From a quiet corner near McDonald Drive and Pima Road in Scottsdale, Voltaire Restaurant (8340 East McDonald Drive, 480- 948-1005) has been delighting fans of classical French Cuisine six nights a week for many years. From Coquille St Jacques to tableside flambes of Cherries Jubilee, the charm of owner Martin Antonelli and his staff, which includes his chef-son, invokes the warm, expansive culinary spirit of Julia Child. Truly, she'd have loved this place as much as we do.
And while we're summoning the spirits of great artists, let's not forget the man for which this restaurant is named. Perhaps it's apropos, then, that Voltaire's owner is a thinking man himself. The French enlightenment philospher, essayist, and bon vivant would love Martin's e-mail alerts and updates for his restaurant. Sure, you'll find out about their new soft-shell crab entrée, but this is not your average read-it-and-delete-it e-mail blast. You'll find Martin's poetry, thoughts, family recipes, or what ever is on his mind at the moment. Perhaps it might be true, then, that great minds eat alike.
Chow Bella: How long has Voltaire been open? Martin Antonelli: The restaurant has been in this location for 32 years. The neighborhood has grown up around it. We're off the beaten path so we're more of a destination restaurant. There have been three owners. The first two were a French-Canadian couple, they owned it for 18 years. They picked the name, Voltaire, after the philosopher and writer. He was a bit of a gadfly. After that an Italian husband and wife bought it and were here seven years. Eight years ago I bought it, but my son has been here as chef for thirteen years so he predates me.
CB: Your son was here first? MA: My son has always been in food and I'd been in advertising in New York for over 25 years. I was bored out of my mind and had just gotten a divorce. My son called and said the Italian couple who owned this [were] ready to retire so I bought it.
CB: I imagine things looked different when you first got here. MA: When I bought it I had a survey done, with an aerial map. The building was originally the farmhouse and you could see the barn, the out buildings, outhouses. That really wasn't that long ago!
CB: I love the drive to Voltaire, it's peaceful. It's not all freeway. MA: We try to achieve that with the interior. I have some of my own artwork here, and in the foyer you can see my mom's recipe box. Her name's Valentina. I want to convey a sense of coming in to my house.
CB: Your e-mail list is really interesting. How did that start? MA: I've been doing it for two, two and a half years. I brought my advertising background in, and they'd never had any here before. I felt we needed an internet presence. One customer I was friendly with was in the internet business and he created our Web site. We needed a way to personalize the restaurant and talk about menus and go beyond the norm to connect people and build the family. Everyone here is a family, and by extension the customer too.
CB: Tell me about your poetry, it appears a lot in your e-mails. MA: The e-mails have a lot of personal things. I'll write some poetry, include one of my mom's recipes, talk about the history of a cocktail. All things to make it more personal. Most people ignore regular e-mails. It's a feeling that I am trying to get across. It's also a creative outlet for me.
CB: Do you write poetry just for the e-mail alerts? MA: Sometimes I do. I have a book of poetry that I've published. Some are thoughts I've had. When I think it's time for a poem, I start and something develops.
CB: Are you a poet in a restaurateur's body or the other way around? MA: I'm a lot of different things. I'm not a typical restaurateur. I'm a baseball player, a traveler. But I'm always thinking.
Footprints by Martin Antonelli,Prop. Voltaire Restaurant
The future lays before you like a clean, untouched stretch of sand,
Waiting for your footprints.
Who will you be?
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How high you reach is how much you will grow.
How much you seek is how far you will go.
How deep is your search is how much you will see.
How big you make your dream is how great you will be.