I was eager to try L’Apicio as the people behind this venture are the owners of the two terrific West Village side street restaurants, Dell’Anima and L’Artusi. L’Apicio resides in the more contemporary part of East 1st Street, immediately adjacent to a rather sterile-looking (but we’re sure quite lovely inside) apartment complex. Don’t be dissuaded, however, as neither the food nor the decor at L’Apicio lacks personality.
Entering a well-designed lounge and cocktail area, the tables are arranged so that six people can comfortably hold one conversation. On the Monday night that we were here, the place was almost full, and the kitchen - which is visible when wandering to the back of the restaurant - was buzzing.
L’Apicio specializes in different varieties of Polenta, which they serve with such delights as warm mushrooms, pork meatballs, shrimp, or braised short ribs. The polenta gives each accompaniment a light creaminess, which was a hit among our party. From there, we had a difficult time deciding how to mix and match a wide array of salads (try the warm mushroom and hazelnut), appetizers (especially the bruschetta topped with pancetta and a fried egg), pastas, seafood and meats. We found the appetizer portions to be larger than expected and the mains to be smaller, so it seemed to have all balanced out well in the end. The wait staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the extensive beer and wine list.
Overall, we chose just the right restaurant for our mixed age group and the perfect evening, and we all happened to have been in the mood for a hearty, convivial, and just the right amount of a hip experience. Helpful note: there is no corkage fee at L’Apicio on Sundays and Mondays.
Around the corner from the well-regarded traditional restaurant, Il Buco, is Alimentari & Vineria, the market and wine bar that sells imported Italian foods. Up front, there is counter seating for a quick bite as well as more leisurely, contemporary dining down a few steps in the back. The food not only looks enticing, but it tastes amazing, and the people who work here are helpful and knowledgeable. Shortly after they had opened in the fall of 2011, we sampled some sandwiches on their house-baked breads - Tuscan Kale Panini with Stracchino cheese spread and a Soppressata panini with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Simple and delicious. Garnering instant popularity and acclaim from The New York Times to Zagat, we are confident in adding our enthusiastic support and highest recommendation to this authentic hotspot.
Upon entering this simple but warm restaurant, you cannot miss the heavenly smell of baked bread. When we met the owner and chef, Esberanza, on a recent visit, she and her niece were eager to tell us their family story. Apparently, Esbranza and her sister, who is a co-owner, married two brothers, who they met decades ago at Roseland Ballroom. Originally, they had taken this space for Esberanza to work on her custom-made lingerie for Victoria Secret, Baby Phat and her own line called Epy, but she tired of this after many years in the business, and decided to pursue her other passion - food. Fortunate for us, she is now sharing her talents in this quaint restaurant.
Il Buco is like stepping into another universe tucked away from the already tranquil Bond Street. The copper pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, antique plates on the shelves, and wooden tables and chairs complement this rustic Italian restaurant. On the day that we were here, artist Chuck Close was as well... supposedly this is his "favorite haunt," as he lives just a few doors away. Always a fan of his artwork, it was great fun to see him sitting at a table nearby. The hostess was kind enough to suggest that we take a peak downstairs at their impressive wine cellar. We descended the stone stairway where we encountered bottles upon bottles of wines lining the walls.
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious," was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
Transformed from a building lot to a beautiful space to showcase art, the First Street Garden Art Park adds culture to 1st street. Beginning in the spring of 2012, a variety of cultural events have taken place in this art park which, in 2011, was home to the first BMW/Guggenheim project. There are scheduled weekend programs showcasing music, dance and collaborative art for adults and children. Stop by anytime and see the newly unveiled artwork constantly changing.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products.”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J.V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S.J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute.Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay.Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill.” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze.Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower,” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright.”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space.The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort.”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low,” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here.”
Housed in a space that is over one hundred years old with low ceilings and wood floors, the atmosphere at The Smile is relaxing, with both communal tables and individual seating. The food fits the ambiance as they serve their fantastic breakfast menu until 4:30 in the afternoon. It is simple, but the quality of the ingredients makes dishes like the house made granola, the egg sandwich, and the toast with almond butter and honey stand out. For more lunchtime fare, they offer a great chicken sandwich or a creamy spread of ricotta cheese on toasted whole wheat bread with tomatoes. Oh, so good.
Biking with my husband on a beautiful August day, I stopped short when I noticed something new and picturesque on 5th Street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but I had been holding out until I discovered the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, and I certainly landed in an ideal spot. The rustic charm indoors, with replicas of the farm equipment used in Italy hanging from the ceiling, captured our hearts immediately, but it was the food – the outstanding rice dishes – that solidified Risotteria Melotti indefinitely on my list of top restaurants to recommend. Since the restaurant was quiet at this odd hour, we were able to chat casually with the staff throughout our meal, and we learned not only about the history of the restaurant, but also about the world of rice. Back in 1986, a couple began producing rice on one acre of land in Verona, Italy. Almost three decades later, together with their three sons, Rosetta and Giuseppe now farm 544 acres of land, all devoted to growing award-winning rice that is sold the world over.There are basically two different textures of the grain that they produce. Vialone, the more traditional rice, is rich in proteins and vitamins and, because it absorbs liquid better, is used for their delicious risottos. Carnaroli rice, “considered one of the best in the world,” is more readily used in salads because it remains al dente when cooked, adding a chewiness to the superb insalata di riso that we shared. We both marveled at the combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh mozzarella and, of course, brown rice. When we first sat down, a bread basket was placed on the table. Their take on focaccia was very good, but I could not stop sampling their rice cakes throughout our meal – the basic recipe is made in Italy and then flown here to be tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and then baked for fourteen minutes. I cannot say enough about how amazing the second dish that we tried tasted. We never knew that you could make polenta from anything but cornmeal, but we had our eyes opened to something new and wondrous when we had our first taste of polenta fritta con caciottina – a fried rice polenta with mushrooms and cheese that was perfectly moist in the middle with an added crunch on the outside. Every mouthful was rich and heavenly.This brand new restaurant – the first outside of Italy – serves about thirty people, making for an intimate setting, especially when evening falls, the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit. Up front there is a little “shop” that sells many of their rice products. The staff explained that the family has made an across-the-board decision to only offer Melotti’s gluten-free rice merchandise in the States. Thus, anyone eating gluten-free can come to their restaurant and be served a carefree, excellent meal. Anyone fortunate enough to live in the area can either have their food delivered to them in their home or office, or stop by, browse the menu, and take it to go. I have no doubt that we would be eating a lot more rice if we lived in the East Village, but we will visit as often as we can.
Vicki Freeman and Mark Meyer are an accomplished couple in the New York restaurant business. They are the creators behind Cookshop, Hundred Acres, and the latest addition to the family, Rosie’s. Their story as restaurateurs goes back to 1993, when Freeman opened her first restaurant, VIX Café, in SoHo. She hired Meyer as her head chef, and as they say, the rest is history.Vic’s opened in 2014 in the space that used to house Five Points, another restaurant by Freeman and Meyer. While the owners emphasized that Five Points was not struggling, they felt it was time for a change. Opening Vic’s allowed Freeman and Meyer to bring their restaurant group full circle, its name a nod to those early beginnings with VIX Café in 1993.When I visited Vic’s, I was struck by the bright, open décor. Sitting in the back dining area, with natural light spilling in from the skylight overhead, I was allowed my favorite view - that of the kitchen. Chatting with general manager, Hely, I learned that Freeman and Meyer used to live in an apartment just upstairs, and that their son works for the restaurant group.In addition to speaking with Hely, I also had the pleasure of spending some time with Hillary Sterling - the head chef of Vic’s. “Hillary’s food is the easiest thing in the world to sell,” said Hely, and then Chef Sterling went on to elaborate about her inspiration for the restaurant’s culinary concept and menu. “It’s all about history and honoring tradition,” she told me. She prepares the restaurant’s traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine using food sourced from American farms, and admits that it is a challenge to create authentic flavors with local ingredients - It is a challenge, however, that she proudly declared that she has met with the exceptions being seven imported ingredients: 00 flour (for their famous Borsa), capers, anchovies, pecorino, calabrian chilies, and balsamic vinegar.As Hillary presented a few of her favorite dishes, she went on to say that traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine requires “a lot of herbs and acid,” adding that it is all about achieving the perfect balance and appreciating the ingredients themselves. The heirloom carrots, served with dill, capers, and roasted shallots, were tangy and bright, with a complexity of flavor. As she set the "cheeseless" anchovy pizza with tomato, spring garlic, oregano, and fresh orange zest, Hillary told me that making good pizza dough is just as demanding as making homemade pasta, but it is clear that she has mastered it. The crust was perfect – thin, but bubbling up around the edges, and ever so slightly charred. Finally, I tasted the famous Borsa, the homemade pasta served al dente, with a lemon ricotta filling. The soft and creamy center of these amazing "little purses" with hazelnuts sprinkled on top is definitely the signature dish at Vic's. Chef Sterling said that the Borsa and the bathrooms are the most instagrammed things in the restaurant, and joked that her food has to "compete with the lavatories." The facilities are whimsical and fun with pink flamingoes decorating the room for the ladies, while the men's room is wallpapered in zebras. In my mind, however, there is no competition: Chef Sterling’s food is what truly stands out.