After a lawsuit, renovation, and rebranding, Sesamo has officially taken the place of Crispin’s at W52nd Street and 10th Avenue.
Sesamo co-founders Nikita Levitan and Sabrina Gao filed the lawsuit against their previous partner, Crispin Mejia. They accused him of a series of problematic behaviors, including sexual harassment, repeatedly showing up to work drunk, and serving expired food.
Taking a sharp turn away from Crispin's, the new Sesamo features an entirely different menu.
“The new brand launches with an Asian-influenced Italian menu with many old Crispin’s favorites but with fresh and new Asian twists," Gao said. She added that Sesamo also offers a unique drinks menu, including a brand new Asian fusion cocktail program with some first in NYC offerings, such as boba tea cocktails.
Another beautiful feature of Sesemo is its 80-foot mural created by Selwyn Senatori back in 2018. The Dutch artist created the artwork depicting a champagne celebration with a “Feed Me Love” bubble to celebrate the opening of Decimo Ristobar. Though some of the mural has been painted over, the rest that remains adds an air of festivity to Sesamo's exterior.
This story was adapted from the W42ST articles, "Crispin’s Becomes Sesamo as Partners Sue Hell’s Kitchen Chef" and "Hell’s Kitchen has Lost an Outdoor Dining Shed — but Regained a Mural."
Husband-and-wife duo Roberto and Tanya Passon's symbiotic relationship is evident at their Hell's Kitchen wine bar, Briciola, where Roberto runs the kitchen and Tanya is responsible for the wine. The evolution of their professional and personal relationships has always been a parallel journey. Both long-time restaurateurs, the couple met while Roberto was running his now-defunct eponymous restaurant and Tanya was managing wine bar Xai Xai, just across the street from Briciola. They married several years later, and Briciola opened just as the couple was expecting their first child in 2011. Three years on, the Italian wine bar has gained a following throughout Hell's Kitchen and beyond on the strength of its intimate atmosphere, excellent cuisine, and top-notch imported wine. Even after expanding into the storefront next door, which doubled Briciola's square footage, the restaurant is tiny, but the close quarters only add to the ambience. This is not the place to go if one does not want to interact with fellow diners: the seating is communal, with high counters made of subway tile for a clean, polished look. The design is simple, befitting the restaurant's tight quarters. Low-hanging light fixtures and candles on each of the tables give the restaurant a cozy feeling, and the walls function as an aesthetically fitting storage space, with hundreds of wine bottles set side by side in wine racks. Rather than competing for attention, Briciola's food and wine complement each other perfectly, thanks to Roberto and Tanya's ability to work together. Marina, a server, explained to us that Tanya is largely responsible for the elegant layout of the restaurant; she added her "feminine touch" with everything from the candles at each setting to miniature chalkboards detailing the day's wine specials. The kitchen, Roberto's domain, is miniscule, folded into the back of one half of the restaurant; because there is absolutely no storage space, all of the ingredients arrive fresh daily. Briciola serves mainly ciccheti (small plates) of charcuterie, salads, oysters, and every type of pasta imaginable. There is also a dessert menu; a gentleman sitting at the bar told us that the tiramisu is especially incredible. Particularly clever is the menu where the prices are all the same in each category. Roberto explained that he did not want the dollar amount to influence someone's choices. After having enjoyed a pleasant conversation with Roberto one afternoon when riding by on my bike, as I was leaving, he called out to me, "Finally someone appreciates the side streets. " I rode off smiling.
When we ate at his restaurant during the summer of 2014, Vice Versa co-owner Franco Lazzari offered his advice. "If you don't like competition, don't open a restaurant in Manhattan. " This attitude towards the New York restaurant scene, one shared by fellow owner and chef Stefano Terzi, is precisely what has allowed Vice Versa to survive, grow, and thrive in the fifteen years since its inception. When the Italian restaurant first opened in 1999, its out-of-the-way West Side block was entirely populated by old-world French restaurants, most of which the men told me had been in the neighborhood for forty years or more. With its sleek interior, full bar, and contemporary Italian cuisine, Vice Versa was something entirely new - and even seemingly, they felt, out of place in its side street location in the midst of Hell's Kitchen. In retrospect, it is clear that the restaurant was not an anomaly, but a herald of coming change. "We were pioneers, " Stefano told me. The neighborhood has grown to meet its forward-thinking denizens; today, only one of the French restaurants (Tout Va Bien) is still in business, and the block is dotted with restaurants serving everything from Japanese to South African cuisine. Ironically, Vice Versa is now one of the more established restaurants on the block, thanks almost entirely to word-of-mouth recommendations and a loyal customer base. In the 90-degree weather, it was a relief to sink into one of Vice Versa's tables and peruse the menu. I did wander outside to their lovely patio for a moment. Complete with ivy-covered stucco walls, tea lights, and white umbrellas, it felt like stepping into a small piece of Italy, but just for a moment on this rather warm afternoon. Rather than ordering off the menu, I asked Stefano to surprise us. The members of the Manhattan Sideways team were treated to an excellent meal of banzino (sea bass) with olives, cherry tomatoes, and oregano, and very large sea scallops, cooked to perfection and set alongside a roasted lemon over escarole. We were started off with three different types of pasta - casoncelli, stuffed with veal, amaretto cookies, raisins, sage, pancetta and parmesan; garganelli, red beet pasta coils with alfredo sauce, roast prosciutto, and green peas; and a simple seafood-stuffed ravioli. Blending a wide variety of ingredients and flavors for a subtle and delicious eating experience, the team was simply delighted. After lunch, I chatted with Franco and Stefano over coffee, biscotti, and a pistachio cake with raspberry sauce. Both men are transplants to New York: Stefano grew up in Bergamo, Italy, while Franco was born and raised in Bologna. He came to the United States in his twenties planning on staying no more than a year. Twenty-six years later, he says that not a day goes by that he regrets his decision. Other than their shared national origin, the two told me that they could not be more different. Stefano grew up loving to cook; Franco's grandmother made food for the family, and he admits that he never took an interest in her cooking. Franco is small, with short grey hair, glasses, and a perpetual white suit. Stefano is taller, with a Dali mustache; he speaks slower and with a heavier accent than his counterpart. From my perspective, the differences between the two men are precisely what has allowed them to succeed as partners. Despite Franco's lack of interest in cooking, he loves to eat, and "makes a great critic, " according to Stefano. Franco runs the business side of the restaurant, while Stefano's domain is the kitchen. The respective roles have evidently worked well for the pair - they met working at the well regarded San Domenico (now closed), where Franco ran the front of the house and Stefano was chef de cuisine. Vice Versa presents a modern take on traditional Italian ingredients, which are imported from Italy as often as possible, through many local suppliers. The pastas are made from semolina, "which is a good thing for pasta, and for people, " Stefano said wryly, referencing the current gluten-free trend. In the last fifteen years, Stefano, Franco and their restaurant have grown and changed along with the city. "We went through two major events in New York, 9/11 and 2008, " said Franco. "On September 11, emotionally the world changed, and the 2008 financial crisis certainly changed New Yorkers' way of spending. " The goal now, " Stefano explained, "is to spend well your money. " The survival and continued success of Vice Versa is testament to its customers' ability to do just that.
Partners Roberto Caporuscio and Antonio Starita have stellar reputations in the world of pizza. Antonio's family has owned a well-loved pizzeria in Naples since 1901 and it was in this restaurant that Sophia Loren filmed a scene in Vittorio De Sica's 1954 movie, L'Oro di Napoli. Having studied the art of pizza making in Italy, including under the watchful eye of Antonio, Roberto came to the US to open his own restaurants - in New York, Keste's on Bleecker Street has been serving some of the city's best-rated pizza since 2009 and then with his friend, Antonio, the two opened Don Antonio by Starita in 2012. The Manhattan Sideways team had a seat at the bar one afternoon and after finishing every bite of our perfectly prepared pizza, we agreed that the Burrata Roberto was superb. The thin crust was slightly charred, the way we love it, and topped with fresh burrata cheese, grape tomatoes, basil and olive oil - simple yet scrumptious.
Fig & Olive is Mediterranean-inspired dining in its most exquisite form. On my first visit to this location, I was drawn in by the collection of wine and olive oil bottles lining the walls and the chic rustic decor that feels reminiscent of eating in the Italian countryside. Never has there been a time when I have dined at one of the several Fig & Olives in Manhattan, that I did not have an excellent experience. I have feasted on fresh ingredients assembled into delectable creations. I was thrilled to take the Manhattan Sideways team here for lunch one day where they raved over the selection of crostini and devoured the mouthfuls of perfectly paired ingredients – goat cheese and caramelized onion, for example – heaped onto small squares of fresh bread. Another favorite that I introduced them to was the zucchini carpaccio served with lemon and olive oil. We accompanied the meal with a beautifully presented Cucumber Cosmos and Rossellinis, selected from the extensive cocktail menu.
McKinney Welding Supply has been a fixture in Hell’s Kitchen since 1943. This long-running business is family-owned and employs about thirty-five people, ten of them being family members. Allen Dickon, branch manager of the West 52nd Street store, told us "We are the only place in Manhattan where you can find all of your welding and compressed gas products under one roof. ”