I have had several people mention Crispo to me over the last few months, thinking that they had discovered a new terrific Italian restaurant. Everyone is always surprised that something this good could be on 14th. Well, it is that great and it is on 14th. The pastas are excellent and there is an ample selection of vegetable dishes that we all shared.
In keeping with the original nautical theme from the 1960′s, each room in the hotel has a porthole window and is decorated with teak wood. In 2014, the hotel’s restaurant La Bottega closed to make room for La Sirena by Mario Batali. The Cabanas, open in the spring and summer, is on the rooftop and offers a welcome reprieve from the city streets when the weather permits.
Opened in 1936 in Milan, Sant Ambroeus has had a solid run both in Italy and in the New York area. Situated on a fairly quiet corner, this old-world Italian restaurant is known for its pleasant service and good food. What stands out for us, though, are the pastries, espresso and gelato which are available throughout the day.
One weekend, my husband was kind enough to join me for some great eating, drinking, and walking. By the time we got to Sotto, we were already feeling quite stuffed, but what the heck, we indulged ourselves just a bit more. First, I must comment on the interior which began with a long marble topped bar upfront, and an open kitchen midway with a large brick oven. Farther back was the contemporary full dining area with a skylight. Quite an attractive place. Everything is meant to be shared at this "Social Italian" restaurant - so we did - Chickpea fries with sundried tomato pesto, crisp shoestring zucchini, and butternut squash cannelloni with melted parmesan across the top. All three were winners. I thought we were stopping there, but my husband was enticed by the pizzas so he ordered a small, thin crust pie with arugula and bresaola. The chef was very kind and surprised us by making the pie with one slice that had no meat on it for me. A lovely way to end our day together.
Da Umberto has never needed a sign outside its door. According to Vittorio Assante, the restaurant’s gregarious owner: “Either you knew about it or you didn’t.” Opened by his father, “the great restaurateur” Umberto Assante, Vittorio took over after his father passed away in 2004. But Vittorio's immersion in the restaurant industry began far earlier. He vividly recalled being twelve years old and dressing in a proper suit and bow tie to help in the kitchen. Where some kids might have resented having to work, he thrived. “I loved it — I couldn’t get enough. I practically ran the place by the time I turned seventeen.”Da Umberto is an elegant space that has remained largely unchanged since it opened its doors in the 1980s. With classic white tablecloths and dimmed lighting, the place oozes old-world charm, while a window at the back offers diners a peek into the bustling kitchen — a feature originated by Umberto, according to his son. Vittorio has preserved much of what endeared Da Umberto to the neighborhood in its heyday. The wine racks, the timeless Tuscan gold walls, and even some staff members have been fixtures in the restaurant for over thirty years. Vittorio credits his dad with teaching him his recipes — many of which are still on the menu today, although these days the classics are mixed with his more modern creations. Regulars insist the main attraction is the table heaped full of antipasti, which dominates one side of the restaurant, along with the iconic dessert cart. The tiramisu remains a firm crowd pleaser amongst the distinguished clientele that has continued to visit through the decades. “Some things I don’t mess with.” As he added his personal flair to the business, Vittorio continued to honor his father’s memory with a portrait that overlooks the dining room. “I have my father’s traditions mixed with my own evolving sensibility.” In fact, he attributes much of his continuing success to his father’s influence. “My dad taught me so much: those old school values of hard work and taking nothing for granted.” Umberto chose to open on 17th Street for convenience, as his second wife’s parents owned the building, but the decision was a risky one. He was a pioneer in a neighborhood that was desolate. It was certainly not the kind of place that you would walk around, let alone have an elegant restaurant. Still, the restaurant prevailed “through dedication, grinding it out all the time, having the passion, and loving what you do even on the difficult days. We learned to just get back up and keep on fighting.” It was the work ethic that his dad instilled in him that helped Vittorio ultimately achieve his dream of purchasing the building. Coming full circle, in 2015, Da Umberto cemented its place in the neighborhood. “My father would be happy. He would say, ‘Bravo Vittorio.’
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.
Babycastles, randomly named in honor of a Japanese pastry, is a gallery and community venue for video game designers. However, according to Todd Anderson, one of the members of the Babycastles collective, Babycastles is about more than just gaming. It is an “incubator” of fresh artistic thought, a place to go with unconventional ideas to be welcomed by individuals who can see those concepts into fruition without red tape and hefty price tags.Using his own story as a case study, Todd told me about how he moved to New York from Chicago in order to pursue digital poetry, a relatively new genre that plays with the interaction between technology and language (for example, using a keyboard to control the delivery of a poem in the same way a conductor guides an orchestra). Todd turned to Babycastles, inquired about hosting a monthly poetry event, and was met with great support. He found a home for his art, and has been invested in Babycastles ever since.Sharing a building with Hack Manhattan, Babycastles hosts a wide variety of events for all ages including concerts, lectures, game launches, and even yoga. The Babycastles team curates exhibitions that spotlight independent video game designers and define their work in the larger context of fine arts. Oftentimes, custom game cabinets are built to accommodate the works on display.Game creators and other artists are invited to apply for the Babycastles residency program, which allows them to take advantage of the bright, sunlit co-working space and receive inspiration from an artistic community where they can freely test their latest ideas. For an application to the program, check the website; new members are admitted regularly.