Note: Click here for a more recent review of A Voce Columbus.
A Voce Columbus opened last week, taking over the failed Café Gray space. The original downtown branch is now called A Voce Madison. Missy Robbins, a respected Chicago chef who used to be a favorite of the Obamas’, heads up both operations.
I never quite bought into the hype for the original A Voce. Even with Andrew Carmellini at the helm, the food fell short of the three stars Frank Bruni had awarded. Factor in an unpleasant space and inattentive service, and I awarded the restaurant just two stars.
I am not a fan of noisy restaurants, especially expensive ones. Café Gray was crowded, loud, and distinctly unpleasant. For a restaurant with most entrées in the 30s, this was unacceptable. Consumers agreed, and Café Gray is no longer with us.
At A Voce Columbus, one of Café Gray’s errors has been rectified: the kitchen no longer blocks the entire view of Central Park, though it still blocks a good deal of it. The dumbest restaurant design of the decade couldn’t be entirely corrected without gutting the space down to the studs. They’ve done the best they could, opening and brightening up the gloomy shell of a space that Café Gray left behind.
But they didn’t fix the noise. If anything, it is worse. With nothing but hard surfaces everywhere, the room is an echo chamber. My hand was cupped to my ear all evening. Couples nearby were shouting at each other to be heard. Is this a restaurant or a NASCAR race? A Voce’s owners clearly aren’t sure.
A Voce Columbus is not as expensive as Café Gray, but it’s not a cheap date. Our dinner for two was $172.50 before tax and tip. If you order wine, you’ll have trouble getting out for much less than that. Antipasti are $11–16, primi $17–25, secondi $24–38. Service is much improved over my recollections of A Voce Madison, but it does not make up for the cacophonous space.
Missy Robbins’s food struck us as timid and uninteresting. Most of what we tried was flat, under-seasoned, and unmemorable. You’d be happy to drop in if it cost half as much. But I wouldn’t go out of my way for this food, even if the room were much more pleasant.
I give full props to the bread service, though (above right), with a terrific olive oil ricotta spread.
We shared an appetizer and a pasta. Crispy sweetbreads ($14; above left) had the texture of pork belly, and you can never go too far wrong with that, but the smear of polenta underneath them might as well have been Gerber’s baby food. Orecchiette ($19; above right) were dull, and I could barely taste the pork jowl swimming inside.
Branzino ($28; above left) and Lamb Chops ($34; above right) were cooked correctly, but they were not much more adventurous than what one might do at home. The heirloom tomatoes under the branzino had the most basic preparation; likewise the lentils and lamb sausage that came with the chops.
Crisp baked strips of flour lightly dusted with sugar passed for petits-fours.
Servers did a good job of keeping track of our table. I am always nervous when the wine bottle is kept at a central station, but the sommelier kept our glasses replenished.
I could not tell if the sommelier failed to hear me over the din, or if he was upselling. When I asked for a wine recommendation below $60, he kept pointing to bottles above $60. I finally just gave up and ordered one of his suggestions at $68—very good, but $10 more than I had asked for.
A Voce Columbus is less than two weeks old, and I am always wary of judging a restaurant so early. However, it appeared to me that the kitchen executed everything as it was intended. The food just wasn’t very interesting, especially at these prices. Of course, we sampled only a fraction of the menu, but I won’t be dragged again into such an unpleasant space to try any more of it.
A Voce Columbus (10 Columbus Circle, Time-Warner Center, 3rd floor)