining or anything, it seems notable to me that the sommelier was mistaken about something like this. (Although his description of how the wine tasted -- a far more important thing -- was right on the mark.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Would you complain that Bouley "isn't French" because it serves dishes you wouldn't see in France but that grow out of the tradition?  Do you think Italian cuisine is different from French in this respect?  Is it because there really is no "Italian cuisine", but rather a bunch of regional cuisines?  Do you think that American cooks working in an Italian idiom must be straightjacketed like that?

spot on mate.

4.5/5 imho.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Made it to A Voce tonight for a last minute (and late) dinner. Gotta say, it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Previously on this board there was a debate as to whether it qualifies as 'Italian.' Hmm, who the hell cares. I sure don't. The food, regardless of category, speaks for itself and it speaks very highly at that. Started with the now ubitquitous duck meatballs. Every bit as good as everyone says. Rich, meaty and oh ever so slightly gamey. Tempered beautifully by the sweet cherries and smooth, silky, mellow celery root puree. Carne crudo was, in this iteration, a quasi Italianified steak tartare. It was, as tartare should be, fresh and punctuated by a nuttiness courtesy of walnut oil, i think. Garnished with shaved parm and a simply adorned arugula salad. Straightforward flavors, but good.

We opted for one pasta dish, but it was certainly worth it. Spaghetti with ramps, American speck, peas and favas. What can I say but near perfection. It was wonderful. Al dente pasta, salty and smoky speck, rich parmesan sauce, essence of allium from the ramps and a little punctuation of spring in the form of peas and favas. Just great. Think of it as a carbonara for spring. Possibly my favorite dish of the night.

From the pasta we moved on to the octopus with lemon and pepperonata and the veal tongue with frisse and lentils. The octopus was quite tasty. The chewiness was nicely contrasted by a charry crunch courtesy of a quick grilling. With the pepperonata I was expecting something along the lines of an agrodolce, but it turned out to be more of a riff on piperade with a little smoke and heat. Good combination. The lemon, though, was a bit distant. I was amazed by how tender the veal tongue was. I'm not sure how they did it, but it was great. The earthy lentils were piqued by just the right amount of vinegary (probably sherry) acidity.

For a fish dish we tried the steamed black bass in Ligurian shellfish broth. The bass was very nicely done. Broth was verdant and herby and light but full of flavov. There was a wonderful theme of spring with new potatoes, more favas and crunchy snap peas. While not the best dish of the evening it was, on its own, quite good. Almost refreshing. Finished up with the roast veal for two. I have to admit I'm not a veal person (the people I was with wanted to order it) but this could get me to change my mind. Perfectly cooked, incredibly tender and loaded with flavor. Absolutely the best veal chop I've ever had. Oh, we also had a contorni of mushrooms. Mixed wild mushrooms. Earthy and rich. Great flavor.

Desserts were good as well. Chocolate pannacotta was an idealized state of chcoclate pudding. Tiramisu, yes, tiramisu, was great. Bombolini (little doughnut holes) and chocolcate sauce were light, airy, yeasty and satisfying. Had a cheese plate: pecorino toscano, robiola la bosina and gorgonzola cremificato. All very good, especially the robiola. Nice selection of condiments: fig compote, toasted walnuts, green tomato mostarda, and honeycomb.

It was truly an amazing meal from start to finish. Props go out to AC and his crew. The kitchen is just clicking. Service was very professional and courteous as well. Beware, contrary to so many new NY restaurants there is no pretense. It's just good, uncomplicated, straightforward, delicious food. If you don't look for that in a dining experience I can't recommend it. If you eat for taste, though, give it a try.

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I really enjoyed my dining experience at A Voce. The meatballs were great, the sweet/savory balance was perfect! Everything we ate was exactly or better than we expected it to be.

This has nothing to do with their food but my husband couldn't get over how comfortable their swivel chair was, I think it was an Eames chair. I wonder if the restaurant can turn guests for multiple covers when chairs are so comfortable like that!

Since I've dined out so much that week I couldn't eat a full main course so I thought I'll order the quail (an appetizer) as main course. The server said it was quite small so he will ask the kitchen if they can make a main course size for me. As much as it was a kind gesture, it ended up to be too much and I could only finish half what was served. Initially I thought the server was considerate but I later found out he tried too hard to up sell whenever he could. He tried to convince me to order this hard to get hen from Vermont, which I overheard him doing the same thing to the ladies next to us. He also suggested we order the ricotta cheese spread which we indulged in. The third and persistent up sell was dessert time, I was too full and tried to pass and he kept pushing and pushing. Ms. Rubber Elbow here couldn't say no so my husband and I indulged in the panacotta. He snuck in another upsell by suggesting grappa (ick!). Despite how annoying it got with the eager beaver server and his up selling, the food was fantastic and the service timing was perfect. I would definitely go back again.

ahh where's the button for the fries?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dinner there with very picky out of town friend. A Voce is seriously good. We started with a soulful octopus and an earthy porcini salad. Then, a deliciously delicate bass with a spring broth, and a tasty agnolotti, while fiddleheads and creamy polanta played the sides. Finished off with a sinful tiramisu and hazelnut gelato. I don't drink much, so there was a half bottle of querciabella and an ultra cool decor with the whole meal. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Thank god. Bruni finally nailed one. First time I've ever been in full agreement with one of his reviews. By no means, however, is this redemption. It's just a step in the right direction for Frank. Lest this come across as a post on Bruni though, I feel that Carmellini and his staff should be congratulated on a job well done. They definitely deserve three stars.

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