I believe we saw one of the great wonders of the world when we were invited into the kitchen to see Philippe Chow work. The original chef for Mr. Chow's on East 57th Street for some twenty plus years and the man for whom the restaurant is named, Philippe’s speed and skill with a wok is unparalleled. After exiting the amazing heat and chaos roaring from Philippe’s metaphoric engine room, Steve Boxer, one of the very kind owners, exclaimed “And this is just lunch! ”The kitchen was the last stop on a tour of Philippe’s impressive restaurant, which includes several special places to indulge in the fine menu. There is a sleek, newly renovated bar, an expansive upstairs complete with its own bar, and a classic dining room with black banquettes and white tablecloths, known as the “Runway Room” for all the celebrities it attracts. One of the hidden highlights was the double wine cellar, which has tables and chairs set up between the rows of wine bottles, making for a more private, cozy, nocturnal setting. Guests sitting below ground can select their own music to play on the separate sound system using iPods or watch the flatscreen TV. At the end of our tour, Steve brought us to the “Skylight Room, ” which he says is a favorite spot for families, since it has a lot of natural light and has booth seating for kids to sprawl on, if necessary. It was clear to us that there is a place to sit for anyone, whether casual or classy, depending on one's mood. We sat down in the Skylight Room to enjoy some of Philippe's signature dishes and to continue our conversation with Steve. The Manhattan Sideways Team sampled the green prawns with carrots, mushrooms, and cashews, the vegetarian lettuce wrap with plum sauce, and the Beijing chicken with walnuts. Of the last dish, Steve said, “It’s like candy! ” and biting into one of the impossibly sweet walnuts, I agreed with him. He explained that there were healthy options, such as steamed vegetables and fish, and that they would be launching a light summer menu that he hoped would remain all year, including an eggplant dish and poached salmon. Ultimately, though, Steve believes that people do not come to Philippe to keep to their diet. He smirked and said, “Personally, I come here to sin. ”Steve sat and ate with us, and we were delighted to find that the owner of such a highly regarded restaurant was so down-to-earth and willing to chat. At one point he took out his phone to show us a picture of his dog in a baseball cap and had to flip past numerous photos of Rihanna’s party that she catered through Philippe the night before, perfectly demonstrating his friendly, casual nature. Steve is Manhattan born-and-bred, and so he knows exactly what New Yorkers want out of a restaurant. He has a lot of exciting plans for the Philippe empire: "I have closed quite a few locations recently, in an effort to regroup and reopen ten times better than before, " he explained. He continued, “I joined this venture looking for my own version of Cheers. I love it. ” He then mentioned that when he was finished showing off his east 64th Street location to us, he was headed to the Hamptons where he is about to open another Philippe. In addition to spending time with Steve and Chef Philippe, we met Kostas Paterakis, the floor manager and pastry chef. Due to his interesting combination of jobs (manning the floor and baking his treats), he often finds himself alone in the kitchen creating delectable desserts well into the night. He was not complaining, however, but declaring that he does his best work when left alone to experiment. The unexpected list of dazzling desserts on the Chinese menu include red velvet cake, apple cobbler, and selection of sorbets. "And everything is made in-house, " Steve proudly announced, and it all comes from what Steve calls “Kostas's little Betty Crocker Oven. ”We enjoyed observing the repartee between Kostas and Steve: After receiving a compliment from the owner, Kostas said, “I’d buy you a drink if it wasn’t your place. ” Later he said of Steve, “He listens to us as much as the customers, which is a big deal to the staff. He’s a great owner. ” Then he turned with an impish grin to Steve: “That’s what you told me to say, right? " Steve rebutted with, “I am blessed with the most loyal, trusting group of people. They treat this place like it’s their own. ”
“We are definitely a neighborhood restaurant — a place for New Yorkers to come and have a good meal. ” The staff at Shun Lee Palace have been working there for some twenty to thirty years. They have watched the restaurant evolve over time, but according to them, not much has changed since the beginning. It opened as Shun Lee Dynasty on 49th Street. When they moved to their current address in 1971, they changed their name. Michael Tong, the original owner, sold the business to a gentleman in 2005 who resides in China. For the most part, it is the dedicated staff that runs this establishment.
The specialty at Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns is not the Japanese ramen with which most people are familiar. Peter Song, the chef at Kung Fu, is best known for la mian, a hand-pulled noodle from China that is considered the ancestor of broth bathed noodles. The noodles are also what keep him on his feet: “This is real Chinese food. Real home food, ” said Chef Song. Peter excitedly showed me to the kitchen, put his cap on backwards, and prepared to demonstrate the art of making la mian. He slammed, slapped, stretched and even swung dough like a jumping rope before twisting and pulling delicate strings of noodle from the mound. Not only does it look impressive; the taste is what keeps bringing regulars back to the restaurant. “I come in here every day. I am not kidding. The flavor of the noodles is nothing like I have ever had, they are a lot thicker, " said Ali, a local businessman and one of Kung Fu’s frequent visitors. At twenty-three years old, Peter immigrated to New York City with little money but a big dream: to own a restaurant that had true cultural Chinese food. Against his mother’s wishes to use the money he had towards an education at NYU, Peter started work at Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle in Flushing, Queens. His boss, Mr. Liu, helped Peter gain traction in the restaurant business and eventually became his financial partner when he established Kung Fu. “I bring 'home' to my restaurant. My mom understood it was my dream, but I had to work hard. ” Peter, originally from Fushun in northeastern China, returns to China once a year to brush up on the process of making la mian. He is well-known there, having performed on a few national Chinese broadcasts as an actor and comedian before coming to New York. In 2013, he returned to China to study under a noodle master, documenting his process in a humorous short film that customers can view on the flat screen TV placed in a corner of the dining room. But his biggest teacher was sitting in the restaurant with us. “I brought her with me to the US, she is here! ” he said, pointing to his mother, whom he thinks makes the best dumplings. She smiled back, her mother's pride clear on her face. Having completed his dream, Peter has started to expand. His fourth restaurant is opening soon on 39th street. “It is the best compliment to know people love my food, ” Peter said. Sporting an amazing Chef with an amazing journey, this is one Chinese food treasure that New Yorkers should not miss.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.