Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Voce [Columbus Circle], New York NY

…A Voce Columbus was to be my one meal with a dining companion in New York – a friend I’d not seen in 2 years was coming in from out of town to catch the Rangers/Canes game and we were all set for reservations for two at 11:30am, at least we were all set until he got caught up in traffic and had issues with the trains causing him to arrive at Penn Station only 5 minutes before the game. Receiving the call from Steve as I stepped up to the doors of A Voce I was disappointed – but then again, I love eating alone so I wasn’t heartbroken. Making my way up to the hostess station and telling her it would be a table for one instead of two she pleasantly stated “not a problem at all sir, may I take your coat?” while another young lady led me to my table overlooking Central Park (essentially one floor below Per Se.)

Shortly after seating and declining a cocktail I was handed a menu. Between texts with my friend I browsed the options – though I knew exactly what I was planning to order before arriving. Checking out the room I have to say I liked the modern feel, open kitchen, and great use of glass, lighting, and wood/metal contrasts – it felt modern without feeling like it was “trying too hard.” With high ceilings and ambient pop playing over the speakers the restaurant was quite quiet during the early portion of the meal and only a mild din was noted as the space filled up approaching 12:30. Placing my orders my water was filled and the waitress scampered off to input them in the computer before going back to chatting with the bartender (who looked quite board and did not appear to have any work to do throughout my time there.)

At this point I’ll note that service from my primary server was quite mediocre throughout the meal – she delivered items without any description and never checked up on the table, instead allowing her assistants to deal with issues like water, coffee, bread, etc. In addition to this, when I placed my order I asked for the polenta with honey and fruit, a dish that was never received and when I noted this later she said – “oh, I had it written down, oops – its early.” I wasn’t charged, thankfully, but mistakes like that shouldn’t happen in a Michelin Starred restaurant that is less than 1/3 full. That out of the way, it was a young man who delivered my coffee - a bold and rich blend with nutty tones that reminded me of Illy (and may have been since I forgot to ask) – refills were plentiful and rapid.

The first thing to arrive at my table after the coffee was the house bread – one of the best table breads on a visit with many stellar examples. A hearty olive oil glazed ciabatta with great crust was paired with an equally hearty spread of olive oil and rosemary accented ricotta. Aside from the fact that I cannot believe something like this is free, I also couldn’t believe just how well the grassy and fragrant oil worked with the creamy and mellow cheese – fortunately I limited myself to a single plate of the bread, though I probably wouldn’t have if I’d have known I wasn’t getting the polenta. While not as spectacular as the bread service at Scarpetta, definitely one of the best single-type bread services I’ve experienced.

Arriving while there were still a couple slices of bread on the table, my appetizer of the afternoon was the Cassoncini con Prosciutto di Parma - swiss chard and crescenza cheese filled fried dough, prosciutto di parma. Served in a much more ample portion than expected this dish paired supple and fatty prosciutto with a nutty undertone and plenty of savory texture with golden half-moons of light-pastry stuffed with steaming hot pockets of crescenza cheese and Swiss chard. Crispy and light exterior, creamy and mildly bitter interior with a lot of texture – good on their own and absolutely wonderful when wrapped with a piece of pork – and again, quite the portion size.

My main course, as expected (see also Scarpetta, Alto, Convivio, Marea) was the spaghetti ala Chitarra – hand crafted spaghetti, crab, leeks, lemon sea urchin butter. Reading the description of the dish I have to note I had some trepidation in ordering this dish because I don’t really like heavy lemon scents and it sounded like the urchin was going to be unrecognizably blended into the sauce (a la Spiaggia Chicago.) Thankfully from the moment it arrived my fears were proven unfounded – there were large chunks of crab and urchin both on top the plate and blended into the smooth al dente pasta. Taking a bite I was instantly struck by the mildness of the lemon and how it actually managed to enhance the sweetness of the crab and uni while it was actually the leeks that seemed a bit more potent than expected, albeit not in a “bad” way. Again served in a large portion when compared to other restaurants in their price point I really liked the way this dish worked and would rank it second only to Scarpetta’s Uni/Crab pasta – better than any of the Michael White spots perhaps because it didn’t focus so heavily on tomatoes.

After our exchange regarding the polenta our server suggested perhaps having it for dessert, or inquired whether I’d prefer seeing the dessert menu. While honey and fruit polenta for dessert would have been quite pleasant I figured I’d take a look at the dessert menu and instantly reconsidered – bread pudding! Without even assessing the other options I placed my order and within 10 minutes was served Budino di pane - pumpkin bread pudding, orange gelato, caramel. Featuring a smear of thick vanilla caramel topped with crunchy pistachios on the base of the plate the “budino” in this case was more of a bread pudding than those previously and it was beautiful – like a dense pumpkin pie with accents of nutmeg and anise plus cinnamon. Topping this dish was a piece of caramel-pistachio bark bisecting a scoop of mildly sweetened orange gelato. Hot and cold, smooth and crunchy, dense but not “heavy” – an excellent way to finish a great meal.

Explaining to my waitress that I was due at MSG in thirty five minutes I was brought my check, filled out the comment card while waiting for my credit card to be processed, and made my way to the door. Walking quickly through the now-bustling streets I thought about my meal, the scene, and the service – almost everything was wonderful but I just couldn’t get over the forgotten polenta and her lame excuse, especially when I’m pretty sure I was her only table and she spent most of the meal chatting with her co-workers – there is no place for that in high level dining. Not to be spoiled I absolutely loved the room and the view plus the food the kitchen turned out was delicious, plentiful, and well priced. All considered I’d definitely like to return at some point in the future to try some of the other pastas and secondi...or maybe just some more of that table bread.


Sanders said...

Hey Uhockey. I had a few questions for you but wasn't sure if you wanted to answer on here. do you have email or aim or is there any way to ask a personal message on chowhound?


uhockey said...

I can be reached at u.h.o.c.k.e.y.@.y.a.h.o.o.c.o.m ( obviously remove periods....except for the one before .com. :-) )

Jessica said...

I really enjoy reading all your reviews! I look forward to them and have found them very useful on more than one occasion. I travel a great deal and always turn to your site whenever I go somewhere new in case you've been there! :)

I am taking my mom out for her birthday tomorrow and was trying to decide between Scarpetta and A Voce Columbus. I've been to Scarpetta before and LOVED it, but have also been reading good things about A Voce. What was your experience? And both compared to Convivio? On a completely different plane, how about the new $58 at Picholine?

I really appreciate your help!

uhockey said...

Hi Jessica,

Thanks for stopping by.

Given the opportunity to return to ANY Italian restaurant in NYC it would be Alto - the food, the service, the room - all of it is amazing and worthy of its 2-Michelin stars. Next in line would be Scarpetta - the food Conant is making there is unreal (and I've not even tasted his two "signature" dishes - the spaghetti and polenta) plus that bread basket is the best anywhere in its price class.

That said, as you'd guess from the blog, I don't really return to the same place often but instead go for new things - A Voce was excellent food-wise, the service was a bit aloof. I liked the food better at A Voce than Convivo, but the service/experience at Convivo was better.

Obviously if you can get into Babbo and haven't been there it is a MUST as well.

Regading Picholine - I just looked at the $58 menu and while it is "limited" the options are wonderful - the chestnut/risotto/skate/apple brioche meal would do it for me and their service is wonderful.

Hope that helps - kinda indecisive but all of them are so good.