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263 West 19th Street
Wisefish Poké 1 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea

Drew Crane tried poké for the first time during a family vacation in Hawaii, and he immediately fell in love with it. “My initial reaction was: why haven’t I heard of this before?" he said.

When I told him that I am one of the uninitiated, he informed me that poké originated many years ago with fishermen mixing leftover scraps of fish with sea salt and seaweed. Over time, it evolved into its current form: sushi-grade fish diced into cubes, tossed with veggies and sauce, and served over a base of rice or salad. He found that the dish was ubiquitous in Hawaii - in restaurants, grocery shops, poké shacks, liquor stores - and an intrinsic part of the food culture there. However, when he returned to New York, to his surprise, he could not find any poké restaurants.

Drew started making poké at home for his friends, who all responded the same way he had: "This is amazing, why haven’t I had or heard of poké before?" That is when he got the idea, he said, of “bringing poké to New York City." He left his job at Goldman Sachs in March of 2014 to pursue this dream, and in January 2016, he and his partner Bryan Cowan opened Wisefish Poké in Chelsea.

It is a cozy little restaurant, with just one long wooden table for seating, but that does not stop the eager customers queueing up every time I have stopped by, drawn to the irresistible smell of fresh seafood wafting from the doorway.

Drew told me that the enthusiastic response has been a pleasant surprise, given that they do not do any PR or advertising. It is a testament to the quality of the food, which is paramount to Drew. Frozen fish is an absolute no-go at Wisefish Poké. “We are completely transparent about where our tuna comes from. I could tell you who caught it, where they caught it and when." He considers it essential to pay homage to the Hawaiian tradition of poké, which is made with freshly-caught fish and simple, but high-quality ingredients.

I asked Drew if quitting his finance job to start the restaurant was a hard decision. He responded with an immediate, confident "no." He explained, "I had a true passion for this, so the decision was easy. I didn’t even spend any time agonizing over it.” Drew shared with me that he has always been entrepreneurial and passionate about food; he spent ten years of his childhood in Hong Kong and was exposed to a lot of different kinds of cuisine while growing up. “It ignited an excitement and curiosity in me for food." And with Wisefish Poké, Drew is loving the opportunity to share some of that enthusiasm with New York.

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Wisefish Poké 1 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 2 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 3 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 4 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 5 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 6 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 7 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 8 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 9 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 10 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea
Wisefish Poké 11 Hawaiian Seafood Chelsea

More places on 19th Street

Lost Gem
Burger and Lobster 1 Burgers American Seafood undefined

Burger and Lobster

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.

Lost Gem
Peter McManus Café 1 American Bars Beer Bars Pubs Irish Family Owned undefined

Peter McManus Café

Four generations of the McManus clan have operated this jovial Irish tavern, making it among the oldest family-run bars in the city. Its originator, Peter McManus, left his quaint Irish hometown and disembarked in Ellis Island with “basically five dollars and a potato in his pocket, ” as the story goes. He opened the first McManus as a longshoreman’s bar in 1911 on West 55th Street, which he then converted into a thriving general store during Prohibition while migrating his liquor business into a number of speakeasies. Once the restrictions ended in 1933, the shop was so successful that Peter kept it going and found a new spot on 19th Street in which to revive his bar. Peter’s son, James Sr., spent close to fifty years working in and later running the pub. It then passed into the hands of James Jr., who now stands beside his own son, Justin, serving beer and cracking jokes over a century later. Knowing that they will find pleasant conversation and an intriguing cast of characters at McManus, people often come alone to see what the night holds for them. The atmosphere at McManus is merry, but patrons still respect the history and charm that suffuse every corner of the space. Much of the bar is original, including the stunning Tiffany stained glass windows, the hand carved woodwork and crown molding, and the terrazzo floor that can no longer be made today. “We try to preserve it and are pretty protective of it. This bar was built to last, ” Justin said.