Celebrity chef Scott Conant’s Impero Caffè takes its inspiration from the Italian quality of “sprezzatura,” which refers to the art of making the elegant look simple. “Elegant simplicity” is certainly the phrase that came to my mind as I descended a chic glass staircase from the lobby of the Innside Hotel (which manages the restaurant) into Impero Caffè’s vast dining area. White and yellow fixtures dangle from the high ceiling into the beautiful, airy space and a stunning, gigantic mural made of preserved moss decorates the wall. Farther back, the manager pointed out their modernist patio - the restaurant’s “hidden gem” - that features a miniature beer garden.
The real gem, however, is upstairs at the restaurant’s outdoor patio, where the Manhattan Sideways team enjoyed a sampling from Scott Conant's rustic, pasta-driven menu. Always a favorite of mine, the gooey dollop of burrata on a plate of salsa verde - peas and fava beans - was melt-in-your-mouth perfection, as was the chef's Pasta Al Pomodoro.
Partially enclosed by plant-lined walls, the large and airy patio is somewhat sheltered from 26th Street, providing a unique dining experience that feels both open and private: It feeds off the energy of the bustling street, but separate from it.
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Fabio Camardi - the charming owner both of this restaurant and Mercato on West 39th Street - announced as we walked inside his brand new restaurant that it had taken two years to complete his renovation. He went on to say that he had chosen the location because he is fond of the architecture in the NoMad neighborhood – “architecture is my hobby, ” he told me. “I built this place myself, ” he went on to say, showing me how he had added the beams in the ceiling and created the new floor made of reclaimed red and white oak. When I commented on the furniture filling the restaurant, including tables from a library upstate and an old butcher’s block, Fabio informed me that he has been collecting antiques for years. While continuing to chat about the renovation, Fabio explained that it was slow going due to the fact that the building dates back to 1865 and has achieved landmark status. Therefore, he had to wait for official permits to do any work. When the restaurant opened in April 2016, Fabio was delighted by how friendly the neighborhood was. “They were immediately nice, ” he said. The highlight of visiting Ulivo, aside from Fabio, was seeing the “Pasta Lab. ” Unlike its sister restaurant, Ulivo focuses on pasta, with fifteen different dishes on the menu. Thirteen of those are made with help from an enormous machine that sits in the basement. “It’s the most advanced machine we have in Italy, ” Fabio proudly told me. He turned the machine on and I was able to watch as it created large tubes of rigatoni and then long strings of spaghetti, using a different setting. “The more pasta you make, the better it gets, ” Fabio informed me. Beyond the pasta lab, there was an event space that seats forty, complete with a full bar and a Faema espresso machine from 1949. At the end of the room, I spotted a special door with a porthole that opens onto the beer cooler, and, in the very back, built out of the old coal shaft, I discovered a cave where the liquor is kept. Upstairs, there is a wine cellar encased in glass with a wooden ladder next to the kitchen. I was intrigued by the row of twenty different olive oils sitting on the counter in easy reach of the chefs. Fabio makes sure that each brand is made and bottled in Italy. When I asked which olive oil was the best, he said he could not answer the question. “It’s based on your taste, like wine. ” In the kitchen itself, different meats were hanging across from a wood fire oven on the opposite wall. Along with pasta, Emanuel “Mano” Concas, partner and the chef (whom Fabio refers to as “The George Clooney of Sardinia), cooks “dal forno a legna” in the wood-fire oven. Each plate is created using a cast iron pan placed directly into the oven. Some of the more popular non-pasta dishes are the tail-in branzino and the dry-aged steak. Being familiar with the themes of good Italian cooking, I was not surprised when Fabio told me, “Everything is fresh. ” This is especially true for the restaurant’s “fritture, ” little dishes. These items include fresh octopus, cold cuts, burrata, and fried meatballs with sea salt, a dish that is particularly popular in Sardinia, where the chef is from. There are also two flatbreads on the menu, but Fabio was adamant that Ulivo is not a pizza restaurant. He simply chose the two that they do "best" at Mercato: The San Daniele with prosciutto and arugula and the Regina Margherita. Fabio shared the myth behind the latter: The story goes that Italian chefs decided to put something special before the Queen. Up until that time, pizzas just had sauce, and so they added buffalo mozzarella to make it royal, hence the “Regina. ”If there is a certain nonchalance about Fabio and his attitude toward owning two restaurants in New York, it is probably because he has a lot of experience in this world – he even went to culinary school, which is rare amongst Italians, who often just rest on the fact that they were born into a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on high-quality food. Fabio shared that he owns four restaurants in Italy, which his forty-four cousins help to run. He went on to tell me that he came to the United States in 2004 because he “didn’t like Berlusconi” (the unpopular former Prime Minister of Italy) and that he began his career in New York as a bartender (the cocktail list at Ulivo is his own creation). In addition, there are four local beers on tap, including Smart Beer, which Fabio says is the "first organic beer made in New York. " There is also a substantial bourbon list – “It’s what people want. ”I particularly loved the story of how he met his wife, who is originally from Korea: they were both attending English school. Several years later, they have two adorable children and “She’s my bookkeeper, ” he said with a smile. His wife is also responsible for the beautiful candles and dried flowers throughout the space. Fabio is playing with the idea of opening an Italian restaurant in Korea. He told me that there is no fresh olive oil available in eastern Asia, but that China had recently planted one million olive trees to try to remedy the situation. Olive oil is absolutely essential to Italian cooking, which is why Fabio named his restaurant “Ulivo. ” He stated, “There is no Italian cuisine without olive oil. ”Fabio’s vision for Ulivo is a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Though he uses traditional Italian culinary methods and pasta recipes, he embraces new technology - such as his pasta machine - and trends. When I asked what was next for Fabio, he responded, “I’m full of ideas – there’s a lot of stuff that I want to try and eat. I love to eat! ”
Although Eataly is right down the street, Mangia has been upholding its fine reputation for terrific Italian antipasto, pasta salads and sandwiches for over thirty years. For a quick and savory lunch without the crowd, Mangia becomes the perfect dining spot. Since opening their first sandwich shop on 56th street in 1981, Mangia has grown into a catering business that services much of the New York area.
When I walked into Biricchino alongside Fouad Alsharif, it was like stepping inside his home. Fouad, one of the owning partners of the restaurant, greeted each person inside with hugs, kisses, and warm conversation. I remembered a comment that I had heard from a different restaurateur not long ago: He was reacting to the lack of loyalty from customers in his neighborhood. In his opinion, there are too many restaurants to choose from, nowadays. People are eager to try them all rather than give consistent business to two or three. I understood his concern, however, I must say that Biricchino has proven him wrong - at least in this particular spot in Manhattan. "I know everyone, generation after generation, " Fouad said. It helps that the family behind Biricchino (which means “naughty boy”) as been in the food business for over ninety years. “Today we are a new generation of men, but we all came from Curino, a small town in Italy in the province of Biella, " Fouad explained. “In 1925 Salumeria Biellese opened on 28th and Eighth Avenue. This is where the men got their start. ” Today, Salumeria Biellese is known as "the" salami and sausage maker in the industry. “Some of the biggest people in New York purchase their meat from us, " says Fouad. Sure enough, one corner of the restaurant has cured meats hanging with a high-end slicer waiting nearby. Biricchino opened in 1986 not only to showcase their handmade meats, but also homemade pasta, mozzarella, and more. Fouad stressed that good food starts with good ingredients. “We are second to none for quality. All our meat is natural and local to the Berkshires or New Jersey, from our hogs and grass-fed beef to our chickens raised on an Amish farm. Everything is done according to our specifications. We also feature seasonal vegetables from New Jersey and fresh breads from Sullivan Street Bakery. ” As proof that Biricchino is the real deal when it comes to high quality and healthy practice, the restaurant was the first in the industry to receive the “Snail of Approval” from the Slow Food movement (in honor of commitment to authenticity and sustainability of the food supply in NYC). “This is a big deal to those in the know, ” Fouad added proudly. The chef is proud of his pasta, fresh fish, chicken, and, of course, pork chop. Each day he tries to mix up the menu a bit so that he is certain to appeal to the different crowds stopping by for lunch or dinner. As far as crowd favorites, Fouad had a ready answer: “Rigatoni with homemade sausage has been our signature dish for years. That and the cured salami has kept customers coming back for a generation and counting. ”
“By accident, ” answered Olga Blanco when I asked her how she got her start in the printing business. Her husband started Nobel Printing in 1979, and Olga took over a short while later when he became ill. “I learned and I kept going, ” she smiled, remembering a time when the business was new to her. She, in turn, has taught her son, who works for a printing company in Florida. Olga shared with me that when her son's business decided to use the traditional printing press in an effort to distinguish themselves from others, his knowledge of the machine lead to a promotion. “No one else knows how to use these, ” she gushed, “so they increased his pay. ”Originally from Columbia, Olga journeyed to the States in 1969 at the age of seventeen. Since living here, she has seen a lot of changes, many of which have had an negative impact on her custom printing company. “Everything is digital these days, ” she rationalized, "And everyone thinks they are a designer. ” With so many people in possession of a computer and the means to make their own digital copies, her fears are not unwarranted. Topped off with rising rents, Olga is not sure her business will operate for longer than a few more years. Indeed, she has seen many others pushed out of the neighborhood for similar reasons. “The real estate business is hungry for money, ” she said, shaking her head. Despite the obstacles, Olga remains quite confident in the product, itself. She happily deals solely in custom printing, taking on any job no matter the size and “creating something beautiful. ” When I visited in the summer of 2016, Olga was working on a wedding order of 2000 invites and could not conceal her passion for the project. She showed me her early drafts, pulling out the quality card stock and brushing her fingertips over a soft design that depicted a tree just in bloom. There is no replacement for “that human touch. ”
Co-founded in 1994 by former number one middleweight boxer, Michael Olajide, and Leila Fazel, a former ballerina, Aerospace claims to offer “a revolutionary new fitness that engages body, mind, and spirit. ” Leila explained that the Aerospace workout is “revolutionary” in two ways: first, it does not involve any machines, and second, it has its foundation in athlete-level boxing to engage cardio, muscle endurance, and core strength. The company has its own boxing ring and jump rope line. We had the pleasure of seeing Michael, who lost vision in one of his eyes in the early 1990s, guide a student through some boxing combinations as part of the Aerospace workout. Although Michael and Leila intend to maintain the “authenticity of boxing” in their program, Aerospace is open to everyone, with or without boxing experience. While some learn to hit bags on the second floor, others in a more advanced program spar in the boxing ring on the first floor. Leila also runs a workout that combines shadow boxing with ballet.
Jon Eisen is not only one of the partners of Between the Bread and its director of strategic growth, but he is also heir to one of the pioneers of the venture, which has delivered sandwiches to office workers since 1979. Ricky Eisen, Jon’s mother and the company’s president - who was born on the outskirts of Tel Aviv - decided to use large-scale catering to bring healthy meals to her clients in a more efficient way. Jon claims that the result was the first catering company in New York City. Ricky’s idea to use only healthy and local ingredients proved to be a pivotal moment in the way catering to corporate clients is done today. In 2013, Ricky put her son in charge of the retail and café side of the business, which up until that point had been secondary to catering. Recognizing the recent popular trend of eating healthy and local, Jon quickly began streamlining the production process, including installing digital cash registers to track customer orders. This lead to a doubling of revenue. His success prompted Ricky to name him partner in 2015. Despite these changes, the core of the business is still the same: using organic, fresh, and seasonal to serve “high quality meals. ” And to hear it from Jon and the head of brand strategy, Victoria Rolandelli, this core seems to resonate well with customers. Between the Bread opened two more locations in October 2015 and has plans to have a total of twelve locations throughout the city. Located in the Chelsea Terminal Warehouse, the 27th Street Between the Bread is in a massive space that was previously an unloading station for trains. In the not-too-distant future, once Hudson Yards is complete, it is Jon's hope that they will become the "new Chelsea Market. "
Originally constructed in 1905, this building became the home of the beloved Gershwin Hotel in 1992. In 2014, Triumph Hotels took over the space and invested a good deal in renovations, renaming it The Evelyn. As an homage to building’s artful and musical past, the guest rooms feature music note-tiled bathrooms, trombone-shaped chandeliers, and decorations inspired by the Art Nouveau style of the 1900s.
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning. We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house. Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard. ” “He never cuts corners, ” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority. “We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food, ” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food. ” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you, ” Alan said. “It transports you. ”
A newcomer to 31st in late 2013, I was happy to discover Friedman's Lunch. Having eaten at their restaurant in Chelsea Market on many occasions, I was quite familiar with them. Glancing quickly at the menu, I knew that I would, once again, have options as a vegetarian. Two of us shared the "House-Made Veggie Burger" with spicy tomato fennel jam, avocado and sprouts, and the "Veggie Bowl" with quinoa, sauteed vegetables, tofu and a delicious sesame lime dressing. Both were excellent. At the end of our meal, we struck up a conversation with one of the owners, Justin, who told us that he gave up being a real estate broker to pursue his passion for food. He helped turn Chelsea Market into the success that it is, and then came to open up this second location. Not via classical training in the kitchen, but rather through his love of food and hospitality, "traveling down a long road, " he has finally been able to open up his dream. Working with a young design couple from Tribeca, they created something simple using distressed wood and antique mirrors. "The decor is kick ass, " Justin exclaimed. With good music, a great neighborhood vibe, lots of gluten free options, and the most amazing signature potato chips, Manhattan Sideways has no doubt that Friedman's reputation will take off.
Johny Pilatos started his luncheonette when he was only twenty years old. His father, Larry, had a restaurant down the street, and when the space nearby became available, Johny leaped at the chance to open a business of his own. Though Larry stopped in regularly to help Johny manage the lunch rush or cook specials, this bustling spot known for its breakfast and subs is largely Johny’s brainchild. He began with a simple menu consisting of a handful of American dishes. Yet as inspiration for new recipes came to him, he was quick to expand his offerings. “After a long day, I’d put stuff together at home, and if it was good, I’d sell it at the restaurant. ” All of his sandwich creations are named after his loved ones and pets; luckily, he has a surplus of names to choose from, as he is the doting father of eight children. Of course, he used his own name for his personal favorite — the Sloppy Johny — though he is pleased to say that visitors latch onto any and all of his inventions with equal eagerness.