NEW YORK — There are lots of restaurants in this city based around gimmickry, from food to the decor to the size of the wine list. Andrew Carmellini, the chef at the new A Voce is all about simplicity.
Set right off Madison Square Park, A Voce (“word of mouth” in Italian) serves light, contemporary Italian fare in a homey but modern setting: Green leather tabletops and Herman Miller chairs provide a clean edge, while the warm lighting creates a soft ambience. Come April 15, the restaurant will offer New Yorkers their own piazza-like setting when it opens an outdoor seating area, complete with lemon trees, trellises and a separate bar and lounge area.
The first New York venture of the Marlon Abela Restaurant Corp., which owns Umu and the private club Mortons in London, among others, A Voce’s focus is on the food. Indeed, Carmellini’s straightforward cooking includes dishes like braised veal “Soffritto,” carne cruda and grilled octopus. Born in the Midwest of Italian-Polish descent, he first discovered the appeal of this cuisine when he traveled to Italy at age 17.
“Eating a simple dish like gnocchi with tomato sauce for the first time I was like, ‘Oh, now I get it!'” he recalls.
Though he briefly considered attending the Berklee College of Music (his other passion), Carmellini headed to culinary school followed by stints in various high-end French kitchens, including Lespinasse, Le Cirque and, most recently, Café Boulud. At A Voce, he evokes the dishes of both his family’s native Friuli and Tuscany and other regions like Calabria, Sicily and Puglia.
And in his off hours, he still pursues his musical inclinations, recording a rap album with a Café Boulud pastry chef in Brooklyn. For despite his obvious cooking talent, music provides a sense of control lacking in a buzzing New York boite.
“It’s not like you can make a CD of your best performance and then play it over and over again whenever you want to listen to it,” he says of the challenges in running a restaurant. “Every day is different. The customer changes. The staff changes. The tomatoes one day have more acidity than the next day. It’s a living, organic kind of thing.”