The blending of Cuban and Chinese culture at Calle Dao is evident from the moment one steps into the restaurant in which Cuban cigar boxes and fresco walls neighbor Chinese vases and figurines. When we stopped by, we had the chance to sit down to chat with owner Marco Britti, who is also responsible for the innovative interior decoration. He told us that the décor is meant to “transport you back to Havana.” With meticulous attention to each detail including a gate patterned exactly like a traditional style of door in Havana, and intricately distressed wooden chairs, the space is remarkably cohesive.Marco’s own life has been somewhat of a fusion as well. Originally from Naples, Italy, he moved to New York in 1996. He told us, “as an immigrant I left Italy to go to New York. So I know what it is like to leave everything behind, try something out and make a business out of it.” While pursuing a music career – Marco plays the drums – he also worked part time in restaurants. In 1999 he took a trip to Cuba, and ended up living in the Chinatown of Havana for nine months. While there, he learned about the wave of Cuban-Chinese restaurants and was struck by the Chinese influence on the cooking culture. Upon returning to New York, he found that there had not been much development of Cuban-Chinese fusion in the city, which furthered his interest in the restaurant industry. He went on to open his first restaurant, Cubana Café, and later Favela Cubana, both of which presented dishes from different cultures side-by-side. The complete fusion was only realized when he went on to open Calle Dão in the late summer of 2014, partnering with executive chef Humberto Guallpa. Marco said that his situation now is not something he would have ever predicted, and remarks that “it’s interesting to see how you can cross paths in life like that. All of a sudden you are doing something else.”
Former bankers, husband and wife team Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang, certainly have found a successful niche on 37th Street. If we had not already read that the interior of Cafe China was decorated to resemble Shanghai during the 1930s, we might have guessed that we were having lunch in a 1950s American diner replete with red vinyl chairs and a vintage mint colored mini fridge next to the bar. Once we sat down at our table, however, and had an opportunity to further explore the restaurant, the classy 1930s Shanghai elements became clear. There is a beautiful chandelier twinkling in the back room, blue velvet covering the quaint booths on one side of the restaurant, and Chinese characters decorating some of the prints that hang on the walls. Once past the intriguing decor, we began to concentrate on the menu. The Sideways team ordered some of our favorite staples including wonton soup, vegetable pot stickers, cold sesame noodles and pork dumplings - all perfectly prepared. But it was the Ma Po Tofu dish that stole the show. Having recently learned of this delectable dish, I was eager to try it, and what better place than at a Michelin star restaurant. I was promised it would not be made too spicy for me. It certainly had a kick, but I was able to appreciate the various flavors of the dish and loved it.
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."