Lidia Bastianich, the woman behind Felidia, has gained considerable fame since opening her Italian restaurant in 1981. She has published numerous books, has become a television celebrity, and has been involved with a variety of other ventures, including Eataly, New York's biggest artisanal marketplace selling Italian wines and food. Manager Nicholas Genji Ridley, whom I spoke with when at the restaurant, related to me that in spite of her many other accomplishments, Lidia maintains a strong connection with Felidia. Her first restaurant - the one that launched her career - is very dear to her. Genji went on to say that Lidia refers to the restaurant as "her little jewel," and constantly urges the staff to take good care of it for her.
Descending down Scalinatella's ("little stairway") steps felt like traveling back in time as we entered a magical, underground grotto. Although it was a late winter afternoon, there was a perfect shaft of light shining down from the street onto the glistening display of luscious-looking grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The sweet scent of the berries was a winning welcome to a stunning discovery below 61st Street. The decor was classic, as we were surrounded by a three dimensional still life that Cezanne would have loved to have painted: baskets of impossibly red tomatoes, bouquets of orchids, pussy willows, and, of course, bottles of wine. The feeling of entering a timeless wine cellar was made easier to comprehend when we learned that the building is 145 years old. Apparently, some twenty years ago when Luigi Ruso was first building his restaurant, he watched as the workers chipped away at the cement and glass walls until they hit the original brick. He knew he had something special and chose to leave the raw beginnings down below in tact. In front of the kitchen, bricks have been removed, putting the chefs partly on display, as if the diners were peeking at them through a secret chink in a wall, while the bar seems to be chiseled out of the side of the cave. The food is as classic as the ambience, with Scalinatella's specialties being pasta and fresh fish. Diego, our server told us that he has been working along side Luigi for decades, as the two met at Il Mulino on West 3rd Street. While preparing and plating the food, he told us that he cooks much of his pasta dishes right in front of diners. "We do everything – any pasta you want. " Some of us sampled a soft and buttery dish of amorini pasta blackened with squid ink and liberally decorated with shrimp and lobster. Diego also paraded a feast of fish past us, including Branzino, Dover Sole, and more lobster. While listening to stories from several members of the restaurant's team, we learned that every night the dining room is filled with clientele that have been frequenting this hidden romantic gem for years and years.
Beautifully decorated for the holiday season, Bistro Vendome was still abuzz with chatter when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped by at the tail end of lunch hour to meet with the delightful owner, Virginie Petiteau. Although she and her husband Pascal, who is the executive chef, hail from Brittany, France, they met in New York, where they both worked at Jubilee, a French restaurant on First Avenue. After fifteen years there, Virginie said they felt ready to open their own place. She told us that it was great to already have a base of customers in the area that knew and supported them when they opened Bistro Vendome in 2010. And she was pleased to tell us that they have maintained a loyal clientele ever since. As Virginie put it: "Some people who come here saw me when I was pregnant, and now my daughter is fourteen. "Pascal started working at high-end French restaurants in France at an early age. After coming to New York, he decided to focus on more casual French food. In 2014, he was inducted as Master Chef in Mątres Cuisiniers de France, a prestigious organization aiming "to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development. " An unusual occurrence continued to happen as we resumed our walking on 58th, as so many other businesses told us that they eat at Bistro Vendome on a regular basis because the food was as traditionally French as one could hope for in Manhattan.
Trendy, immense, packed at any hour and serving intriguing Pan-Asian food, Tao has been a sensation on 58th since opening its doors in 2000. Stepping inside, one cannot help but immediately feel transported to a different world. The interior design is exceptionally meticulous with beautiful calligraphy scrolls adorning the high ceilings, and a sixteen foot massive Buddha sculpture taking center stage down below. Despite the frenetic atmosphere, I have found Tao to be a fun restaurant to dine with friends and to enjoy an excellent meal.