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Cafe Tallulah 1 Brunch French Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side

In 2013, restaurateur Greg Hunt opened Cafe Tallulah, a spacious neighborhood French bistro named after his first daughter. Located in what was once the iconic Victor's Cafe, the restaurant pays homage to its predecessor by preserving an intriguing exterior mural of oxen and a Cuban field worker.

Having dined at Cafe Tallulah on many occasions, it was especially pleasant for me when I brought members of the Manhattan Sideways team there for lunch one afternoon. While sitting at a corner table surrounded by windows, the natural light trickled in, highlighting the soft green of the chilled cucumber soup that I ordered. The light continued to bounce off the vibrant sour Granny Smith apples, arugula, Roquefort, and candied walnuts in the Frisee Salad, and the creamy bechamel, runny egg, and crisp bacon of the croque madame. The invigorating aroma of the hand cut truffle fries spoke for themselves.

In addition to the cuisine, which event planner and floor manager Ivana described as, "classic French cuisine adjusted to an American palette," Cafe Tallulah boasts a hospitable staff and a charming interior. Black and white photos of past and present celebrities adorn the walls, and old French movies play on the televisions. However, it is the French bistro's "longest bar on the Upper West Side" - seating over thirty guests - of which they are most proud. Backed by glass embellished with a gold-brushed patina and a magnificent changing floral arrangement, the bar serves up signature cocktails from whimsical to fancy. The Serge Gainsbourg, a mix of vodka with lemon juice, mint, cucumbers, and a splash of club soda, appears to be the drink of choice for the many neighborhood regulars.

Downstairs, the lounge has a more intimate space, reserved for private parties and music events. Antique furniture, patterned rugs and a fireplace offer a Parisian setting enlivened by the bar and a billiards table. Enclosed by the stone and brick walls and a low ceiling with a detailed design, it is a perfect combination of comfort and class.

Cafe Tallulah 2 Brunch French Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side
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Cafe Tallulah 17 Brunch French Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side

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Lost Gem
Alice's Tea Cup 1 Breakfast Tea Shops Brunch American Upper West Side

Alice's Tea Cup

Across the park and nine streets north from the 64th Street location, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was still visibly excited to be sitting down to breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup. Though she loves each of the teahouse's three "chapters," the 73rd Street cafe is the original - and the first one she visited as a young teen. She shared stories with me of coming here and marveling at the tiered Afternoon Teas that would arrive at her table, filled with scones, finger sandwiches and sweets. She questioned whether or not she might have been a bit too old at fifteen to celebrate her birthday here and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around New York blowing sparkle-filled bubbles, dressed in a pair of shimmering fairy wings acquired from the tea shop's front room, which is filled with whimsical retail items.On our visit to Alice's, Olivia, now a mature twenty-five, had her usual - a pumpkin scone with a personal pot of tea - while Tom, our photographer, ordered "the biggest coffee" they had. It arrived in a mug "the size of Tom's face." Olivia pointed out all the Alice in Wonderland themed decorations that she remembered from previous visits, including a quote from the character of the Duchess written in fun purple font along the walls and an angry painting of the red queen in the bathroom, telling employees to wash their hands or "Off with your head!" Her favorite little decorative touch, however, was on the swinging door into the kitchen. There is a giant keyhole window, suggesting that maybe, like Alice, the diners had shrunk to the size of mice, and would be swept away into a magical land, scones and teacups in hand.

More places on 71st Street

Lost Gem
Polpette 71 1 Italian Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side

Polpette 71

Raised by parents from Sicily and Naples, Nick Mormando grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, exposed to authentic Italian food in a comfortable setting. "We were the house on the block that was always cooking something," Nick explained. And he still is, having stayed true to his family recipes since opening the neighborhood-centric Polpette 71 restaurant in November of 1994.The front room is set up with white tablecloths, bottles of Pellegrino and photographs of "The Gates" by Christo and Jean-Claude, which decorated Central Park in 2005. On my first visit to Polpette 71, when it was still operating under its original name, Bello Giardino, Nick asked if I would like to sit outside in the garden. I looked up in surprise and eagerly replied, "Yes please." Truly a hidden gem on West 71st, this quiet respite has become a favorite of mine over the last several years. The red-and-white checkered tablecloths, small bottles of olive oil, and a massive mural by Hans de Castellane - depicting an Italian landscape with ocean views and coastal dwellings - brings a smile to my face every time I stroll in. Overhead, a weaving grape vine, grown out of a tiny root planted years ago from Nick's childhood garden, opens to pockets of natural light.The star of the culinary show has been the "Nicky" meatball. Voted the best in the boroughs by Dish du Jour Magazine in 2009, it has since made guest appearances on television shows, and inspired Nick's latest restaurant, Polpette, on Amsterdam Avenue. Other favorites include the penne alla vodka, the linguini and clams, which Nick fondly remembers his mother serving twice a month as he was growing up, and my personal favorite, the eggplant parmigiana.In addition to the food and décor, the ambiance is set by the strong relationships the restaurant has established. Without a doubt, this is a neighborhood haunt. Special occasions are commonly celebrated, guests are unafraid to dine alone, often engaging in comfortable conversations with the servers, and diners are referenced by names. "We are that kind of place," Nick smiled, recalling a couple who had met in his restaurant, moved outside of New York, but returned to Polpette 71 for their son's first birthday.

Lost Gem
Santa Fe 1 Mexican Upper West Side Midtown West Lincoln Square

Santa Fe

“Restaurants are a funny thing — I think most of us fall in and then some of us never leave,” said Laura Bird, who spent decades working in and out of her uncle’s Southwestern eatery, Santa Fe, before taking over as the owner. Laura’s uncle, John Bird, initially set out to be a musician. However, “like most creatives in New York, he spent a lot of time working in restaurants in between gigs.” He was a busboy at the casual Mexican joint, Cantina, on 70th Street for many years. Putting his dreams of stardom aside, John and a crew of coworkers he had befriended at Cantina chose to open a new place mere blocks away that would “elevate Southwestern cuisine.” John later became the sole proprietor, and under his management, the business was able to straddle the line between attracting hotshot celebrities and serving as a warm, family restaurant. “So many people began bringing their kids to dinner and started a long-lasting tradition of dining at Santa Fe together,” Laura shared. She fondly recalls her own early visits to her uncle’s restaurant. “It seemed like a game then. I remember the excitement of being allowed to use the soda gun for the first time.” Little did she know that she would be a fixture at Santa Fe.Similar to her uncle before her, Laura graduated college with a theater major and the knowledge that she would need a side job to pay her rent. She went from working the coat check, to waitressing, to suddenly managing the entire restaurant. Though it may not be for everyone, Laura admitted that she loved the “vampire lifestyle — I could do what I loved during the day and then come here at night to do a different kind of show business.”The family ties at Santa Fe do not stop at Laura and John. The chef of over a decade, José Gonzalez, appointed his son, Danny, as his second-in-command. Together, they dish up traditional Mexican foods as well as American staples and do their best to abide by John’s cardinal rule: consistency. “It’s easy to make something once, but the real goal is to keep cooking it the same way every time. We try to ensure that when people order a dish, it is the same flavor that they fell in love with when they first tried it a week or even ten years ago.” Just as notable are Santa Fe’s margaritas, which have “a reputation of their own as our shining superstar.”As for John, after devoting decades of his life to Santa Fe, he “took a bow from his restaurant journey” during the COVID-19 pandemic and entrusted Laura and her husband, Alex Fresqued, to keep running the show. In a heartwarming twist of fate, Santa Fe’s landlord turned out to be equally as fond of this neighborhood gem as its patrons, and he came on as a partner to help keep it alive.

More French nearby

Lost Gem
Cafe Luxembourg 1 Breakfast French Lincoln Square Upper West Side Midtown West

Cafe Luxembourg

With woven wicker chairs, plush red booths, tiled walls, a bar backed by an antique mirror, and many years as a topnotch restaurant, Cafe Luxembourg resounds with familiarity. And, as portrayed in the signature postcard of three naked ladies photographed by Cheryl Koralik in 1988, playfulness and boldness are always present. Customers loosen their ties, let their hair down, and engage in easy conversation - "fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere."Lynn Wagenknecht and her then husband, Keath McNally, opened the place in 1983 as a French neighborhood bistro. Now the sole proprietor, Lynn has maintained a rare level of comfort within the realm of fine dining, fully investing herself in Cafe Luxembourg as well as its sister restaurants, Cafe Cluny and The Odeon. Constantly finding inspiration from her trips to France, Lynn's warm attentiveness permeates the restaurant."Lynn nurtures from within," said General Manager Morgan Nevans, who has been with the company since 2008. Staff members are invited and encouraged to dine in the restaurant. "We have a lot of aspiring professors, artists, actors and doctors," explained Morgan. A performance artist, Manager Krystel Lucas started at Cafe Luxembourg because of its proximity to her school, finding it easy to work around her wavering show schedule. "I was proud to stand at the door," Krystel informed me, having worked her way up from hostess, server, and bartender. Customers also have an inclination to return with many coming since the restaurants' opening - regulars or not, "everyone is treated as a VIP." The food may also have a little something to do with their loyalty.A graduate of New England Culinary Institute, Executive Chef Michael Navarette acknowledges, "food is a gateway to culture." Everyone eats, and dishes have their own history, prepared in a variety of ways throughout all regions. His breakfast specialty, an omelet with mixed greens, exudes comforting familiarity, while his faroe island salmon over a salad of lentils, potatoes, onion, and a curry aioli, is a more innovative concoction that breeds its own memories. "A chef is a journeyman position," Michael smiled, "The training never ends. I learn as I go." It seems the staff and restaurant both have a knack for refining while retaining their roots. A bistro that only gets better with age, this side street gem will always be something to look forward to.

Lost Gem
La Boite en Bois 1 French Midtown West Upper West Side Lincoln Square

La Boite en Bois

It may come as a shock to discover that behind the scenes of this classic French restaurant is a born and bred Italian. To Gino Barbuti, however, the neighboring country’s cuisine comes naturally to him after years of working in high-end French settings. After he and his family left their small hometown of Bardi in Parma, Italy, and migrated to the UK, his first exposure to the food industry was an apprenticeship at Le Coq d’Or in London. His brother, meanwhile, followed his heritage and worked at Italian restaurants. When Gino made his way to New York, he jumped from one prestigious French eatery to the next, until the brothers opened their own Italian place on Long Island. As Gino likes to say, “Back in the 1960s, there was only French and Italian places here,” so it is little wonder that he went on to create establishments of both kinds. It was not until 2004 that a former colleague of his informed him that La Boite en Bois was looking for a new owner. Gino, who had just sold his restaurants on Long Island and was looking for his next venture, accepted the offer immediately. “It was the cutest, quaintest place. Exactly the kind of farmhouse style my dad is drawn to,” explained Angela, one of Gino’s four daughters. Though he tweaked the menu to integrate his personal flair, Gino left many of the favorites unchanged. He understood that La Boite en Bois already had an established following –largely consisting of theater-goers, ballet, and opera patrons who stopped by for an elegant, pre-show meal begore heading to Lincoln Center. To this day, he offers the same pâté made in-house, steak au poivre, and an unforgettable, honey mustard-glazed salmon. Nevertheless, Gino did incorporate select dishes such as a house made ravioli “to pay homage to his Italian roots” and added French fries and a burger to the menu to appeal to his American audience. On occasion, Gino cannot help but be bemused that for all of his training in haute cuisine, the burger is among his top sellers. “People want comfort food, now more than ever” – and La Boite en Bois is happy to provide, regardless of the dish’s country of origin.