I walked into Avant Garden and had the pleasure of sitting down with the owner himself, Ravi DeRossi. His name might seem familiar as he has become synonymous with trendy New York bars including Death and Co. and Amor Y Armargo on 6th Street. Avant Garden, a vegan restaurant that features only vegetables, is a jewel that he has added to his lengthy list of other establishments.
Upon entering, the design was what captured my attention first. Every aspect is painstakingly selected by Ravi himself and this is hardly surprising given his background as a painter. He told me that he studied under his friend and mentor Igor Gorsky, an influential Greek painter in the abstract expressionist movement. Now, Ravi says, “opening bars and restaurants is my canvas.”
When I asked what was the recipe for his success, he said it was a lot of “dumb luck” and that he is “naturally suited to working a lot.” In fact, he quoted Thomas Edison saying that it is “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration,” and that his hard work has certainly gone a long way.
Ravi opened his first business, Bourgeois Pig on East 7th Street (now on Macdougal), out of necessity. He was not making enough money as a painter to support himself. “I didn’t know how to do anything but paint and write,” he said, and he loved to drink, so opening a wine bar seemed like a perfect plan. His idea was to use money from Bourgeois Pig to live off of and to paint in his free time. However, he found that it was “so much fun” running a wine bar that he kept on going. As for his other restaurants and bars, he told me, "I’ll be sleeping and something will come to my mind.” These late-night inspirations have resulted in fifteen different places throughout New York and Brooklyn, as well as plans to open an Avant Garden in Los Angeles.
The idea for a vegan restaurant has long been in the back of Ravi’s mind, inspired by a trip to a Buddhist Temple in India and his own on and off vegan lifestyle. In addition to opening Avant Garden, Ravi, a self-described “big animal rights guy,” has jointly launched a non-profit called BEAST, which stands for Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today.
Ravi only does things that he wants to do. His passion shines through every single detail of his restaurant, and he even went as far as saying that this is the place of which he is most proud. He is pleased with the fact that it is 100% cruelty free, “except to these guys,” he said gesturing to the staff busily preparing the restaurant for that evening's diners. They all laughed. This is a place of great camaraderie, where there are none of the fake meats that are found at most vegan food spots, and the atmosphere is chic and warmly lit.
When I was there, in the fall of 2015, the restaurant had only been open for about a month, and already Avant Garden had a crew of loyal followers, a testament to the menu. Its menu was created by Andrew D’Ambrosi, who moved to France after being Avant Garden's head chef during the restaurant's first few years. Ravi explained that he had originally found Andrew on Craigslist and hired him to work at his restaurant, Cienfuegos. When the itch came to open up a new place, Bergen Hill, in Brooklyn, Ravi began the search for a head chef. They used Andrew’s kitchen at Cienfuegos to test out the world-renowned chefs who wished to head the restaurant. Ravi shared with me that Andrew came to him and requested, "'Before you hire [anyone] let me make a tasting for you'...He blew thirty chefs out of the water.” Andrew spent two years making vegan dishes at Bergen Hill and testing them as specials. "Each of his dishes is great," Ravi proclaimed, adding "When I am at home, I dream of the Tomato Jam Toast."
“I’m not a chef. I am a scholar of nutrition and an idealist who loves health and happiness,” proclaimed Angel Moreno, who left his home in Spain in the 1980s to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and to set up a chiringuito — the Spanish term for a cafe or juice kiosk — in the U.S.Before finding what he calls his “true purpose,” Angel was a pilot. “But this was killing my heart,” Angel said. He reevaluated his life and chose to pursue his aptitude for music. Though untrained, Angel had a good ear, a passion for playing the drums, and a desire to share music, poetry readings, and photography exhibits with the public. He came to open a handful of cafes and bars throughout Spain that were akin to laidback performance venues.Just as Angel planned to start a new venture in London, he met a master of Sufi (a form of Islamic mysticism). “This man was doing everything I wanted to do: yoga, traveling, and music. He was a fun guy.” The guru made such a powerful impression that Angel followed him to the States, where he spent the next decade doing odd jobs, learning to practice Sufism, and waiting for the right time to start his chiringuito.As Angel puts it, the universe eventually led him to the ideal place. It had two rooms — one that would serveas the dining area and a second space that was used to educate others about nutrition, health, and assortedimportant subjects. At first, “I didn’t even know what kind of cuisine I was going to offer.” But the teachingsof Sufi, which focus on purity and wellness, inspired him to avoid anchoring himself to any specific type of cuisine. “Instead, I did international dishes and used my knowledge to adjust any recipe to incorporate organic ingredients and to be vegan or vegetarian."Caravan of Dreams retains some of the elements of Angel’s first Spanish cafes, with daily live music andbright colors on the walls to spark joy in its guests. Yet the key component is the wholesome meals it serves.“Without health, we cannot be happy.”
At Ladybird, vegetables take center stage. According to Devante Melton, marketing director of DeRossi Global, Ladybird's parent company, “Instead of creating meat substitutes or serving dishes that propel that same kind of addiction to meat, we decided to create a vegetable bar that would be a sexy alternative without any of that pretense or exclusivity,” Since 2016, Ravi DeRossi has been on a mission to turn his restaurants vegan - and change the way we think about meat.“New Yorkers are very, very dedicated to meat as a necessity,” says Devante. “We go day-to-day in this kind of routine without actually understanding our food systems - what’s available, what’s produced locally. In doing so, we condition ourselves to believe that these things are necessary, but we don’t feel any need to lower our carbon footprint or create any environmental changes for us as a people. One way to do that is to go vegan.”Ladybird’s aesthetic is a cross between one's rich great-aunt’s living room and a trendy bar. Gold-framed mirrors adorn the marble-patterned walls, while plants dangle from the ceiling. Customers sit in green velvet booths or at the mirrored bar and drink wine-based cocktails served in crystal punch bowls. The food evokes the same sort of airy opulence as the décor. Manhattan Sideways sat down to sample a variety of items from the menu: Beginning with The Reunion Ibis cocktail - In keeping with the bar’s theme, the drinks are named after birds - followed by some of the restaurants most favorite dishes: Three types of toast (avocado, cauliflower, and mushroom and onion), kale salad, baby corn, and melt-in-your-mouth fried eggplant. The star of the show was a beet and avocado ceviche, a dish that made us wonder why anyone ever bothered making ceviche with fish. That is, in the end, the goal: to engineer a new sort of culinary literacy, where one's taste buds are far too occupied to even consider missing meat.
I have been a vegetarian for decades now, and I always welcome new information from those far more knowledgeable on the subject than I. Live Live has been my greatest discovery. In addition to being incredibly well versed on everything healthy, they are absolutely delightful to engage in conversation. Since 2002, Live Live has been “specializing in raw, organic, live and vegetarian health products.” They have a large selection of books, and the natural products that they provide for the face and body all smell and feel great, as their philosophy is “put things on your skin only if you can eat it.” From nuts, to dried fruits, to chips and chocolate, I have tried so many different raw snack foods that I have not had before and each one has been exceptional. Live Live is constantly looking for ways to improve lives as they travel all over the world to find the best items to stock their shelves. In addition, they have nutritional consultations, detoxification and fasting programs.
Confectionery is the brainchild of two passionate vegan chefs who owned separate bakeries in New Paltz, NY. Lagusta Yearwood began Lagusta’s Luscious as a boutique vegan chocolate shop, and Maresa Volante's Sweet Mresa specialized in macarons. They met, found that they shared a passion for sweets and vegan cooking, and Confectionery was born!Nowadays, the East Village shop serves a wide clientele, from random passersby following the sweet aromas to the front door, to avid cult fans in the city on vacation, and, of course, to those who either prefer or require a vegan diet. Confectionery is a space of inclusivity and giving, as evidenced by the prominent “Mitzvah Wall” that greeted me when I entered. The idea is to pay it forward: buy a cookie and put a note on the wall for someone to reward.When speaking with the counter server, a young woman who had been a fan of Lagusta’s Luscious for many years before working at Confectionery, she told me that she finds peace and comfort in the shop. “It's a nice, welcoming space where we can heal ourselves.”
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal." Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7.Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U.S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off.While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City.Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool.” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved.”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases.Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.