It is always refreshing to find an oasis among midtown's concrete jungle. Enclosed within an atrium, with soaring glass ceilings and scattered seating throughout, the Sculpture Garden has allowed New Yorkers to feel separate from both the offices attached to it and the street outside. The roof of the atrium functions as a giant skylight, filtering sunbeams down onto the imposing bamboo trees planted at various intervals and the impressive artwork that rotates on a regular basis. A favorite stopping point for me, since they opened in 2010, has been Obikà, a small cafe that specializes in phenomenal fresh mozzarella flown in from Italy.
The sign above the entrance to PizzArte promises 'Cucina Napoletana', making it clear what is at the heart of the establishment: Naples. The enormous red pizza oven found inside is imported from Naples, and everyone working at the restaurant hails from there too, making for an especially authentic experience. The space is narrow and has a distinctly modern feel to it. As the name suggests, the restaurant doubles as a gallery for contemporary art by Neapolitan artists. The idea of using a meal as an opportunity to engage with art is refreshing, and the perfect pizza dough feels like an artwork in itself.
After having successfully occupied the space at 33 West since 2001 - now home to his restaurant, Mozzarella & Vino - twelve years later, owner Gianfranco Sorrentino had a new vision for Il Gattopardo. The restaurant's current location features two dining rooms, two full bars and a larger kitchen for Chef Vito Gnazzo to create his magic. Early on a weekday afternoon, when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped in to meet the charming Mr. Sorrentino, the upstairs dining room was already filling up with elegant business people having quiet conversation. After spending a few minutes observing the perfectly timed flow of the restaurant, we were led downstairs to another room, which unexpectedly opened up into a back seating area with soaring ceilings and skylights. Upon each table was a slender pink calla lily that Mr. Sorrentino proudly told us was the personal touch of his wife, Paula. He went on to say that she works as a graphic designer, but also personally oversees the layout and decor of each of their three restaurants.As at Mozzarella & Vino, the food was incredible. However, the two restaurants diverge somewhat in their menus' focus. While Mozzarella & Vino puts its emphasis on appetizers and more simple plates, Il Gattopardo specializes in a more traditional Italian meal. Accordingly, we were encouraged to sample their lobster pasta, mussels marinated in a white wine broth, and eggplant parmesan. On our way out, as I thanked Chef Vito for the delicious food, l had one last chat with Mr. Sorrentino. My favorite line that he shared with me was that in addition to running three of his own restaurants in the city - the third being The Leopard at Des Artistes - he knows the owners of almost all of New York's Italian restaurants. And feeling well acquainted with the incredible quality and diversity of Italian cuisine here, he was prepared to make the bold statement: "The best Italian restaurants are in New York, not in Italy."
The legendary Neary’s has been a staple of New York City dining since its opening on St. Patrick’s Day in 1967. Its founder, Jim Neary, continues to grace his customers with the same, unique dining experience - in 2019 - that they have enjoyed since the beginning.The classy dress code, classic red booth seats, walls filled with an assortment of beautiful and often historically significant pictures, and knickknacks around the restaurant such as two Super Bowl rings, are only a small part of why Neary’s is so special. Neary’s is embodied and defined by its founder, Jimmy Neary, whose compassion and famous “Jimmy Neary smile” has made Neary’s the kind of place where there are “no strangers... no matter if it’s their first time walking in, everyone talks to everyone.”Jimmy was born on a farm in Ireland, and his first job coming into America was at a swimming pool. He eventually moved on to become a bar tender at P.J. Moriarity’s, another Irish-American restaurant, where he met his eventual business partner Brian Mulligan. When Jimmy found his 57th street location - 57th street being the two-way street in the city that runs river to river - he “knew it was the place for him and never looked back.” Over the years he has slowly added to the décor, and stated that “every picture has a story behind it.” With the care that Jimmy has put into every aspect of Neary’s - along with the presence of Jimmy himself - he has managed to make his restaurant an important fixture in the lives of many for generations. Offered the opportunity to expand over the years, it is no surprise that Jimmy has refused, for in his words “it would never be the same.”Jimmy considers Neary’s a family-oriented place, with many of his staff having worked with him for over forty years. Essentially, they have all grown up together. His daughter Una, who works on Wall Street during the day, has worked at Neary’s part time for close to forty years and ascertained that “the food is wonderful, the staff is amazing, but people come for my father.”Jimmy works seven days a week, and in Una’s words, “to get him to take a day off is a major, major feat.” While every day at Neary’s is a special day, its devoted following especially looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day, which for fifty plus years was counted down to by a special clock, and the celebration of Jimmy’s annual surprise birthday party. As a place where everyone is not just welcomed, but also family, it is no surprise that when asked what he liked to do to relax, Jimmy responded that he is “relaxed right here. I come through the door and I’m at home and I walk out happy.”
There are many reasons to dine at BLT Steak, tucked discreetly between The Dorchester and an antique jeweler. Having dined here on varied occasions over the years, I knew visiting with Manhattan Sideways, that we were headed towards something special. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the affable staff and took a seat at one of the dark wood tables. We spoke with John, the Venezuelan maître d', who told us about BLT's secrets for success. "The company feels like family," he said by way of opening, "I've been here for nine years, which is an eternity in the restaurant business." BLT has built a following of regulars who come back repeatedly because they are "infallibly made to feel like they're the only ones in the restaurant." In addition to this impeccable service, the food at BLT is consistently top notch. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand why people keep returning for more. While chatting, the chef prepared a succulent variety of meats, perhaps most famously the enormous Porterhouse steak – a dry-aged masterpiece served with maître d'hOtel butter and a side of roasted garlic. Although meat certainly takes center stage, the restaurant also offers a "sublime" Dover Sole and a Tuna Tartar that, according to John, is the best in the city; "I dare someone to find me a better one," he said. My favorite moment, however, was when the chef presented Yelena, from our team, her first popover. Hailing from Swaziland, she had never encountered this doughy puff of goodness before. I, on the other hand, have had popovers on the top of my list of favorites since I first tried them as a little girl on Long Island. And I can attest to the fact that the ones served at BLT are perfectly prepared.
Drawn in by the video art wall visible through the enormous glass windows, I strolled into The Quin. Previously known as the Buckingham, the hotel reopened its doors in November, 2013. In a city filled with luxury hotels, The Quin stands out thanks to its unique arts program. Building on its legacy as the hotel of choice for painters, musicians, and writers, Quin Arts offers a rotating series of exhibitions, films, and lectures.
While sitting comfortably in the lounge area of The Pierre Hotel, I literally witnessed the conception of a "pop-up." A table and chairs were being rolled out and within minutes set up elegantly with a black tablecloth and rose petals strewn across the center. The staff at Two East were preparing for their Tuesday evening Social Club. Engaging in conversation with executive chef Ashfer Biju, head pastry chef Michael Mignano, Director of Marketing, Emily Venugopal and singer, Claire Khodara, they each offered their personal connection to this very special evening as it was getting ready to unfold.One might think of it as "unusual," seated at this table, Emily stated, but she assured me that I would feel like I was in my own little world, elevated - propped up on comfortable bar level chairs surrounded by other foodies - where I would be able to watch and listen to Claire, the performer of the evening, while others sat below quietly enjoying a drink, some appetizers and pleasant background live music.The concept behind Chef Ashfer's Social Club is purely to bring people and food together in the best possible setting. His feeling is that people work hard and have little time to socialize outside of the office. Inside the Pierre's lounge area, men and women are encouraged to treat themselves to a mystery night out either solo, with a date, or, of course, book the entire communal table for twelve. No matter the choice, diners are promised to be taken on a culinary adventure. For $95.00, the kitchen rolls out fourteen different courses with a cocktail to kick it off and wine pairings throughout the meal. The best part, however, was each time the two chefs popped out from the kitchen to explain what we were tasting, what inspired the dish, and to educate us on the wonders of curry and other spices.I enjoyed listening to Ashfer's extraordinary stories of travel around the world. He has cooked with a multitude of chefs who exposed him to tastes and flavors from Malaysia to the Maltese Islands, and from the Middle East to the Maldives. I was, thus, eager to participate in that evening's "Two E Returns East," a themed meal accenting ingredients from China, Japan and India. Ashfer was born into a family of restaurateurs. His father continues to run two dining spots in Southeast Asia, but it was his grandfather who appears to have had a profound influence on him. Despite his efforts to convince other family members not to go into this business, after speaking with Ashfer for over an hour, I realized that it was this man that instilled the spark of travel and the love of food in him from a very early age while growing up in India.Apparently, the Pierre has a wondrous way of luring its chefs back, as is the case with Michael Mignano, who worked in the hotel's kitchen from 1998 until 2005. In 2011, he heeded the call to return as head pastry chef. For those years in between, Michael worked with the creme de la creme in the dessert world, appeared on Food Network shows, and ran his own, highly successful bakery in Port Washington, NY.As Ashfer referred to Michael, "He is my trump card in the kitchen." Listening to the two men finish each other's sentences gave me deep insight into how well their relationship works. Together, they explained how they choose not to follow trends, but rather prefer to "create the trend, themselves." They went on to say that it is always a chef's goal to be recognized, but that most do not realize what goes into preparing an exceptional meal. Yes, it is a science, but to these two men it is truly an art - one that takes a lot to pioneer day in and day out. They then described themselves as "artists of the senses - all five of them."When discussing what influenced Michael most to pursue a career in cooking, he explained that he grew up in Queens, where food and family were at the core of his existence. He continued on by saying that he had a huge diversity of friends. "Since the age of five, I went to people's homes who were from Vietnam, South Africa, Europe - you name it." He learned to try everyone's cooking and to appreciate not only the magic that goes into every dish, but also the passion. Today, Michael said that he continues to incorporate slight nuances from his own childhood experiences into each of the delectable desserts he imagines.Participating in our discussion was Claire. I would shortly have the pleasure of listening to her melodic voice while I indulged in course after course of some of the best vegetarian food (specially prepared for me) I have ever had. Although Claire only began her singing engagements at The Pierre in early 2015, she has already established her own following including a large showing of friends and family who come by to support her.Claire has spent a considerable amount of time flying back and forth between the U.S. and England, where she went to university and began her singing career. Moving back to New York at one point, she made it quite far on season nine's American Idol, and then, as she stated, "I sang at weddings and did a lot of the national anthem singing hoping to become a rockstar." It was not until she returned to England, met her future husband, and was, ultimately, recognized by London's most elite, iconic clubs, including the exclusive Annabel's, that her career took off. Claire, once again, resides in New York, but continues to fly across the pond to perform in London. Upon her arrival back in the States, she put together an album, which Sony described as "country jazz," though she prefers to call her music "soul pop."When I asked Claire if she would be able to simply state her mission to me as a singer, she thoughtfully replied, "I honestly want to spread peace. I want to make people feel calm and relaxed." She stopped herself and asked, "Does that sound dorky?" After listening to her for three straight hours, my answer is, without a doubt, no. Claire's voice was a beautiful backdrop to an evening filled with interesting company, phenomenal food and two extraordinary chefs.Special note: When Claire was searching for someone to "dress" her for her nightly performances on stage, she turned to Zac Posen, who designed the dress that her mother wore to her wedding. Claire said it is such fun to have ten outfits arrive each week from Zac that she can select from - sadly she must return them afterwards - but, in the meantime, she does look stunning as she is a tall magnificent woman, both inside and out. It was interesting to learn a bit about Zac Posen - this renowned designer who, although an international star with his classic, chic clothing, has his roots right here in Brooklyn.Two Manhattan Sideways team members, Tom and Olivia, returned to the Two E Lounge for a special event towards the end of 2015. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that occurs every autumn in the northern hemisphere. They found the space to be completely transformed from when we were last there listening to Claire Khodara sing: flower petals, chrysanthemum heads, and candles covered every available space and a tower with cubby holes filled with Indian delicacies occupied the center. The two told me that they have never seen such exquisite saris as the ones worn by the guests. Together with a room filled with guests, Tom and Olivia dined on small shot glasses full of goat cheese, beet, and orange slices as well as rock shrimp with tamarind aioli while listening to the chill sounds of Sa, a group that performs music with Indian root melodies. There was a “Tawa and Chaat” station where cooks served up lamb kebabs, green pea samosas, and more. On the other side of the room, an appetizer table was set up with traditional Indian food reinterpreted, including lamb koftas, biryani bowls, and kulchas. Ashfer proudly told Tom and Olivia that his sous chef, Manjit Manohar, had a large part in the menu for the evening. As Tom was taking a shot of Ashfer, Manjit, and Michael, the plates of mouth-watering Indian-inspired desserts were brought out, decorated with gold flecks. This was the Pierre’s first attempt at hosting a Diwali celebration, but we have no doubt that the beautiful décor, and visibly happy guests will inspire them to continue this tradition in 2016.
Bedecked with fresh flowers, Michael's simple, spacious design and elegant clientele combine to convey an impressive atmosphere to dine. Since opening in 1989, Michael McCarty has built his reputation as a hotspot for business meetings, and celebrity gatherings including those of markedly high profile shoulder-rubbers. For larger events, there is an expansive back room that leads into a stunning sculpture garden.The cuisine at Michael's is Californian, based on the original location in Santa Monica that debuted in 1979. Its wine list is a particular point of pride, including over eight hundred labels from California, France, Italy, and elsewhere, and targeted to please everyone from novices to connoisseurs. The real showstopper, however, is the phenomenal collection of art that hangs quietly on the walls, including pieces by Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Robert Graham and, of course, Michael's wife, Kim.
Stepping inside this iconic restaurant, after having not been for quite some time, the first thing I noticed was the dazzling array of colors. Red and green conjured up images of a dramatic Christmas party and the gold-leafed ceiling reflected the large collection of samovars placed atop the booths. Almost every inch of wall space was covered in dance-themed art and photography, likely a tribute to the restaurant's 1927 founders, who were members of the Russian Imperial Ballet. Ken Biberaj, the Vice President, took the Manhattan Sideways team on a tour of the enormous restaurant, which includes three private dining rooms and seats up to 450 people. Upstairs, I marveled at the sixteen-foot crystal bear aquarium, filled with gold fish, and felt like I was walking into a fairytale. Back downstairs, I learned that the glass-encased decorative replicas of the Faberge eggs, were made entirely of sugar by Zhar-Ptitsa Troika. As the chef continued to present a variety of Russian dishes, I recalled my dinner some three decades ago where I tried chicken kiev for the first time. When I commented about the array of food including the warm buckwheat blinis, red borscht made with pickled beets, the house-cured salmon gravlax and the beef stroganoff, Ken was quick to respond, "People come to the Russian Tea Room for more than the food - they come for the whole experience." Indeed, a meal or high tea at the Russian Tea Room can be a momentous event as visitors join a crowd that spans generations.We had the pleasure of joining Ken Biberaj and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, to discuss the official launch of the .nyc web domain. Watch our interview here.