5-2006-AVoce-Meatballs.jpgA Voce is Italian for "word of mouth," and word is certainly spreading about this modern Italian restaurant, opened a few months ago on Madison and 26th Street. Andrew Carmellini, the chef, won numerous accolades in his previous position at Café Boulud, including the James Beard Award for Best New York Chef in 2005. Here he presents basic Italian food elevated by the incorporation of the freshest ingredients available.

For a first course, try the carne crudo (literally "raw meat," but who’d order it if it were called that?). Chopped Kobe beef is mixed with minced walnuts, celery, and truffles in an inspired and slightly exotic version of steak tartare. Spread on grilled bread, it almost makes a meal in itself. But we recommend sharing—you can eat only so much before you start to remember that this is, after all, raw meat. Another outstanding choice is the duck meatballs, which are served over a celeriac puree, sauced with a dried cherry mostarda, and topped with celery leaves. For less carnivorous tastes there is an antipasti trio of the freshest and creamiest buffalo mozarella cheese we’ve tasted lately, artichokes with pine nuts and an unusually light pesto that may have been made of zucchini, and a standard but delicious eggplant caponata. We can’t help but also mention one of the pasta entrees--the lamb paparadelle—which alone makes this place worth returning to. The thick homemade noodles have plenty of bite but maintain a luxurious slippery feel. You will feel like you’re tasting pasta for the first time again. The heartiness of the lamb is perfectly balanced with a dollop of ricotta cheese, a sprinkling of mint leaves and lemon zest, and sweet chunks of carrot.

The restaurant's design is comfortable, sleek and modern, with Eames swivel chairs and olive leather tabletops. Although friendly and knowledgeable, the servers can rush you a bit. It all makes sense for a place run by an uptown chef who’s bringing it downtown. A Voce is reminiscent of other recent efforts in this mode—such as Hearth in the East Village and Falai on the Lower East Side--and we are grateful for all this culinary migration.

A Voce
41 Madison Avenue (at 26th Street)

A Voce gets two stars from Platt, but three from Bruni.