“I’ve been dreaming about doing an American restaurant for ten years,” says Andrew Carmellini. It’s an odd admission from a man who spent the past decade cooking Italian (at A Voce and, currently, Locanda Verde) and French (at Café Boulud, where he made his name). But it’s not so odd when you consider what American cooking, in contemporary culinary parlance, has come to mean: an inclusive tapestry of multiethnic influences and regional traditions—something that Carmellini has, in one way or another, been cooking all along.
This fall, he gets his American restaurant: the old Cub Room space in Soho, which the design firm Roman and Williams is transforming into two bright and airy front rooms, with globe lights inspired by the Waffle House and an eight-stool oyster bar; a snugger, woodier, reservation-only back room with a working fireplace; and an eighteen-seat private dining room in the basement. Though Carmellini has yet to decide on a name, he’s well into menu planning. His second cookbook, American Flavor, to be published next fall, takes the same multifarious American approach. So think of this new Carmellini project as a companion restaurant, and also a return of sorts to the dishes he created for Café Boulud’s “Le Voyage,” the menu section that ventures, every few months, to a different corner of the world. “I can’t wait to cook with ginger, lemongrass, and ancho chiles,” says Carmellini, who sees no reason why American food can’t mean miso stew and posole as much as it means fried chicken and cherry pie. Look for the revival of Voyage dishes like smoked-whitefish chowder and farmer’s-cheese pierogi inspired by Carmellini’s (half-Polish) Cleveland youth. Over the past year, he’s taken exploratory road trips to tamale shacks in Greenville, Mississippi; to Cozy Corner in Memphis; and, with gut-busting thoroughness, to “every major barbecue place in America.” But despite his recent acquisition of a $15,000 Southern Pride smoker, the b word is not to be uttered within the restaurant’s confines. “We’ll smoke meats and fish—black cod’s great smoked—but when you use that word, all the barbecue police come out of the woodwork,” says Carmellini. He’s come up with a much less provocative culinary genre: “American cooking with New York soul.”