The moment I walked into Burger and Lobster, I knew that it was not a typical seafood restaurant. Huge lobsters swam in tanks by the door, and a whimsical chalkboard announced the restaurant’s grand total of three menu items: the burger, the lobster, and the lobster roll. When Burger and Lobster opened in January of 2015, no one knew whether its limited menu would appeal to New Yorkers. Vanessa, the general manager, was especially skeptical. “But after just a few weeks, ” she told me, “the restaurant was a huge success! I couldn’t believe it. ” Since then, Burger and Lobster’s reputation has continued to grow, and the wait on weekends can be up to an hour. When I stopped by on a sweltering July afternoon, I could see why the restaurant has become so popular. Housed in a former tae kwon do studio, Burger and Lobster feels both casual and upscale, with high ceilings and simple décor (I especially liked the lobster trap light fixtures). With seating for up to 300 people at a time, the restaurant can easily accommodate large groups, and the downstairs space is available for private events. Even better, every item on the menu is $20 and comes with generous portions of salad and fries. Burger and Lobster has a distinctively American feel, so I was surprised to learn that the company is based in the UK. According to Vanessa, it all started out with four friends who had known each other since high school. They already owned several high-end London restaurants, and when they decided to do something fun and different, Burger and Lobster was born. The first restaurant was so successful that the business multiplied, and now has eight locations in London and several others in Manchester, Wales, and Dubai. All of Burger and Lobster’s locations have the same laid-back atmosphere, but Vanessa told me that the New York restaurant is the most fun. “A lot of our servers are actors and actresses, ” she explained, “and they’re always having a good time. Last week, two of them performed a scene from Dirty Dancing, and everyone loved it! ”In spite of its relaxed environment, Burger and Lobster is very serious about the quality of its food. Vanessa explained that they buy all of their lobsters from the same group of lobstermen in Nova Scotia, while their beef comes from carefully selected Nebraskan ranchers. “We work really closely with them to make sure all of our food is of the highest possible quality, ” Vanessa added. We had the opportunity to try the food for ourselves just a few minutes later, when the server presented us with all three of Burger and Lobster’s menu items. The lobster paired perfectly with the lemon garlic butter (as did the fries), and once we managed to bite into the towering ten-ounce burger, we found that it was juicy and filling. The Manhattan Sideways team especially enjoyed the creamy lobster roll on soft butter brioche, a choice that felt refreshing and summery. Though we did not sample the drink menu, Vanessa told us about the signature cocktails and wines that Burger and Lobster has on tap, as well as its many beer options. When we had eaten as much burger and lobster as we could—the portions were quite large—Vanessa took us on a tour of the restaurant’s lobster lab. This area, which was designed by a marine biologist and is regulated by a complex computer system, can hold up to 4000 pounds of lobster at any given time. “We go through a lot of lobster, ” Vanessa told us. “On weekends, sometimes we use as many as a thousand per day. ” While the smaller lobsters are kept downstairs in the lab, the “big boys, ” as they’re affectionately known, are kept on the main floor for customers to admire. Between six and eighteen pounds, some of these lobsters are estimated to be eighty or ninety years old, and they are quite an impressive sight. We even got a chance to hold one of the big boys, a six-pounder who remained surprisingly calm as we lifted him by the claws. Burger and Lobster’s Manhattan location has received rave reviews, and Vanessa told us that the company will soon bring its high-quality food and impressive service to other locations in New York and the United States. But until then, anyone hoping to experience Burger and Lobster will have to make their way to this cool, casual spot on West 19th Street.
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
At the Jue Lan Club, two very compelling but completely unrelated stories lie within its foundation. The first story is that of the Jue Lan Society, a cluster of Chinese artists in the early 1930s who shared a “disaffection of conventionality and a devotion to the avant-garde. ” The name literally means “determination to create change, ” and it is in that spirit and in honor of those artists that chef Oscar Toro’s restaurant is called the Jue Lan Club. The second story concerns the place where this new, elegant restaurant is located: an eighteenth century Episcopal church that once housed the Limelight Disco, one of the hottest and most infamous nightclubs in New York since it was opened in November of 1983. First a disco and rock club, the Limelight became a popular venue for techno and goth music in the 1990s, when it also got the reputation as a drug dealing center. After numerous re-openings following police raids, the Limelight finally closed its doors in 2007. Since then, the entire space has been through several iterations, but as of 2016, the Jue Lan Club resides in the charming space with its entrance on 20th Street. The restaurant itself is, in one word, impressive. With its brick walls, artwork, and stained glass windows, it is not only a place to savor contemporary twists on Chinese cuisine, but also to get the party started. It has several rooms - including the Warhol Room, the 1932 Room, and the Alley - each with a different atmosphere, drink, and food selection to suit different moods and night plans.
When I first heard of Pokéworks, I visualized a store for fans of the world-famous video game and TV series, Pokémon. As Managing Partner Kevin told me with an unsurprised chuckle, I was only one of the many misled by the name. “We struggled to find names for our company that a Pokémon spin-off hadn’t already grabbed. ” In reality, Pokéworks has nothing to do with the digital monsters of Pokémon; rather, it is a store dedicated to bringing the Hawaiian dish “poké” to the mainland. Born in Southern California, but always with a passion for Hawaiian comfort food, Kevin opened Pokéworks' first New York City branch with three co-founders in December 2015. The four frequently traveled to Hawaii, returning to the mainland in want of authentic and accessible poké places. Finding few to satisfy their palates, they took it upon themselves to bring the raw-fish-based meal to California and New York. While first-time customers have taken to social media tagging photos of poké as “sushi burritos, ” poké is different in that its ingredients are all pre-flavored while sushi is served plain. With toppings such as spicy ginger, sesame seeds, and sweet chili over a range of proteins (umami aki, tuna, organic tofu, and more), poké wraps and bowls are both nutritious and accessible to customers of all different lifestyles. Kevin asserts that getting poké here is like having “your own personal chef. ”Although one can customize their poké as they wish, the store also maintains a set “signature works” menu that authentically recreates the ingredients of the poké served in Hawaii. A customer at the store who had recently returned from a summer break on the island state informed me that Pokeworks' menu evokes nostalgia for Hawaii in a way that few other places have - there are simply too few poké places on the mainland. It is not hard to see why the line during weekday lunch breaks zigzags out the door and tumbles onto the street. Poké is a healthy, accessible, and flavorful meal, and we only hope to see more people discover this midtown gem.
The stretch between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on 44th has something fascinating, historic and delicious at almost every address. Stepping inside Kellari, however, allowed me to remove myself from the fray for a little while, as I immediately felt transplanted into a Mediterranean setting. From the charming people who greeted me at the door to the far back of the restaurant, Kellari was an exquisite experience. There are high ceilings, ethereal drapes, an abundance of wood, foliage, and candles hanging in chandelier-style candelabras all adding to the je ne sais quoi of the scene. But what is a restaurant without good food? The manager we spoke with, Dimitrios, walked us to the middle of the restaurant where there is an impressive display of fresh fish laid out across a bed of crushed ice for diners to select. The array of fish changes on a daily basis, depending on what is happening in the market, and priced accordingly. A fish can be small enough for one person to enjoy, or at times there are large fish able to serve a party of fifteen. Organic salmon is served simply on a disc of beets with steamed wild grains, alongside potatoes and finished off with a dollop of saffron yogurt. Baked lemon sole came with a cauliflower puree and mixed grilled peppers. The whole grilled branzino was seasoned with just a bit of olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs, thrown on the grill and cooked to perfection, each step visible from the dining area through to the open kitchen. While we waited for Chef Gregory to prepare these few dishes for us to photograph, I observed the endless international business crowd coming in for lunch. By the time we left, the entire restaurant was filled with sophisticated patrons. Kellari means "wine cellar" in Greek, and they live up to the name, with wines stocked like a mosaic piece in the back of the restaurant. There are over 450 varieties carried here, half of which are Greek. The vibes are friendly, the food delicious, and we would be remiss not to mention the well-documented health benefits of a Mediterranean diet!
It is odd to think that one of New York's most reputable restaurants made its start in the midst of a recession, though it is no wonder that another of Michael White's ventures has ascended the ranks of premier dining destinations in the city. Known by many as the kind of place that "people plan for a special night out, " the Sideways team enjoyed a quiet afternoon digging a little deeper to learn the nuances of the famed Italian seafood restaurant that is often host to celebrities and shares a street with Central Park. The original concept of Marea (translated from Italian to mean "tide") was to provide a fine dining experience, with a sense of casual - a "no jacket necessary sort of understanding, " is how social media and communications associate, Anthony Jackson, described it to us. Evidently, the decor skews formal, with Indonesian rosewood constituting the floors and walls, large silver coated seashells scattered about, and the iconic illuminated Egyptian Onyx wall made from the same stone as the stunning bar that sits in front of it. The giant slab for the wall was thinly sliced by craftsmen from Cairo who then came to New York to assemble it. Although captivated by the elegant ambiance, I was intrigued by the cork ceiling, which due to its porousness, absorbs the noise of approximately 130 patrons when filled to capacity. Anthony reported that diners constantly remark at the ability to carry on a proper conversation, despite the numerous people surrounding them. Proud to be one of the first major kitchens in the city to highlight a female Chef di Cucina, Lauren DeSteno has been cooking at Marea since its opening days in 2009. Members of the Manhattan Sideways team were jubilant as they tasted the signature dish, fusilli with baby octopus and bone marrow. The menu at Marea is determined by what is seasonal around the world. Sometimes their products come from as far away as Japan, while at other times during the year, Nantucket supplies them with the best fish. Anthony did comment that they try to stay local as much as possible. The vast wine selection is primarily Italian with French and domestic bottles available as well. Marea stands as the flagship restaurant of Michael White's Altamarea group, which notably include Ai Fiori, Nicoletta, and Costata. According to Anthony, each one takes a different slant on Italian food. While it is no surprise to learn that White's presence in all of his restaurants is constant, we were delighted to learn of Altamarea's regular program of shuffling its employees into different roles between their restaurants - both in Manhattan and abroad. As Anthony explained, "We have lots of talent, and we like to showcase everyone. " He went on to say that they have found that this concept empowers each person to be innovative in their leadership role, while it is simultaneously building teams at the restaurants.
Although in a prime maritime location and littered with a number of world-class seafood restaurants, there are few seafood shacks on the island of Manhattan. Take a quick boat ride down to Chesapeake Bay, over to Long Island, or maybe even down to the Jersey Shore, and you will find those spots where eating seafood is not necessarily treated as something uptight and elite. But if you want to stay local, tucked away in the heart of Harlem lies Lolo’s Seafood Shack, a highly-acclaimed eatery that, interestingly enough, claims its menu’s primary influences are from both Cape Cod and the Caribbean. Despite the fact the Manhattan Sideways team arrived at Lolo’s on a very rainy day, the atmosphere inside made us feel tropically alive, calling back to our perception of that boardwalk shack from the Nickelodeon 90s series, Rocket Power. With both indoor and outdoor seating year-round, Lolo’s can provide a momentary escape for any seafood-lover with an affinity for more peaceful, beachy settings. Lolo’s fits into the culinary framework of Harlem in particular and of New York in general, as both are abundant with seafood restaurants. Its menu certainly fuses influence from New England and Caribbean seafood styles, but it also draws from Central American and the Southern US tastes. We were served smoked chicken wings and Belizean conch fritters, both of which were stimulating and delightful. Head chef Mohan and owner Leticia “Skai” Young have combined a unique beach-urban setting with a trend-setting style of culinary fusion, and for these reasons there is no wonder why this spot is so popular with locals and tourists alike. With daily happy hours, calm and easy vibes, and a litany of positive reviews, press releases and awards, Lolo’s Seafood Shack will hopefully remain a go-to spot on 116th Street.
What a cool atmosphere to sit and eat a plate of mussels. Alex, one of three owners of Flex Mussels, sat at the front bar gluing glitter to mussels from a bucket. She was decorating for Christmas here at Manhattan's ironically named, premier mussel bar. Hailing from Prince Edward Island, Canada, Alex, Bobby, and Laura Shapiro started with a couple of seasonal restaurants in their home province and then decided to move to Manhattan bringing their mussels with them. There are twenty-three different mussel pots to choose from – they suggested the bisque or the Thai broths to us. Those of us who enjoy mussels dug in while I took in the summery illusion of their dining room, complete with pastel walls and a large mural of their home island.