Decorating the floors of Michael Coll’s Wine Disciples Enoteca are encaustic cement tiles featuring eight-pointed stars. Michael explained to the Manhattan Sideways team that the star is featured in almost every major religion - here they take on a Moroccan version - but that for wine connoisseurs, it means harmony and balance, the two components that one looks for in a good wine. At the Enoteca, however, harmony and balance is not just reserved for the wine. The menu, for example, is a perfect combination of Italian comfort food - we indulged in the arancini balls and the thin crust, perfectly prepared margherita pizza, while gazing at the more elaborate fare, such as the full live bar, where langoustines and other seafood are displayed on ice. “I like broad selections, in terms of taste, price point, food, and beverage,” Michael explained. He worked on the menu with Brian Leth, who was the chef at the well-regarded Brooklyn restaurant, Vinegar Hill House, for many years before joining Michael. The room itself also represents harmony and balance. It is one very large space, with a central channel so that diners are able to move about comfortably. Like his wine, Michael considers it very important for diners to be able to breathe. Where many restaurateurs would have squeezed as many seats and tables into this expansive piece of real estate as possible, Michael has chosen to create an airy, open environment that is enhanced by the high ceilings. A small jewel, however, lies in a back room off of the kitchen, where there is a round table that can comfortably seat twelve for a private wine tasting and dinner. Michael was drawn to this particular piece of property because of its history. There is a plaque on 29th Street detailing the colorful past of the Tenderloin area. New York’s own version of the Moulin Rouge was located right down the block during the late 1800s, and even after the zone ceased to be a red light district, businesses tended to stay away. Michael, however, embraces the neighborhood's past. “You can feel the history throughout the building,” he told me. An enormous pewter bar dominates the front of the room. It is not just a wine bar: like the food, it offers a full spectrum of options, including beer on tap, and a focus on small craft distillers for Michael's selection of whiskeys and gins. There is even a 1961 Faema Legend espresso machine, which Michael claims is one of the best in the world. Like Wine Disciples, his wine shop next door, Michael wants the Enoteca to be a place of learning. “I think knowledge is great,” Michael said with a smile. “The more knowledge people have, the more it helps them navigate.”
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Fabio Camardi - the charming owner both of this restaurant and Mercato on West 39th Street - announced as we walked inside his brand new restaurant that it had taken two years to complete his renovation. He went on to say that he had chosen the location because he is fond of the architecture in the NoMad neighborhood – “architecture is my hobby, ” he told me. “I built this place myself, ” he went on to say, showing me how he had added the beams in the ceiling and created the new floor made of reclaimed red and white oak. When I commented on the furniture filling the restaurant, including tables from a library upstate and an old butcher’s block, Fabio informed me that he has been collecting antiques for years. While continuing to chat about the renovation, Fabio explained that it was slow going due to the fact that the building dates back to 1865 and has achieved landmark status. Therefore, he had to wait for official permits to do any work. When the restaurant opened in April 2016, Fabio was delighted by how friendly the neighborhood was. “They were immediately nice, ” he said. The highlight of visiting Ulivo, aside from Fabio, was seeing the “Pasta Lab. ” Unlike its sister restaurant, Ulivo focuses on pasta, with fifteen different dishes on the menu. Thirteen of those are made with help from an enormous machine that sits in the basement. “It’s the most advanced machine we have in Italy, ” Fabio proudly told me. He turned the machine on and I was able to watch as it created large tubes of rigatoni and then long strings of spaghetti, using a different setting. “The more pasta you make, the better it gets, ” Fabio informed me. Beyond the pasta lab, there was an event space that seats forty, complete with a full bar and a Faema espresso machine from 1949. At the end of the room, I spotted a special door with a porthole that opens onto the beer cooler, and, in the very back, built out of the old coal shaft, I discovered a cave where the liquor is kept. Upstairs, there is a wine cellar encased in glass with a wooden ladder next to the kitchen. I was intrigued by the row of twenty different olive oils sitting on the counter in easy reach of the chefs. Fabio makes sure that each brand is made and bottled in Italy. When I asked which olive oil was the best, he said he could not answer the question. “It’s based on your taste, like wine. ” In the kitchen itself, different meats were hanging across from a wood fire oven on the opposite wall. Along with pasta, Emanuel “Mano” Concas, partner and the chef (whom Fabio refers to as “The George Clooney of Sardinia), cooks “dal forno a legna” in the wood-fire oven. Each plate is created using a cast iron pan placed directly into the oven. Some of the more popular non-pasta dishes are the tail-in branzino and the dry-aged steak. Being familiar with the themes of good Italian cooking, I was not surprised when Fabio told me, “Everything is fresh. ” This is especially true for the restaurant’s “fritture, ” little dishes. These items include fresh octopus, cold cuts, burrata, and fried meatballs with sea salt, a dish that is particularly popular in Sardinia, where the chef is from. There are also two flatbreads on the menu, but Fabio was adamant that Ulivo is not a pizza restaurant. He simply chose the two that they do "best" at Mercato: The San Daniele with prosciutto and arugula and the Regina Margherita. Fabio shared the myth behind the latter: The story goes that Italian chefs decided to put something special before the Queen. Up until that time, pizzas just had sauce, and so they added buffalo mozzarella to make it royal, hence the “Regina. ”If there is a certain nonchalance about Fabio and his attitude toward owning two restaurants in New York, it is probably because he has a lot of experience in this world – he even went to culinary school, which is rare amongst Italians, who often just rest on the fact that they were born into a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on high-quality food. Fabio shared that he owns four restaurants in Italy, which his forty-four cousins help to run. He went on to tell me that he came to the United States in 2004 because he “didn’t like Berlusconi” (the unpopular former Prime Minister of Italy) and that he began his career in New York as a bartender (the cocktail list at Ulivo is his own creation). In addition, there are four local beers on tap, including Smart Beer, which Fabio says is the "first organic beer made in New York. " There is also a substantial bourbon list – “It’s what people want. ”I particularly loved the story of how he met his wife, who is originally from Korea: they were both attending English school. Several years later, they have two adorable children and “She’s my bookkeeper, ” he said with a smile. His wife is also responsible for the beautiful candles and dried flowers throughout the space. Fabio is playing with the idea of opening an Italian restaurant in Korea. He told me that there is no fresh olive oil available in eastern Asia, but that China had recently planted one million olive trees to try to remedy the situation. Olive oil is absolutely essential to Italian cooking, which is why Fabio named his restaurant “Ulivo. ” He stated, “There is no Italian cuisine without olive oil. ”Fabio’s vision for Ulivo is a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Though he uses traditional Italian culinary methods and pasta recipes, he embraces new technology - such as his pasta machine - and trends. When I asked what was next for Fabio, he responded, “I’m full of ideas – there’s a lot of stuff that I want to try and eat. I love to eat! ”
When I walked into Biricchino alongside Fouad Alsharif, it was like stepping inside his home. Fouad, one of the owning partners of the restaurant, greeted each person inside with hugs, kisses, and warm conversation. I remembered a comment that I had heard from a different restaurateur not long ago: He was reacting to the lack of loyalty from customers in his neighborhood. In his opinion, there are too many restaurants to choose from, nowadays. People are eager to try them all rather than give consistent business to two or three. I understood his concern, however, I must say that Biricchino has proven him wrong - at least in this particular spot in Manhattan. "I know everyone, generation after generation, " Fouad said. It helps that the family behind Biricchino (which means “naughty boy”) as been in the food business for over ninety years. “Today we are a new generation of men, but we all came from Curino, a small town in Italy in the province of Biella, " Fouad explained. “In 1925 Salumeria Biellese opened on 28th and Eighth Avenue. This is where the men got their start. ” Today, Salumeria Biellese is known as "the" salami and sausage maker in the industry. “Some of the biggest people in New York purchase their meat from us, " says Fouad. Sure enough, one corner of the restaurant has cured meats hanging with a high-end slicer waiting nearby. Biricchino opened in 1986 not only to showcase their handmade meats, but also homemade pasta, mozzarella, and more. Fouad stressed that good food starts with good ingredients. “We are second to none for quality. All our meat is natural and local to the Berkshires or New Jersey, from our hogs and grass-fed beef to our chickens raised on an Amish farm. Everything is done according to our specifications. We also feature seasonal vegetables from New Jersey and fresh breads from Sullivan Street Bakery. ” As proof that Biricchino is the real deal when it comes to high quality and healthy practice, the restaurant was the first in the industry to receive the “Snail of Approval” from the Slow Food movement (in honor of commitment to authenticity and sustainability of the food supply in NYC). “This is a big deal to those in the know, ” Fouad added proudly. The chef is proud of his pasta, fresh fish, chicken, and, of course, pork chop. Each day he tries to mix up the menu a bit so that he is certain to appeal to the different crowds stopping by for lunch or dinner. As far as crowd favorites, Fouad had a ready answer: “Rigatoni with homemade sausage has been our signature dish for years. That and the cured salami has kept customers coming back for a generation and counting. ”
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School, owned by Joseph Bruno, has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Joseph contends that a bartender’s success is determined by conversation, “no matter how good the drink is. ” That being said, technical skill is far from lacking at this institution. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. After decades of experience bartending in and managing drinking establishments, Joseph has seen a new devotion to the craft of mixology. Up-and-coming bartenders have tested innovative flavors, homemade syrups, and the “farm-to-table” use of fresh ingredients. He has taken particular pleasure in the resurgence of drinks not popular since the Prohibition era. Perhaps it is a sign that we still have a chance to relive some of the best aspects of the Roaring Twenties.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me, ” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back. ”A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful. ” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
As the name suggests, Burgundy Wine Company specializes in wines from this glorious region in France. Opening in 1988 in the West Village as a niche market before this concept became so trendy, their clientele has remained loyal and many over the years. Max, one of the knowledgeable staff members, explained to us that his dad got him into wine long before he was of legal age, and it has since become his passion. The shop seems like a perfect place to nurture a passion for wine - we can easily imagine ourselves curled up on their cozy couch with one of their books about wine, and a glass of red in hand.