Despite growing up cooking and eating Italian food, traveling to Italy every year from the time he was 17, and working at San Domenico (both in New York and Imola), Andrew Carmellini never intended to open an Italian restaurant. It’s not that he doesn’t like the food. “When it’s done well,” he says, “it’s such a beautiful cuisine.” It’s more a matter of being happily ensconced, for over a decade, in such rarefied French-oriented kitchens as Le Cirque, Lespinasse, and, most recently, Café Boulud, where he ended his six-year run by snagging the 2005 James Beard award for best New York chef. But when London megarestaurateur Marlon Abela came calling, Carmellini took one look at the Madison Square Park location they found and instantly envisioned a lush terrazza—a place designed for leisurely nights spent savoring a bowl of spaghetti puttanesca and a glass of Sangiovese. We might have to defer that moonlit scenario till spring, but even indoors, Orto (one of several names being considered) will be more unbuttoned than Carmellini’s prior postings, and more affordable, with a $26-entrée ceiling. Carmellini is no less exacting about his purveyors, though, or about his menu, which he calls “Italian cooking through an American lens.” This means using ingredients like prosciutto made from Niman Ranch pork, cured by a friend in Iowa. (“Des Moines,” says Carmellini, “has the same microclimate as Parma.”) It means the Emilia-Romagnan flatbread called piadina, topped with “this amazing mozzarella” he found in Staten Island. It means chicken cacciatore made with fresh bay leaf, sweet peppers, and roasted garlic. “It sounds so simple,” says the chef, “but it can be very satisfying in a soulful way.” Now that’s Italian.
41 Madison Ave., entrance on 26th St.; 212-545-8555; November.