Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dinner at A Voce (Madison Ave)

I’ve been to A Voce once before, many years ago when Andrew Carmellini was still the executive chef at this restaurant.  In my memory, that was a pleasant, elegant meal.  This past Thursday, I went again.  The chef now is Missy Robins.  The memory created this time was a little marred in spite of the good food.

41 Madison Ave (at 26th Street)

The space is still as before, warm with wood finishing  and modern. The smooth, wood-topped tables were beautifully matched with swivel chairs that were upholstered with caramel-colored leather, and the wall lighting faded pleasantly between various shades of vermillion and orange.  The food was delicious and generously portioned.  However, the service seemed to have deteriorated.  For an upscale restaurant like A Voce, I would have expected staff that was warm and knowledgeable.  Instead, it was very brusque and unpolished.  Other than the service hiccup, the food saved the day.

The menu offered a nice selection of appetizers, pastas and entrees.  For appetizers, we tried the mackerel (sgombro) and the mushrooms (funghi al forno).  The mackerel was panfried, drizzled with a light sauce and dressed with mandarin segments.  It turned out to be more delicate than expected although I would have preferred a stronger mackerel flavor.

The mushrooms were heady and had the most appetizing aroma when served because of the white truffle oil that it was cooked with.  The King mushrooms were sliced in half and pan fried and served with a very creamy, savory sauce.  So delicious!  The meaty mushrooms were perfectly cooked with a lightly crisped crust but still retaining plenty of moisture and texture in the flesh.  Such a delight.  This ended up being the clear winner of our dinner that evening.

We were so enticed by the description of the pastas on the menu we decided to order four of them among the three of us- the beet-stuffed ravioli (casunziei), spaghetti and shrimp, foie gras ravioli (raviolini di fegato) and linguini with crab (linguini al granchio).  My favorites were the linguini with crab and the shrimp spaghetti.  First off, the quality of the hand-made pastas at a Voce were nicely chewy and absorbed the flavors of their ingredients very well.

The crab linguini was made with fat lumps of sweet crab meat and was rich with the promise of the ensuing spring.

The shrimp in the spaghetti was very fresh, so fresh it had a slight elasticity/crunch to it, which was quite toothsome.

The foie gras ravioli popped with its rich, gamey flavors.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this dish.  The only slight disappointment to this repertoire of pasta dishes was the beet pasta.  The little beet raviolis had an attractive red hue and the first taste was also enjoyably sweet.  Then after a few bites, the sweetness became cloying.  This dish may have been better as an appetizer.

We were very full at this point but we decided to endure our serious pasta hangover and to conquer dessert.  We shared two desserts, the mini donuts with chocolate (bomboloni alla toscana) and the semifreddo di espresso.

The bomboloni was freshly fried and stuffed with what tasted like zabalione and sugared on the outside.  The little dish of chocolate dipping sauce completed it.

The semifreddo was meh.  It certainly tasted fine and of all the ingredients it was described to have - hazelnuts, sea salt caramel.  The biscuit crust below the mousse was delicious and buttery but otherwise, everything was just ok.

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