On more than one occasion, as we walked 45th, a long line snaked out of BentOn, a small takeout eatery. This tiny gem provides authentic Japanese bento boxes to the lunch crowd in Midtown, a welcome break from traditional American fare. When striking up a conversation with a Japanese businessman who had stopped by for lunch, he shared his opinion about the food, saying that he felt it had been modified a bit for American palettes, but was as close to authentic as he had tried in Manhattan. The bento boxes vary per day and are served alongside their specialty drinks.
Aburiya Kinnosuke itself seems to be a portal away from the midtown bustle into a quiet and elegant Tokyo restaurant. Seating is available in the main dining room, around the grill, and in small private rooms - one of which features tatami mats, where guests can have a more traditional Japanese experience. Focusing on the izakaya style of dining, the meal is usually comprised of several small dishes shared among a table (comparable to the Spanish tradition of tapas). The menu is extensive, featuring over 100 plates, most of which are based on robata grilling, another Japanese culinary tradition in which skewers are slow-grilled over hot charcoal. Arriving in time for lunch, two of our team were the eager enthusiasts willing to try the specials of the day - dishes prepared in limited quantities each afternoon. On this particular day, there was very fresh Bluefin tuna collar, followed by the Aburiya set – a dish that featured simmered fish, washu beef and sashimi – and then everyone's favorite, the bentou box set, filled with a combination of Japanese small dishes.
Once we figured out where we needed to go - through the lobby of a commercial building and down a few flights - we parted a curtain, and turned to each other with broad smiles on our faces and gestures of approval. A friend had mentioned Sakagura a while back, saying don't forget to find this amazing Japanese restaurant when you are walking on 43rd. I put it in my notes, and made reservations on a Thursday evening at 7: 00 pm. We only waited a few minutes, but when we were taken to our booth - we were a party of six - every table was filled. Somehow the minimal interior with cement flooring, simple wood tables, bamboo, and a bar that extends down an entire side of the restaurant came together seamlessly. For me, however, it was the large flowering branches of cherry blossoms that captured my attention - and heart. It was the middle of April, and I had been eagerly awaiting these trees to open their buds in Central Park, but they had been taking their sweet time after a very cold winter. Known for their extensive selection of Sake, we browsed through the long list, and then took the advice of our server. Several of the items on the menu were a bit different from what some of us were accustomed to sampling, but that we did. Together with some standards like edamame, we ordered numerous small plates and main dishes to share - chicken, beef, fish, including fried eel and fillet of salmon sashimi, udon noodles, spinach with a sesame paste, rice balls with miso painted on top and the show-stopper, mashed potato balls fried in a sweet donut batter. Different and delicious.
Dainobu is a small Japanese market filled to the brim with aisles of colorful packages of food. Fridges along the side walls house the day's selection of bento boxes prepared fresh in a small kitchen at the back of the store. When we walked 47th street, Maria and Jasphy, two of the summer interns, loved browsing the aisles, impressed by its authenticity – "Dainobu is the real deal, " they said. The girls picked up a daifuku each and left happy with their sweet treats.
Paul Stuart's flagship location commands the southwest corner of Madison Avenue, a 60, 000 square foot retail space dedicated to fine menswear. Established in 1938 by haberdasher Ralph Ostrove - and named after his son - Paul Stuart is committed to revitalizing and updating the classic American style. Continuing on with the family tradition, CEO, Michael Ostrove, explains that Paul Stuart is "an American interpretation of its Anglo roots, " those that stretch to London's famous Savile Row.
Beer Culture opened in the summer of 2013, offering beer, cider, whiskey, and bottled sodas. Customers can come in to pick up a bottle – or growler - of beer to take home, or grab a seat at the bar to chat with the friendly staff while noshing on some charcuterie. The record player behind the bar is usually going and if the owner, Matt Gebhard, and bar manager, Peter Malfatti, are around, they are bound to strike up a conversation and offer to guide patrons through their extensive beer selection. The beers are organized by region. The first door of their huge, glass-front fridge is full of beers from New York State, while the second is full of east coast beers, and the third and fourth is full of central and west coast beers. A bit further back into the room is their international fridge, proudly boasting selections from the UK, France, and three shelves worth of Belgian beers. For patrons who just want a nice, cold, familiar beer, grandpa's fridge is the place to go. Customers often mistake the old Kelvinator across from the bar as a prop and are always surprised when they open it up and realize that it works and that they recognize all of the brands inside of it. Matt included grandpa's fridge because he thinks that there is a place for all beers (except lite ones, which are not sold on the Beer Culture premises) and that some brands hold emotional value for customers. True to its name, the beers in the old Kelvinator are those that Matt had seen in his own grandfather's fridge growing up. Matt's first true exposure to beer and its culture was during a year he spent studying abroad in Belgium. When he came back home to upstate NY, Matt was nineteen and decided to pursue his newfound passion by working in a local Belgian brewery. He remained here for a few years until he met Peter, his future bar manager, who was living in Rochester, NY. Before opening their own place, Matt came to Manhattan and worked in a Belgian bar in Midtown. Although he enjoyed it, Matt told us that he wanted to do things his own way and fulfill his vision of what a bar should be. The bar that these two terrific guys opened is one that is dedicated to the simple, comfortable and unpretentious beverage that they adore. Nestled between Eighth and Ninth Avenue in a residential part of 45th Street, Beer Culture, is a hybrid bar and bottle shop offering its customers over 500 different types of beer. Although at the time of this write-up, Beer Culture had been around for less than a year, both Matt and Peter already feel like part of the block. As Matt stated, "We pride ourselves in being an establishment of beer nerds, not beer snobs. "
After eleven years in her Noho location, Executive Chef and Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli opened Butter in the Cassa Hotel, a Midtown twin to her well-known restaurant. Shaped by Guarnaschelli's own travels and time spent working abroad, the attractive dark wood restaurant with comfortable booth seating, is American but with the requisite global touches and ingredients expected of fine dining. When Chef Guarnaschelli isn't filming, she is in the kitchen, on the line, adding her fine touch into every aspect of the cooking. As members of her staff shared with us, Alex is dedicated to bringing fresh and simple ingredients together in beautifully crafted dishes. On a rare and special night out with just my husband and daughter, I could not pass up the opportunity to bring my butter-loving girl to this dining experience. Since she has always considered the dairy treat to be its own food group, I had the highest hopes for the meal - particularly the bread basket - which did not disappoint. The warm Pullman-style rolls with the house-made butters (a plain with a hint of sour cream for richness, and an herb that was light and lovely) were out of this world. All three of us agreed we could leave satisfied just from that - and a spicy cocktail, of course (the Ghost Margarita) But we powered ahead sharing the burrata salad. The creamy burrata with garden-fresh tomatoes was divine and the ribeye steaks that my husband and daughter ordered were cooked perfectly and sat atop smashed purple potatoes. And, as a vegetarian, I always keep an eye out for restaurants working to develop unique, hearty main courses. The charred coconut milk-soaked cauliflower was much appreciated. We finished things off, in case one thought we had already indulged ourselves sufficiently, with the raspberry beignets accompanied by a vanilla dipping sauce. If the name of this restaurant alone does not have one's mouth watering, I am sure that it is now!