Andrew Carmellini graduated from CIA in 1991, and over the next seven years he worked at San Domenico, Lespinasse, and finally Le Cirque where he met Daniel Boulud. He became Boulud’s executive chef at Café Boulud since its opening, and has been honored by James Beard with its “Best Chef in New York City” award in 2002 and 2004. His new restaurant at 41 Madison, in the space that was formerly French restaurant Le Vingt Six, has been in the planning stages since he left Boulud’s employment in May of 2005. In-between planning the new restaurant, he has spent most of his time traveling or just enjoying New York City’s cultural and entertainment opportunities.
“This is the first break I’ve taken since I was a teenager, without having a restaurant to run. It took us 10 months to put this restaurant together, from the time we signed the lease to the time we opened. I spent some time traveling to Italy on vacation and eating out a lot, it was not necessarily for research it was just for enjoyment. The rest of the time I was just enjoying the city, which was nice to have the time to do - mostly cultural stuff; seeing music, playing basketball, things like that.”
When Carmellini began work on the new space, many people thought that the location just needed a quick fix, but after finding electrical problems and other areas that were troublesome, they decided to just re-do everything.
“The space has definitely been transformed from its former self. But what really attracted my partners and I to it was the outdoor space. The building is sunken from the sidewalk about 15-20 feet, and it has a huge terrace that is 100 feet long. We’re going to have a cooking station outside, and outdoor seating with lemon trees. So the idea of doing a modern Italian space with the outdoor seating was what attracted us.”
While the preliminary design is done for the new outdoor area, Carmellini is confident it will be ready by the beginning of May, just in time for the warmer weather. In the meantime, the restaurant is doing well and Carmellini talked about the cuisine at A Voce.
“The food at Café Boulud was prepared with a very personal style. Daniel gave me free rein there; it was my own baby really. We had a lot of international influences there, but the things that usually made people the happiest were the more soulful kind of dishes, and not the more contrived type of dishes. Like a good plate of ravioli, or a really nice roast of veal. Well-prepared delicious food was making people the happiest, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. It’s a modern room with an interesting touch on every dish, and Italian influenced New York food.”
On opening night, A Voce was host to Ruth Reichl, and Carmellini has already seen other reviewers circling the wagon.
“It’s part of the game in New York, everyone wants to be the first to get the scoop. It’s not like the old days with Craig Claiborne and Bryan Miller, and you had a year before any of them would show up. There are so many outlets for rankings and criticism now that it’s hard to put emphasis on which one is important and which one is not. In the end, that’s not the way people make decisions on what restaurant to go to.”