Is This NYC's Best Restaurant Table?

cafe carmellini nyc
Is This NYC's Best Restaurant Table?Courtesy Cafe Carmellini

Andrew Carmellini wants you to feel comfortable at Café Carmellini, but not completely at home. “It still should be a New York night out. If you can’t do a restaurant like this in New York, what’s the point?” he says in the dining room he opened in November, the first of his places (which include Locanda Verde, the Dutch, Lafayette, and Carne Mare) to bear his family name. The room has the soaring ceilings of a Gilded Age landmark, but look down and there’s a perky white porcelain “bread basket”—they call it the Chicken Monster—that holds towering grissini.

Meals end with handmade chocolates served in equally off-kilter vessels designed by the Haas brothers. “We call those the Cocoa Monsters, so the meal begins and ends with a monster cartel,” Carmellini says. There are two hand-sculpted trees in the middle of the room to recall the palm courts of Gilded Age New York, but also Duck-Duck-Duck Tortellini on the menu. “Goose,” Carmellini says. “You want to say ‘goose.’ Which is playful, yes, but there is foie gras, too.”

cafe carmellini nyc
The Chicken Gran Sasso at Café Carmellini in New York City, where the menu also includes dishes like the Duck-Duck-Duck Tortellini.Courtesy Cafe Carmellini

The restaurant, on the ground floor of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a building designed by McKim, Mead & White, has double-height ceilings, but as at all of Carmellini’s restaurants, there is nothing precious about it. You feel fancy but at home, too, cozy enough to feel you can ask Chef a few questions. And people do. The kitchen is deliberately open, and people wander in to talk to Carmellini. He’s the man cooking in his signature cap. “It’s almost like you’re at my apartment, where people love to gather around the kitchen. I like to come in and out and say hello,” he says. “From the first time I walked into the space, in 2017, it felt so classic. The McKim, Mead & White design of the building and the intimate scale of the room, done by Martin Brudnizki, definitely gave me a mood for cooking in a certain way.”

It’s an approach he describes as “unabashedly Eurocentric.” He wants the room, with its “sexy but not too dark lighting,” and the food to set a mood for guests: “You want to go out for the night and get a sense of the city. Restaurants are the places to do that. You want to feel good when you’re out to eat.”

cafe carmellini nyc
The balcony at Café Carmellini (seen here) is great for date night, according to Andrew Carmellini, but for a real power meal, ask for Table 31. Courtesy Cafe Carmellini

Carmellini recognizes that there are multiple reasons someone might be eating here on a given night. “For business, I’d say table 31. It faces the kitchen,” he says. “For a date? I’d go upstairs to one of the balcony corner tables. But not if it’s a first date. For that, request number 11.” Then order a martini and wait for the Chicken Monster to arrive.

This story appears in the April 2024 issue of Town & Country in a package titled "26 Rooms Shaping Culture." SUBSCRIBE NOW

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