After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
A giant rhomboid patterned installation hovers just below the ceiling, slithering enormously down the back wall and giving the impression of being inside a dimly lit, atmospheric basilisk. Browns, oranges, and tans, along with natural greens of bamboo lining the walls, make for an incredibly pleasant dining experience. The sushi and the crispy rice are well-regarded, and deservedly so. The chic restaurant first opened its doors in Los Angeles, and then found its way eastward into the Bryant Park Hotel with its latest location being Abu Dhabi.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan.Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave.”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
The prevailing theme of Staypineapple hotels is barely surprising: pineapples. What might come as a shock to some, however, is just how seriously the hotel takes the pineapple motif: the fruit is prominent in the décor, stitched into the shirts of the employees, and even emblazoned on a rentable bike out front. The lobby offers complimentary pineapple-infused water and pineapple-flavored mini cupcakes amid modern, yet eclectic, furnishings. Covering one wall in the lobby is the following haiku: “Pineapples are sweetYellow makes people happyAnd everyone loves dogs - especially Michelle” Michelle is Michelle Barnet, the founder of the small hotel chain which has locations in a handful of cities across the country. Her passion for dogs informed the last line of the haiku - the hotel is extremely dog-friendly, even offering a “Pup Package” to make traveling with furry friends as relaxing as possible. Each room comes equipped with a plush dog that guests are welcome to purchase at the end of their stay, with a portion of the proceeds going towards animal rescue organizations. “The significance of pineapples is that they are a universal symbol of hospitality,” manager James Bryant explained when Manhattan Sideways inquired about the unique theme of the hotel chain. He said that the symbolic meaning of the pineapple dates back to the 1700s, when the fruit was rare and difficult to acquire. It became a coveted gift, and when placed in front of travelers, it let them know that they were welcome in an unfamiliar place. “It’s this international sign of ‘You are welcome here. Come in and stay with us.’” We explored two rooms. While smaller than a typical hotel room, the first was full of surprises. In a building that is only twenty-four feet wide, Staypineapple creatively utilizes their space. The television was hidden away at the foot of the bed, revealing itself with the press of a button. A coffee machine was tucked away in a similar automated compartment. An entire wall of the room was windowed, offering views of the city that more than offset the small size of the room. Staypineapple prides itself on “The Naked Experience,” a title they have applied to their unique bedding situation (which is so luxurious, "they won’t blame you for wanting to sleep naked"). Two exceptionally soft, twin-sized duvets give guests extreme freedom with their sleeping experience - and diffuse any fighting over covers. In the second, larger room we met Pineapple: a virtual assistant and Staypineapple’s answer to the traditional bedside telephone. James explained that the device “acts as a smart speaker, a telephone, and a way to communicate with the front desk.” Similar to an Amazon Echo or a Google Dot, an automated voice will answer at the cue of “Okay Pineapple.” The device is also loaded with staff-curated dining recommendations, and can answer just about any question a guest might have, from the best sushi restaurants in the area to the day’s weather. Staypineapple is a hotel full of surprises and, in many ways, it is just plain fun. Manhattan Sideways found it refreshing to see a business lean into a theme so unabashedly, and we believe that the commitment pays off. The hotel creates an extremely inviting environment that does not take itself too seriously, prioritizing comfort and hospitality alongside their innovative technology and highly-Instagramable décor.
I have a long history with Keens, but nothing to compare with the number of years it has been serving its gigantic mutton chop, other varieties of meats, salads, sides and Scotch. The history wafts through the windy rooms and corridors of this superb steakhouse. Started in 1885 as an offshoot of the Lambs Club, a theatrical group, Keens Chophouse served as a gathering place for the elite in what was then home to the Herald Square Theater District. Beginning in the early 1900s, the restaurant offered a Pipe Club that folks could join. Members would finish up their meals and be brought their tobacco and long churchwarden pipes. Over the years, an immense collection has been gathered. The estimate hanging from the ceilings and stored in a back room today is more than 90,000. When visiting with the Manhattan Sideways team, I smiled as they gazed in utter amazement at some of the names that were written below the pipe display in the foyer from Buffalo Bill to Babe Ruth.Over the years, the steakhouse has changed ownership, but it has managed to maintain its historic awareness throughout. In addition to the pipes, antiquated playbills line the walls advertising bygone shows. Each artifact has an incredible story behind it... if only these walls could talk. One quick anecdote: in 1905, Lillie Langtry came to the all-male establishment but was denied service. She took the restaurant to court...and won. A short time later, she was invited to dine at Keens. We learned this story when we discovered the menu from her honorary dinner hanging on a wall upstairs. The meal included "clear green turtle soup!"The premises are beautiful: metal lions and bulldogs menace from banisters throughout, while nude classical paintings, tile work, black and white photos and the aforementioned playbills decorate the walls. In the Bull Moose room, a gigantic moose head watches over diners from the wall and logs burn in a fireplace in one of the bar rooms. Once, in a bygone era, the upstairs areas may have served as a temporary living quarters for some of the workers as recounted by James, the manager. But there's more to it than the history: today's mutton chops and steaks are certifiably some of the best in the City. And that is what's most important, especially for those who have been around for much of Keen's return to prominence over the last few decades. "Restaurants go through different seasons in their lifetime," James explained. "We're just happy to be in an exciting, dynamic meeting place again."I have eaten at Keens a number of times over the past decades and even participated (or shall I say accompanied) a group of friends on a Scotch tour of Manhattan, where we ended at the renowned bar inside Keens. It offers one of the largest Scotch whisky selections in the city. The most memorable time spent, however, was this most recent visit and James's personal tour of his beloved restaurant.
A line out the door at lunchtime certainly caught my attention. When I inquired, I was told that the food is fresh, the sandwiches are terrific, and that their Mediterranean menu is worth the wait. Thus, the Manhattan Sideways team queued up along side everyone else, as who would not trust the word on the street? Meeting the two animated Israeli owners, David and Yariv, was an added bonus, as we secured one of the few tables to sit and eat our freshly made dishes. We eagerly delved into the bowl of hummus, the hot pressed mozzarella sandwich and the strips of zucchini with lemon, olive oil and toasted almonds. We left with a full understanding of why people are willing to stand on line. Although, we also learned that Picnic Basket is expanding their kitchen in an effort to accommodate more people at a faster pace.