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Indie Food and Wine

Opening Hours
Today: 9am–9pm
Sun:
9am–8pm
Mon:
8am–8pm
Tues:
8am–9pm
Wed:
8am–9pm
Thurs:
8am–9pm
Fri:
8am–9pm
Location
144 West 65th Street
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More Italian nearby

Lost Gem
Lincoln Ristorante 1 Brunch Italian undefined

Lincoln Ristorante

Visitors to Lincoln Center will probably note the glorious emerald sloping lawn just to the north of the shady grove of trees. Many may not realize, however, that there is a high class Italian restaurant hidden underneath. Lincoln Ristorante, which opened in 2011, was designed by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, the same team that created the High Line park. One can discern many of the elements of the High Line in the restaurant: it blends into its surroundings by using the same sandy color scheme as the neighborhing buildings, and uses seasonal plant life, such as springtime cherry blossoms and dogwoods, to liven up the atmosphere. The entire building is eco-friendly. While speaking with Yale Frederiksen, the private dining manager, I learned that the same emphasis on ecological practices is used in the menu. “It’s all about respecting the environment, ” she told us. For example, Chef Jonathan Benno, who is a James Beard nominee and opened Per Se in Columbus Circle, tries to use every part of an animal when crafting his entrees. He also visits many farmers’ markets around the city, such as the ones at Tucker Square and Union Square. “He really respects the integrity of the product, ” Yale explained. In addition to looking out for the environment, Jonathan highlights the respected culinary traditions of Italy. Though he comes from a French cooking background and brings some of that discipline to his practices, Jonathan runs Lincoln as an Italian restaurant, with a different region of Italy honored every couple months. Yale also informed us that most of the staff are serious chefs, themselves. Ninety percent of the employees graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. The pastry chefs come from Bouchon and make most of the bread in-house, including the excellent focaccia. Yale listed different training programs available for the staff, such as workshops on how to shave truffles. Diners are given glimpses into each staff member's expertise: The kitchen is completely open, and so guests can see the staff at work each night. We were lucky enough to be invited down to the prep kitchen, which is where the cooks work until an hour before serving time. We witnessed pasta being rolled out in yellow ribbons, which were then sliced up and hand-piped with ricotta for the ricotta and pea ravioli. We also saw the big, round balls of dough that would become focaccia and a sheet of chocolate bing prepared for the Torrone Semifreddo, a partially frozen ice cream cake with honey meringue and a drizzled chocolate shell. Watching the staff at work was like watching a well-oiled machine. Returning upstairs, Yale showed us the seven-seat Negroni bar on the far side of the kitchen, another example of a quintessentially Italian touch. Guests can choose their own spirit, bitters, and vermouth in order to create their own concoction. There are even two barrel-aged Negronis available. For those who would prefer to pass on Negronis, there is a whole list of Italian takes on classic cocktails, called “Cocktail Creazioni”, as well as a large central column filled with Italian wines in a specially fitted cooler. “Our wine director is phenomenal, ” Yale told us, after listing Aaron von Rock’s credentials. As we were getting ready to leave, Yale gazed out the window and described to us how the space looked at night: twinkling lights on the sloped ceiling above, the glamorously lit plaza outside, and a warm, festive atmosphere. For both foodies and theatre lovers alike, Lincoln provides an unforgettable environment.

Lost Gem
The Leopard at des Artistes 1 Italian undefined

The Leopard at des Artistes

The most immediately striking aspect of the Leopard at des Artistes are the murals that covers its walls. Though beautiful in and of itself, its history is even more fascinating. The murals hearken back to the early twentieth century, when the now-residential building that houses the Leopard was predominantly an artists' residence, with an atelier in each apartment. The building, whose tenants included dancer Isadora Duncan and artists as stylistically diverse as Marcel DuChamp and Norman Rockwell, came to be known as the Hotel des Artistes. In 1920, when its cafeteria (none of the artists' apartments had kitchens) was renovated and made into a restaurant, resident artist Howard Chandler Christy was called on to paint the walls. His decision to paint scenes of nude women reclining caused a considerable stir when the newly christened Cafe des Artistes opened its doors shortly thereafter; waiters were forced to hang tablecloths over the restaurant's walls in order to placate more conservative customers. In 1975, Cafe des Artistes reopened under the management of violinist George Lang, and quickly became one of the most popular restaurants in New York. Today, the building houses residential condominiums, but the restaurant is still running, albeit under different management. The original Cafe des Artistes closed in 2009, and Gianfranco and Paula Sorrentino opened The Leopard in that space a little under three years later. The restaurant's new name references both its history and the Sorrentinos' other restaurant Il Gattopardo (Italian for 'leopard'). With the murals restored to their former glory, it continues to attract a diverse clientele with a long list of artists, tourists and celebrities, including - Gianfranco proudly mentioned - Bill Clinton, who held his sixty-fifth birthday party at the restaurant. Gianfranco was raised in Italy and his wife, Paula, in Brazil, though her parents originated in Veneto, Italy. The Sorrentino couple are well established in the restaurant world having together managed Sette restaurant at the MoMa for a number of years. They then opened the well-esteemed Il Gattopardo in 2001, followed by The Leopard, and, most recently, Mozzarella & Vino. Gianfranco's strong Italian heritage and experience in this business since childhood are complemented by Paula's background in design and modeling. In addition to her role as Creative Director, Paula also handles all of the company's design and IT work. An addition to the team in 2015, Executive Chef Michele Brogioni always aspired to be a chef growing up in Italy, having learned to cook in his father's restaurant from age eleven. He went on to work in restaurants throughout Europe, and then ventured to New York in pursuit of the challenge of making it in the big city. "The more I live in New York, the more I fall in love with New York, " he admitted. With his passion comes a refined set of traditional Italian cooking skills, allowing him to reconnect to recipes that date back thousands of years. Chef Michele was pleased to tell me that as he cooks, "smells trigger memories of my grandmother's kitchen, a tie that learned chefs of other origins cannot replicate. "Chef Michele and Gianfranco are constantly reworking the menu to reflect only the freshest, most seasonally appropriate cuisine. "If there is more fresh fish in the market, we will serve more fish, " stated Gianfranco. Chef Michele chimed in, "It is all about having a good ingredient. " Both nodding their heads in agreement, Chef Michele went on to say that "less is more, a masterpiece can be made out of pasta and olive oil. " But equally important to them is professionalism; management meetings occur weekly and an open dialogue is ongoing between the kitchen and the rest of the team. Downstairs in the kitchen, I watched the integration of both ideals - Chef Michele worked with the purest ingredients as his staff mindfully passed around orders interspersed with Italian dialect. The potato pancake with garlic, herbs, and white fennel glistened in a reduced black broth and the arancini balls sat perfectly spherical with their hardened breadcrumb exteriors and concealed gooey risotto. Then, speaking directly to my inner cravings, the Chef matched fresh Buratta with a dollop of fava bean puree, a drizzle of olive oil, and a generous sprinkle of truffle shavings. I was in heaven as I slowly savored each glorious bite. When it was show time, the waiters headed to their posts, being attentive but non-intrusive to the diners. Glasses of water seemed to replenish themselves, napkins were replaced before anyone realized they had fallen, and the wine continued to flow. Several of us sat down to dinner beginning with a selection of refreshing salads, followed by extraordinary pasta dishes including rigatoni with sauteed eggplant and aged ricotta. Seasonality was highlighted in our plate of grilled vegetables with an herbal-infused olive oil. Our scrumptious meal ended with the "Leopard Temptations" - a Nutella chocolate mousse served on hazelnut crunch and banana gelato, and the Rum Babba with cream and fresh berries. Having dined at Cafe Des Artistes over the years with family and friends, and saddened when it closed, I was thrilled when it was reopened by Gianfranco and Paula in 2011. I was one of their first guests, and have been back several times, but it was a very special treat being able to visit with the Manhattan Sideways team in 2015. Experiencing the kitchen with Chef Michele and his staff proved how efficiently run this operation is, and sitting down with the family, including the couple's charming little girl, Sophia, was the icing on the cake. With each visit, it is an absolute pleasure to rekindle old memories of days and people gone by.

Lost Gem
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Joanne Trattoria

As a rule, I am not as big a fan of dessert as I am of the pasta entrees in most Italian restaurants. That said, I could not stop myself from eating the "Nutellasagna" at Joanne Trattoria. However, even better than this warm oozing dessert with homemade flaky pastry dough, was listening to the fascinating story of Travis Jones, the executive chef and bakeshop master. Upon entering Joanne's, Travis greeted members of the Manhattan Sideways team and sat down with us in the outdoor courtyard, where trees twisted along the brick walls. We learned that Cynthia Germanotta, co-owner with her husband Joe, had done all of the decorating herself. If the name "Germanotta" sounds familiar, it is because the restaurant is owned by the parents of Stefani Germanotta, who is more commonly known as Lady Gaga. Travis explained that though some of Lady Gaga's fans, affectionately named "Little Monsters, " come and make lasting connections with other like-minded diners, many parties do not even realize where they are eating. Except for a "Lady Gaga" license plate tucked away in a corner, a few photos on the wall and some Gaga-themed drinks (including Gaga wine, only available at Joanne's), her stage persona does not play a large part in the restaurant. Rather, the main goal of the trattoria is to create a comfortable and warm environment. Joe named the restaurant after his sister, who died of Lupus at the age of nineteen, and so rather than focusing on Lady Gaga's celebrity, the restaurant emphasizes the closeness and strength of an Italian family. Travis's story of how he became Joanne's executive chef is unlike any story I have heard in the culinary world. Instead of working his way up the restaurant ladder, from busboy to chef, as the story often goes, Travis' adult life started in the U. S. Navy. He spent nine-and-a-half years as a weapons technician, during which time he traveled around the world and formed a lasting brotherhood with his fellow sailors. Travis told us that he has always loved preparing food, and would often cook for his Navy buddies. His affection for the culinary world began earlier still, in his childhood, when he would spend every summer with his grandparents on their farm in the Midwest, learning how to gather fresh eggs, make bread, go fishing, and hunt raccoons. His grandparents taught him that everything he hunted, fished, or harvested, he had to eat, which instilled in him the value of sustainability. His grandmother also taught him the love of baking, which has become his greatest passion. "Desserts are my thing, " he said, and added with a twinkle in his eye, "I also love to eat them. "After leaving the Navy, Travis went to Johnson and Wales culinary school in Providence, Rhode Island. "It was a culture shock, " Travis said, to go straight from the Navy to the restaurant world. His first summer internship he spent working under Chef Art Smith in Chicago. Later, when Travis was back at culinary school, he received a call from Chef Smith, who asked him to come and help out at a recently opened restaurant on 68th - Travis got permission to leave school, temporarily, and began working at Joanne's. He has never left since joining the team in 2012. Travis only interned at the front of the house for four weeks before the general manager left, and he took over. Travis continued his story by explaining that the main turning point in his career came during Hurricane Sandy, when very few of the staff was able to come in. Travis cooked in the kitchen with Joe while Cynthia hosted. They only had hamburgers in stock, and, thus, that was all they could make. Travis proved his talent and resourcefulness, and took over as executive chef not long after, which he said was surreal: "I was still a student, theoretically, interning, but running a restaurant that had been on the front page of the New York Times. " Travis still has a trimester left in order to receive his degree, which he is finishing online. "Just because I'm already an executive chef doesn't mean I don't want my Bachelor's Degree, " he assured us, adding that he would be one of only two people in his family to have completed a college education. He is working towards degrees in Food Service Management and Event and Entertainment Management. Travis immediately got to work improving the menu at Joanne's. He added fresh, handmade pasta, "which is part of the reason for my arthritis, " he joked, and made the "ginormous" Germanotta family meatballs a little smaller and more manageable. He also added a short rib ragout, which some of us had the pleasure of sampling. Travis whipped it up in the open kitchen, dipping into the huge vat of red sauce, made using a secret Germanotta family recipe. He explained that the ragout sits for a couple of hours in a red wine sauce with garlic, carrots, oregano, and other fresh ingredients. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, ate it with gusto and described it as being "like a warm hug from an Italian grandmother. "Travis then brought out a tray of desserts, and explained that once he got the savory food in order, he started "Joanne's Bakeshop. " Along with the Nutellasagna, we tasted a homemade tiramisu and a delectable almond cake with fresh raspberries. I then asked if Travis's grandmother, the woman who is credited for his love for cooking, had a chance to visit the restaurant before she passed away. Though the answer was sadly no, he noted, "I shipped her cakes and pies whenever I could. "

More places on 65th Street

Lost Gem
Anita Shapolsky Gallery 1 Private Residences Art and Photography Galleries Family Owned undefined

Anita Shapolsky Gallery

The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is named for its founder, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she invited me to No. 152. Having first opened in SoHo in 1982, by the late nineties, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that by the late nineties she was ready for a change, and so she moved the gallery closer to home – in fact, into the building on 65th Street where she had been living for twenty-two years. Since 1997, the gallery and Mrs. Shapolsky have shared a home. The relationship is truly a symbiotic one. "What would you do in a house without art? " she exclaimed. "They take the paintings down between shows, and I'm sick with nothing on the wall. " Her bedroom is tucked into the second floor of the building, concealed behind accordion doors, and in another room of the gallery, a shoe closet is just ajar. On the day that I sat down to speak with Mrs. Shapolsky, the feature exhibit, , was by the artist Russell Connor, whose art riffed on classic painters, pairing them and their masterworks with references to other, more modern pieces. Mrs. Shapolsky said that she thinks of it as an educational show, as it exposes visitors to art history, and brings the old and the new together. Having been invited to a lecture by the artist, I had the pleasure of meeting Russell Connor, and listened as he elaborated on a number of the paintings; each one has a hidden joke for the seasoned art historian. This exhibit was a change from Russell Connor's accustomed style; he usually prefers abstract art for which the Anita Shapolsky Gallery is best known. When Mrs. Shapolsky opened her gallery, she decided to focus on the Abstract Expressionists of the fifties, especially those of the New York school. She had no experience at the time working in or running a gallery, only a great passion for art. "It was madness, sheer madness, " she told me. But despite the mad ambition of the project, the gallery has been a great success. Mrs. Shapolsky drew on her connections to other artists and friends in order to bring the appropriate pieces into her space. Although she knew that the aesthetic was not popular at the time, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that she had grown up with the abstract expressionists, and felt that they represented an important artistic avante garde. The Anita Shapolsky Gallery excels not only at exhibiting important art, but also at connecting that art to people. To be both in a gallery and a home is a unique experience, and meeting Mrs. Shapolsky was a privilege. She is as much a part of the gallery as is the art. On the day that I met her, she was wearing a piece of art around her neck. Her jewelry was made by Ibram Lassaw, whose work can also be seen at the Guggenheim.

Lost Gem
Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College 1 Art and Photography Galleries Colleges and Universities Historic Site undefined

Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College

The Roosevelt House is primarily an educational institution, housing two of Hunter College's undergraduate programs and hosting a number of book talks, panels, and other public events. But, as the name reveals, it began as a family home. The Roosevelt's moved into this double townhouse in 1908, with matriarch Sara Roosevelt living on one side, and Franklin and Eleanor on the other, along with their five children. On my visit to the Roosevelt House, I participated in a guided tour that illuminated some of its history for me. The building itself, was designed by architect Charles Platt, who also made the plans for the nearby mansion that was home to The China Institute for almost seventy years. This elegant townhouse among the rows of brownstones would set the tone for many of the other structures in the area to be renovated or replaced. Deborah, the tour guide, took us through the many rooms and their pasts. I was surprised to learn that the house was built with two elevators, one on each side, a rare architectural choice for the early twentieth century. The elevators became especially important after 1921, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt fell ill with polio and was confined to a wheelchair. One of the elevators has been retained in its original state, and is shockingly small – the wheelchairs we use today would never fit - but Roosevelt's had a profile similar to that of a dining chair, and so was able to wheel in and out without difficulty. The second elevator has been expanded to allow full accessibility to Hunter College. Upstairs, the library functions as a little museum, containing a selection of books on the Roosevelt's, along with some historic artifacts. The real history though, is in the building itself. "A lot came out of this house, " Deborah explained. President Roosevelt appointed his initial cabinet members in the upstairs library, and among them, the first woman. That same library is where President Roosevelt practiced tirelessly on crutches until he could stand and move sans a wheelchair during political gatherings. A few steps away, the drawing room was the site of Roosevelt's first radio address as president. One floor up is the bedroom where he recovered from polio, and where he often held meetings so that he could continue working minus the discomfort of his leg braces. I found myself lingering close to the walls, hoping they might whisper some of the things they overheard all those years ago. In 1941, Sara Roosevelt died, and the family put the townhouse up for sale. It was a difficult time to sell a house – everybody was at war except the United States, and the whole country knew that conflict was in the immediate future. The Roosevelt's still managed to find a buyer. Eleanor had a strong relationship with Hunter College, and so when they expressed interest, the family lowered the price, making it possible for Hunter to acquire this historic home in 1943. It was dedicated as the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House. Today, the Roosevelt House works to balance its legacy and contemporary function. The house retains all its original crown molding, but the furniture is new, allowing Hunter students and visitors to sit comfortably and not worry about causing damage to antique sofas or rugs. Students at the Roosevelt House study Public Policy and Human Rights, a fitting tribute to the Roosevelt family's influence on this country.

Lost Gem
Congregation Emanu El of New York 1 Synagogues undefined

Congregation Emanu-El of New York

After walking down the 65th Street sidewalk, and going through the imposing bronze doors, I found myself in a place of worship, a place of connection, and a place of significant history. Moreover, it is a synagogue that stands as evidence of religious and cultural movements, technological and artistic development, and the evolution from being a Jew living in America to being an American Jew. I have passed by this grand building for decades and always imagined stepping inside. Being invited in by Cara Glickman, Vice President of Finance and Administration, was a welcome moment, but little did I expect to spend the next two hours receiving a comprehensive tour and education on this world renowned building. With only thirty-three German Jewish immigrants, Temple Emanu-El humbly began on Grand and Clinton Streets in 1845. In 1854, the temple relocated to 12th Street, and in 1868, garnering more congregants and support, it moved uptown to 43rd Street until 1925. In 1929, Temple Emanu-El consolidated with Temple Beth-El, another reform institution of Germanic Jewish ancestry founded in 1874, and opened as a new complex on 65th Street, complete with the Beth-El Chapel which features a Byzantine double-dome roof. In 1963, Temple Emanu-El expanded its religious school and opened an adjoining facility up on 66th Street. The move to 65th Street was as much a political statement as an acquisition for a larger religious practice, we learned from Mark Heutlinger, who joined us on our tour of the building. A twenty-five year veteran of Emanu-El, serving as the Administrator, Mark demonstrated his wealth of knowledge and an unprecedented passion for this institution. As we were walking, he explained to us that the move uptown said “we, as Jews, are here, and we are not going anywhere. ” It was an acculturation into society, preserving of faith and heritage, “the Temple’s construction was the embodiment of the ideal of Emanu-El to fit within the mosaic of New York life. ” The main sanctuary was designed as a basilica structure, setting a tone of grandeur with its high ceilings, delicate stained glass windows, and exquisite arc. As a response to a long history of second-class status, the Jewish culture would now be “second to none, equal to all. ” With initial reactions ranging from “how dare they” to “wow, ” the temple was redefining life for Jewish Americans, offering permanence and pride. Aesthetically, the temple is an “eclectic mix of different architecture. ” On the 66th Street wing, the Lowenstein Sanctuary built in 1962 is of modern style. The lobby on Fifth Avenue, known as the Marvin and Elisabeth Cassel Foyer, is a “singular expression of art deco style, ” complete with beautifully designed radiator covers and sculpted door handles. Mark continued to explain that the synagogue was uniquely designed such that the cantor and rabbi would stand at separate podiums so as not to obstruct the vision of the arc (restored during the temple’s restoration from 2003 to 2006). Mark opened the ark for us, revealing seven torahs split into two rows, for “a semblance of congruency. ” Above the ark, one can see a slip curtain opening to the choir room complete with a grand electronic wind pipe organ. Placed in chronological order, some of the most breathtaking parts of this main sanctuary are the stained glass windows. The stained glass sends a message of ancestral and religious history. As we walked to the back of the sanctuary, we stared at the visual representations of biblical stories like Noah’s Arc and meaningful symbols representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Tribe of Reuben was identified by an eagle, which is also representative of the United States, an amalgamation of the “American Jewish Experience. ”Within Temple Emanu-El resides The Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica, featuring both treasured and permanent objects acquired over the years by the temple. The oldest item in the room is a thirteenth century Hanukkah menorah. Other items included collapsible menorahs and even a dollhouse menorah designed to hide their religious identity in response to continuous European anti-Semitism forbidding Jewish expression. One of the Museum objects is a torah breastplate emblazoned with an Eagle and an American flag, sending the message that the Jewish Americans, as early as the 1890s continued to communicate, “We are American. ”In conclusion, Mark announced proudly that Congregation Emanu-El is the largest temple in the United States, and together with the nineteenth century Dahany Temple of Budapest, it is considered to be the grandest possibly in the world. So integral to the Jewish American identity, it is one structure that certainly shapes the cultures and neighborhoods on the side streets of Manhattan.

More Breakfast nearby

Lost Gem
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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.

More Mediterranean nearby

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Lost Gem
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Shalel Kitchen & Bar

I have lived on the Upper West Side for several years, but it was not until I walked on 70th Street one evening that I discovered Shalel. It is tucked away down a set of stairs with no signage during the daytime. Curious what this was, I descended the steps lined with rose petals and herbs, and entered what seemed like a magical cave, decked out in Moroccan décor and candles. There were secret nooks behind curtains and around corners filled with pillows, couches and tapestries. In the back, erupting from a mysterious darkness, was the fountain for which the restaurant is named - Shalel means “fountain” in Arabic. When I visited with the Manhattan Sideways team, I was able to learn the history of the restaurant from the owner. Vasilis Katehis, who hails from Greece, bought the basement space in 2000. “It was terrible, ” he said, describing an uninhabitable, dark piece of real estate that apparently had never been used for anything except storage. He began by lowering the floors by a foot and exposing the sheet rock, which he cleaned. The waterfall, he explained, used to be a pile of dirt. Despite the difficulty of the project, Vasilis greatly enjoyed the endeavor, since he considered it a labor of art. “I like anything having to do with design, décor, and poetry, ” he lyrically stated. “I had a vision. ” By the time Vasilis was done with the renovation, the difference between the beginning and end product was “like night and day. ” Even though the nooks and crannies had all existed before - and Vasilis's vision was to do “the unfinished thing, ” - he succeeded in completely transforming a basement into a romantic restaurant. Shalel immediately attracted customers, drawn to the idea of an underground eatery. Initially, it used to be more of “a date place, ” but in 2015, Vasilis told me that he tends to attract an older clientele. He also shared with me that he is the mastermind behind the entire menu, which is Mediterranean with an emphasis on Moroccan cuisine. As for Vasilis’s own background, he recounted, “I grew up as a farmer and a fisherman, ” and then added that he knows how to make both olive oil and wine, thanks to his upbringing on a tiny Greek island without a name. “For us, it was natural. ” Though he had other restaurants scattered around New York, Vasilis has sold them, with the exception of Shalel. He casually mentioned that he hopes to drift into semi-retirement and spend more time in Greece restoring his olive groves. It is unclear what the neighborhood would do without him, though. As he declared, “They know me on the Upper West Side. ” We had a long chat about the local businesses in the area, including those that have had to shutter over the years. After discussing raising rents, fallen culinary comrades, and the future of New York, Vasilis turned to me and added something rather poetic - If worse comes to worst, “We can all just go back to making olive oil. ”