Having already had a pleasant evening at Prime Hospitality's restaurant inside the Bentley Hotel on 62nd Street, I was looking forward to experiencing the brand new Prime West. The restaurant group, which was founded by Joey Allaham in 2000, started with Prime Grill on Madison Avenue and has since grown to include five eateries. Prime West began its life as Prime KO in 2010, a kosher Japanese Steakhouse led by Chef Makoto Kameyana. Towards the end of 2015, it was reborn as Prime West and became part of Prime Hospitality's rotating chef program. Well-known chefs come through their kitchen and spend a limited engagement putting their mark on the menu and introducing the customers to their specialties. When I visited in the spring of 2016, Chef Edward Boarland was at the helm.
Edward is probably best known for his work at Rafael, the renowned kosher restaurant in Paris, but he has cooked in a number of other European kitchens. After working at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant in London, he transferred to the Gordon Ramsay au Trianon in Versailles. It was here that Edward joined Rafael and began his first foray into kosher cuisine. As someone who is not kosher, he found the shift to be a "massive challenge." Rafael was a meat restaurant, so Edward had to learn how to cook without butter, cream, or milk. "Many people would have given up," he admitted. He enjoys working in kosher cuisine, however, because he recognizes that it is one of the few areas of the culinary world that is under-saturated. This is especially true in New York, where locals frequently dine out. Edward learned about the Prime Hospitality Group through some of his customers in Paris who made frequent trips to Manhattan. When Rafael closed, he signed on with Prime.
In the words of Danielle Zaria Praport, who handles the Public Relations for the restaurant (as well as Breads Bakery), "Prime has brought kosher cuisine to another level." Not only is it a place where those who keep kosher can bring families for an upscale meal, but it is also a place where businesses can take clients who keep kosher: they can experience a complete meal of high quality kosher food and an atmosphere where kosher observers "can be celebrated." Edward is excited to be able to provide a valuable service to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel. He is also pleased to be able to expand the scope of offerings for his Prime customers. Prime KO served sushi, and now Prime West offers French haute cuisine. The menu at Prime West, Edward explained, is for "anyone who heard about Rafael and didn't have time to get over there and try the food." He even has a tasting menu, which "doesn't really exist in kosher cuisine," and allows diners to be "excited throughout their meal."
Edward showed me the bustling kitchen where cooks were busily preparing plates for the dining room. There was eggplant caviar that Edward made using a pureed version of the cooked eggplant salad that is often eaten on Shabbat. He proudly told me that guests from Paris are still calling him to ask for the recipe. He then brought out a selection of dishes from his tasting menu for the Manhattan Sideways team to sample and photograph. First was a scotch egg made with fish, served with radicchio salad and a green pepper puree. There was also a sea bass ceviche with pineapple and shizo as well as a crispy cornetto filled with tuna tartar and guacamole. The ceviche was served with raw turnips, a unique touch that added a pleasant spicy aspect to the taste. For dessert, Edward brought out a hazelnut rocher, served with pistachio ice cream. The large chocolate bauble was like a giant Ferrero Rocher, but with a delightful crispy biscuit base and creamy interior.
While constructing his menu, Edward tries to listen to his customer's needs as much as possible. He speaks to as many guests as possible. "It's a great feeling to be able to influence a community," he admitted. He then went on to say that he feels strongly that quality and variety does not have to be limited for those who eat kosher. He is delighted to have created a menu that pushes the envelope of what guests expect. "People are always surprised it's kosher – we're bringing a new experience to the kosher community."
There are twenty-four taps in use every night of the week at Bondurants, and when the bar hooks up a cask to the final, larger tap, there are twenty-five beverages available. Bondurants has become known for its rotating draft list that features both local brews as well as lesser-known international brands. The bar also prides itself on its small batch of bourbons made at local distilleries and its quirky cocktails with names that include "Fizzy Lifting Drink" and "Fernet Me Not." There is also a full dinner menu, offering everything from traditional southern pulled pork to a fresh kale and collard salad, as well as a brunch menu that is beloved in the neighborhood. Specials rotate with the seasons and everything is sourced locally whenever possible. Caity Prunka, one of the owners of Bondurants, told me, "We make nearly every food item in-house, from grinding meat daily for burgers to smoking our own cheeses."The bar is decorated to look like an upscale moonshiner's haven. Many customers link the name to the famous moonshiner family, though Jess, the bartender, smiled and suggested that the name comes from elsewhere. The walls are lined with shelves holding barrels, glasses and funnels with lettering that is reminiscent of Appalachia or the Wild West. It is a true urban saloon.Many of the decorations have stories behind them. For example, when I pointed out the manatee statue on the central bar column guzzling whiskey, Jess told me that one of the owners is from Florida, where manatees are considered the state marine mammal. "It's his piece of home," she said with a smile.
Paul Floess grew up in the northern part of Italy, on the Austrian border. "I only knew about heavy foods - food that kept us warm in the wintertime," he recalled. But then he began to travel, and he educated himself on the different ingredients and the recipes in the various regions throughout Italy. To this day, in 2017, Paul continues to look forward to spending a few weeks in Italy every summer, discovering something new and refreshing to bring back to his charming Upper East Side restaurant.Opened in 2011, Paul was able to make his dream come true after spending some twenty years cooking in other restaurants nearby. After all this time, Paul was ready to venture out on his own. "I knew exactly what people liked to eat and what they expected from a good restaurant." He was proud to tell me that everyone leaves happy, and they continue to return. It is primarily neighborhood denizens who come in - always bringing new friends or family members. Grateful, he commented, "We are doing well, we always have a full house on the weekends," but Paul is constantly amused by those who step inside and tell him that they never noticed his space. Luna Rossa is what we at Manhattan Sideways like to refer to as a true hidden gem – intimate, with fantastic food and a welcoming staff.I never tire of hearing the stories of chefs who grew up watching their mom in the kitchen and were inspired from a young age to want to learn to cook. For Paul, it was slightly different in that his mom was the chef at his aunt's nearby hotel. As a young boy, he would go there after school and wash dishes, and for seven years he worked there in the summers. He learned all of the recipes, and to this day, still prepares many of them in his own restaurant. Paul emphasized, however, that he will continue to return to his homeland where he will find inspiration and eagerly come back to Manhattan so that he can share it with his loyal customers.
I would not have guessed, walking through the room hung with sparkly princess dresses and pink china, that Judy Famigletti used to be a hockey mom. The owner of Let's Dress Up, an event center for little girls, told me that she has two sons who both played ice hockey through college. She would go with them to their different games and formed her own business while traveling: she designed sports-themed Christmas ornaments, which developed into a broader home accessories business. While she greatly enjoyed painting, sewing, and decorating, most of Judy's creative power was directed towards sports and practicality. She had no use for frills and sparkles.Once her sons were grown, Judy moved to the city and set off on a new path. She knew that she wanted to have her own business that involved home decorating and that she wanted to work with little girls, since she was already very familiar with the world of boys. She reminisced about how she used to walk around her neighborhood when she was little, asking people for old jewelry and wearing her big sister's dresses. Judy began designing the concept for Let's Dress Up, meanwhile getting in touch with her feminine side.Needing to be resourceful in her first few years, as she no longer had a house in which to hold Let's Dress Up, she decided to barter with a restaurant. They allowed her to use their private room in return for decorating the eatery for the holidays. In 2005, she began holding events in the restaurant's back room, decking it out with her old hats and dolls. Shortly thereafter, Judy was able to move into her own space on 85th Street, followed by another location in Connecticut in 2010 - in an effort to be closer to her son and three of her grandchildren. "My granddaughter practically lived in the store until Kindergarten," she said with a smile. Her sons also helped her with the business.In 2015, tragedy struck. Because the traveling was starting to become a hassle, Judy decided to close the Connecticut location and focus on the 85th Street spot. Shortly after making that decision, however, a fire broke out, ruining all of her old hats and dolls, and causing the space to require a complete overhaul. When I had the pleasure of meeting Judy at the end of 2015, her feathers did not appear to be ruffled. She had just finished renovating and moving her Connecticut dress-up things into the store. "After the fire, I decorated it based on the new girl," Judy shared, showing me a wall hung with Disney princess outfits. Instead of her classic, vintage items, she had bright, shiny new things, with an emphasis on Disney's Frozen. "Elsa has replaced Ariel as the favorite princess."Judy was inspired by the number of little girls who stopped by when she was renovating to ask, "When are you going to open?" She began thinking of new ways to expand Let's Dress Up, beyond the tried-and-true birthday parties. When I visited, she had just started offering special "Classes in the Castle" that little girls could come to with a play date. During these classes, the girls do craft projects, play with the dress-up items and learn the rules of princess etiquette from "Lady Judith" - Judy's persona in her shop. Judy showed me an example of one craft, in which little girls dressed a Pinkalicious dress-up doll after listening to one of the stories in the series by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. Judy has now expanded into a summer camp and occasionally holds seasonal workshops; however, she assured me that her main passion will always be the parties.Each of the parties is all-inclusive, beginning with a special tea party invitation that is sent to the guests. On the day of the event, the hosting family arrives fifteen minutes early so that the birthday girl can select her favorite dress and be ready to greet her guests. Once all of the girls are dressed in the various gowns, purses, tiaras, wands, and jewelry, they get glitter nail polish and sparkly, clear lip gloss. Judy then puts a pink screen up so that the girls can take group and individual photos. The various parts of the party last only fifteen minutes, which Judy feels is the perfect amount of time for short attention spans. When I inquired about the age range, Judy told me, "The most common age is five. I can tell when they outgrow it because they start asking why there's no prince."Once the pictures are taken, all the little princesses sit down to their tea party, set with proper china. I asked if any of the china ever breaks and Judy shook her head vehemently, saying, "When they dress like princesses, they act like princesses." Judy took all the tea party equipment out of pretty striped hatboxes, laying everything out on a doily. "The piece de resistance is the glass slipper," she said, putting a tiny slipper at the top of the place setting. She also showed me the little party favors, composed of sparkly bracelets in a mesh bag. Judy has used the same party favor throughout the years "because it's the right one."Each tea party is comprised of the same ingredients: a bagel with cream cheese or butter, strawberries, cheese sandwiches cut in the shape of a heart, and cupcakes or cake. After listing the different courses of the princess feast, Judy informed me that she used to do her parties for the Museum of the City of New York. They requested that she hold high-end birthday parties in their Dollhouse Room. Though the parties were fun and the room was beautiful, it was a massive undertaking. Today, Judy sticks to her spot on 85th Street.Judy has also allowed others to take over her space, as there is enough room for a long table. She is looking forward to the day when someone chooses to have a baby shower in her space. Until then, Judy already has a lot on her beautiful pink china plate, with as many as four parties in one day.On my way out the door, I saw a wall full of knightly coats of armor, often used by little boys who are invited to the parties (although there are times when the boys are perfectly content to wear the dresses). I asked if the girls could be knights, instead of princesses. Judy answered with a benevolent smile, "They can be anything they want to be."