Two years into my residency as a New York Eater, I officially declared a boycott on Restaurant Week and most prix fixe menus. I was tired of being served one too many subpar options, too many basic dishes that weren’t showing off the true talents of the restaurant I was sitting in. Why was I shelling out $35 for a dumbed-down piece of seared salmon when I could be ordering a more satisfying app and entree for the same price off the real menu? I didn’t see the deal.
So it was an unexpected (but happy) blow to my jaded snobbery to discover the most compelling reason to have lunch at A Voce—apart from the phenomenal fresh housemade pastas—is that they don’t play around with their prix fixe menu.
For the past year or so, the restaurant has instituted a daily $29 three-course lunch special, an actual well-thought-out menu rather than the cheap-to-serve stuff like a boring green salad and a chicken entree. Chef Missy Robbins changes it up every so often, highlighting different regions of Italy depending on the area’s iconic cuisine and the time of year she’s serving it: hearty dishes from the Piedmont in the winter, lighter seafood-based fare from Sardinia or the Veneto in warmer weather.
No matter what’s on the menu, it always showcases the famous pastas, both as appetizers and main courses. (I really can’t help myself; I always order both pastas and pick at the non-pasta options of my tablemates. I am hopeless.)
It’s clear to see that Robbins and her kitchen brigade are playing to what’s in season, pairing pici with wild Gulf shrimp in the summer and spaghetti alla chitarra with sweet Maine shrimp in the winter. The pinking-shear edge is a fun touch on the pappardelle that herald the start of autumn with chunks of tender duck ragu, and the perennially tasty ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and prosciutto is a winner as the months get colder.
Even desserts that you know are easy to execute in quantity—chocolate panna cotta, campari-and-grapefruit granita, schiacciata con l’uva (a foccaccia-like dough studded with sweet grapes)—bring pops of surprising flavor that make a worthwhile third course.
One note: service is, shall we say… leisurely, so you better have a good excuse when you’re playing hooky (though luckily, the outdoor seating at the original Madison Ave. location is under a breezy awning, so you won’t waltz back into work two hours later with a telltale swath of sunburn across your nose). Even if you’re not one of the ladies who lunch, it’s a welcome and carb-o-rific diversion without blowing the bank.
A Voce, 41 Madison Ave. at 26th St. or the Time Warner Center, New York. 212-545-8555/212-823-2523 or reservations on OpenTable.
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