Open for Business: Vela Kitchen
A beloved chef and restaurateur make a second home in Pleasantville.
photos by Caylena Cahill
When it comes to contemporary American cuisine, the famous phrase, “if you build it, they will come” could easily be used to describe the work of Michael Madden and Felipe Velazquez, owner and chef (respectively) of Pleasantville’s recently opened Vela Kitchen.
Madden attributes the spot’s success so far to a few factors. First and foremost is his teamwork with Velazquez, with whom he’s been working for six years at Vintage 1891 Kitchen in Larchmont. Vela Kitchen itself is an homage to that relationship, with “Vela” being a derivative of the chef’s name.
Almost as important in this success story, however, is Madden’s relationship to the Pleasantville community. He’s recognized around here, having run the locally loved Strega in the Old Village section of town years ago. The opening of Vela Kitchen seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back to the locality he had connected with for nearly a decade — and the restaurant’s location right across the street from the popular Jacob Burns Film Center doesn’t hurt either.
Madden notes that while both restaurants are in neighborhoods, “the more urban feel” generated here is ideal for Vela Kitchen’s focus on small plates and fun updates on classic flavors. Starters run the gamut from veggie-centric choices like cauliflower fritters with a roasted beet aioli, to intriguing seafood bites, such as tuna tartare with wonton crisps and avocado mousse, and twists on more expected offerings (their sliders, for instance, are made with grass-fed beef, and covered in caramelized onions, Piave Vecchio, and chipotle mayo).
The rest of the menu follows suit, divided into Salad, Fish, and Meat sections, and offering lively dishes like a fennel salad with apple, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, and a blood orange vinaigrette, and heartier fare like Cabernet-braised beef short ribs, served with mashed potatoes, Brussels sprout leaves, and crispy onions. “The chef and I like to challenge one another,” Madden laughs, appreciating that customer opinion, too, factors into their menu makeup. “There’s an immediacy to what we do and we’re not afraid to experiment.”
While both the plates and location make this the type of place patrons can pop into for a pre- or post-movie meal, it also invites lingering — especially in its inviting upscale lounge, replete with tufted couches, and expansive bar. White brick walls and blue accents throughout the rest of the space help Madden fulfill his ultimate goal: keep the people of Pleasantville warm and comfortable.
14 Washington Ave, Pleasantville