10 Columbus Circle, New York NY 10023; map); 212-823-2523; avocerestaurant.com
Service: Professional and courteous
Setting: Wonderful views and warm modern decor
Compare to:Convivio, Scarpetta, SD26
The Dealt: $29 for three courses
Despite having the prodigious shoes of Andrew Carmelini to fill, Chicago import Missy Robbins has not only maintained the standards set by her predecessor, but has been able to replicate the experience at the newer A Voce located in the tony Time Warner Center. So much so, that she was recently listed as one of Food & Wine's 2010 Best New Chefs.
If my recent lunch there is any indication, I don't think it is an award that many could argue with. While the menu takes Italy and the Mediterranean as a starting point, don't expect a rustic barnyard experience or Grandma-inspired fare. This is high level cooking, using advanced techniques and the freshest ingredients. And it is priced accordingly—unless you go at lunch, in which case a three-course meal will cost $29. Those are barnyard prices that not even your Grandma could complain about.
Sweeping views of Columbus and Central Park provide the perfect backdrop for a pleasurable dining experience.
Before you order, a generous portion of a spongy focaccia bread with a creamy goat cheese laced with peppers and spices is deposited on your table. It is practically a course of its own and adds real value to the meal. From there you will have three choices for each of the first two courses (but sadly just a single dessert option).
The antipasti options include roasted artichokes and a cappellacci pasta, but I opted for the torta della nono. Ricotta comes mixed with braised greens; it's served over a crisp plank of pastry crust under a canopy of shaved radish and fennel. The dish would make a great breakfast item, but it works well at lunch as well. A careful layering of flavors and textures achieves a pleasing synergy, although the sheer crispness of the crust made it a bit difficult to eat.
"Secondi" offerings range from the interesting-sounding tonarelli with anchovy to the spagehetti alla carbonara. But i went with the irresistible Vitello—sweetbread-stuffed veal breast with Swiss chard and a sugo Amatriciana. As a bonus, morsels of fried sweetbreads litter the plate and provide a nice contrast to the succulent roast. The latter was ethereally tender, the creamy sweetbreads adding an earthiness to the veal.
For dessert, a tarufo: espresso and chocolate gelato with dried cherry compote. The only dessert option would have been better if it wasn't so cold. I had a hard time just cracking the chocolate shell, and the granite-like gelato inside required excavation equipment. But textural problems aside, the flavors were delicious.
A Voce offers a similar deal at the downtown location (although at the time of writing the menu was different). And while the latter might be the original location, it lacks the majestic views of its uptown sibling. Either way, the food is phenomenal—and if you go at lunch, it's a bargain to boot.