Opened in 1973, the Kitano Hotel received a key from Mayor John Lindsay for being "the first Japanese-owned facility of its kind in New York." From 1991-1995, the hotel closed its doors for a complete overhaul of the exterior and interior. Stepping inside its doors, I could not help but have a feeling of calm settle over me as I received a warm reception from members of the staff. The simply decorated room with high-ceilings, clean lines, a magnificent floral display and beautiful art on the walls, immediately created an international and elegant appeal.Although the main entrance is on Park Avenue, Jazz at Kitano can be accessed either through the lobby or its own doors on 38th. Both the restaurant and hotel feature museum-quality art works including Fernando Botero, Paul Jenkins, Red Grooms, Ed Baynard and photographers Joel Greenberg and Henri Silberman. We found Jenkins' painting hanging above the bar, entitled Phenomena Seen Not Heard (2004), to be particularly stunning. What a wonderful atmosphere for live music and jazz rhythms, which are played almost every night of the week.
On more than one occasion, as we walked 45th, a long line snaked out of BentOn, a small takeout eatery. This tiny gem provides authentic Japanese bento boxes to the lunch crowd in Midtown, a welcome break from traditional American fare. When striking up a conversation with a Japanese businessman who had stopped by for lunch, he shared his opinion about the food, saying that he felt it had been modified a bit for American palettes, but was as close to authentic as he had tried in Manhattan. The bento boxes vary per day and are served alongside their specialty drinks.
Once we figured out where we needed to go - through the lobby of a commercial building and down a few flights - we parted a curtain, and turned to each other with broad smiles on our faces and gestures of approval. A friend had mentioned Sakagura a while back, saying don't forget to find this amazing Japanese restaurant when you are walking on 43rd. I put it in my notes, and made reservations on a Thursday evening at 7:00 pm. We only waited a few minutes, but when we were taken to our booth - we were a party of six - every table was filled. Somehow the minimal interior with cement flooring, simple wood tables, bamboo, and a bar that extends down an entire side of the restaurant came together seamlessly. For me, however, it was the large flowering branches of cherry blossoms that captured my attention - and heart. It was the middle of April, and I had been eagerly awaiting these trees to open their buds in Central Park, but they had been taking their sweet time after a very cold winter.Known for their extensive selection of Sake, we browsed through the long list, and then took the advice of our server. Several of the items on the menu were a bit different from what some of us were accustomed to sampling, but that we did. Together with some standards like edamame, we ordered numerous small plates and main dishes to share - chicken, beef, fish, including fried eel and fillet of salmon sashimi, udon noodles, spinach with a sesame paste, rice balls with miso painted on top and the show-stopper, mashed potato balls fried in a sweet donut batter. Different and delicious.
Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar," at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping." They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed...and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them." And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
There are intriguing spaces sprinkled throughout the city that invite corporations to utilize their facilities, but stepping inside Offsite is a unique experience designed specifically for the business meeting clientele. The brainchild of Patrick Everett and Shawn Kessler, they have created a stunning turnkey facility where all day conferences can be held. Companies are invited to bring their employees together for a productive 9am-5pm meeting in the three levels of fully equipped space, which can then be flipped effortlessly into an appropriate venue for an evening event. The rooms are configured so that some forty people are able to sit around one gigantic table or be rearranged into smaller units. Attendees never have to feel confined to one space, as they can move around freely on each floor, dividing up into smaller breakout sessions, when necessary. The rooms are versatile and technology oriented, fully outfitted with AV equipment - as Patrick referred to it, "plug and play." Endless pens and pads, drinks and snacks, including large jars of enticing candy, are provided throughout the day. The partners have paid attention to every detail, taking into consideration exactly what they believe their clients will require, including a small executive office that allows for a private phone conversation and a myriad of white walls that are actually whiteboards. Offsite works with some of the terrific catering facilities in the area to provide top lunches and dinners for groups, and everything is served on their attractive dishes. While being given a tour, Patrick told me that he had been an event planner. When he discovered that there was something important missing in the corporate world, he found his niche. As he began to imagine the possibilities, he worked diligently on his concept with Shawn. Basically all one has to do is book the space, and the rock star team at Offsite will handle the rest.
Mercato was the perfect discovery as we were ending our walk across 39th Street. We found this spot to feel like a traditional trattoria that is relaxed with simple wood tables, upbeat music that does not overpower the room, exposed brick and touches of antique kitchen equipment, vintage posters and an impressive wine cellar. We easily settled ourselves down for some hearty, homemade pasta and a friendly conversation with Massimo, the manager and friend of owner, Fabio Camardi. Both from Puglia, a southern region in Italy, Massimo said that the menu reflects this cuisine - with "Tiella Pugliese" being their signature Puglia dish made with mussels and tomato in a rice and potato casserole - however, the chef also pays homage to Umbria, Sardinia and Sicily.When we first sat down, we were brought a basket of bread with a sauce for dipping that had lentils, garlic, capers and olive oil. Not a combination that we had experienced before, but we mopped every bit up. Another classic Puglia dish came next - pasta with broccoli rabe, breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil. There is usually a touch of anchovies added, but in deference to the vegetarians, the chef was kind enough to leave them out. Despite this, the dish was extremely flavorful. Next up, we sampled Mercato's homemade ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, butter and sage. So good, so rich and so filling.After being open for four years now, Massimo, was pleased to tell us that it is nice to recognize foreigners who are choosing to return, as well as the locals who are repeat customers. It is "consistency that has been our secret. We make sure that the flavors never change in our dishes - from the first plate that we served in 2010 - we are proud that those same recipes look and taste the same today."
Considered by many to be one of the top sushi restaurants in Manhattan, I was intrigued to learn more about Yasuda. When I asked a friend who lived in the area, about the restaurant, she explained to me that this is where she goes for a "clean, fresh, authentic Japanese sushi/sashimi experience." They are purists at Yasuda, clearly discerning as to the quality and integrity of the fish that they select and the simplicity and care with which they prepare and serve it. She went on to say, "Put simply, they allow the flavors of each fish to speak for itself - and each bite does, in fact, transport the diner to the sea."