The Arabic name of this Mediterranean cafe translates to welcome and peace, and its colorful, wordly decor effectively brings this atmosphere to life.
Its owner, Bassam Omary, left his home of Damascus in the 1980s and came to New York, where he worked at his cousin’s Greenwich Avenue Syrian restaurant. When his relative was ready to hand over the reins, Bassam bought the business with his wife, Joan, and relocated to 13th Street.
“We always had a good feeling about this place,” Joan explained. The space is adorned with pillows, pictures, and tapestries from Syria and mosaic-patterned Moroccan tables. A small, private dining area allows groups to experience the Middle Eastern custom of sitting on cushions on the floor.
Loyal patrons visit time and again for the succulent tagines, grilled kebabs, and what Joan says is the undisputed customer favorite: uzis — crispy phyllo dough stuffed with rice, raisins, and the protein of one’s choice. As the only chef, Bassam is constantly experimenting, returning to the traditional dishes his mother taught him how to prepare while freely exploring the spices, ingredients, and flavors he is passionate about.
A totally different experience awaited me at Alta from down the block at Piadina, but both were wonderful. The energy level at Alta was high from the moment I walked through the door. There are two floors in which to dine, with the upstairs decibel level a bit more comfortable. The menu is all about small plates, and wow are there a lot of choices. There is definitely something here to please anyone’s palette. It took myself and company quite some time just to peruse the menu and the very extensive wine list. Just a quick sampler of what we tasted and devoured quickly: the fried goat cheese balls in lavender infused honey came four on a skewer and were excellent; the lamb meatballs had spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne, and were amazing; the pulled pork empanadas came with a tasty sweet and spicy cilantro dipping sauce; the bruschetta of spinach and mascarpone had dried Turkish figs, pine nuts, parmesan and balsamic was good, but gone too quickly; the crispy brussels sprouts with Fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachio nuts was a favorite of mine. When everyone decided that we still could eat a bit more, the waiter recommended the house-made pizza with porcini cream, fontina, crimini mushrooms, fried garlic and aleppo (pepper). Though we had no room for dessert, we assured one another that we would try it out one day soon.
Anything olive oil sounds enticing to me. We decided to take advantage of a special gift of warmth and sunshine well before we should have had it this season, and we ate brunch outside with tons of others. We all applauded our choices from the menu, and had fun sampling the variety of tasty olive oils that our server was kind enough to bring to our table when we asked.
Taboonette has expanded on Taboon, their popular mother-restaurant’s Middle Eastern fare, but here it is all about pita pockets and what goes into them. Lamb kebab, fried zucchini cakes, and baked salmon are just a few of the options for a pita, a laffa wrap, or just on top of some fluffy rice. Eat at the counter or on one of the long familial tables and benches. And do not leave without trying an order of the black olive shortbread cookies - they have a sweet and salty twist that is unexpected and delicious.
When we first visited the Walker Hotel, it was known as the Jade. The 1920's speakeasy theme became obvious to us immediately as we entered the hotel and walked through the lobby, but it was quite fun to see that it was carried through to the guest rooms with their antique-looking rotary telephones by the side of the bed. The comment from the young people with me that day was that it immediately reminded them of "Boardwalk Empire. " This pleased the woman showing us around tremendously. Built from the ground up - the land was a vacant lot when Gemini Hospitality bought it in the early 2010s - the goal for the hotel is for guests to feel welcomed from the moment they step inside. There is a warm and embracing atmosphere with a fireplace and library as the focal points. We appreciated that the collection of books on the shelves will be by well-known favorite authors who once lived in the vicinity. This boutique hotel has 113 rooms on eighteen floors. We had the pleasure of previewing some of them all the way up. Besides the standard queen being perfectly lovely with all of the amenities one would need, it also sports an amazing view - with no obstructions. From the north, we could see the Empire State Building, and from the South we looked downtown to the Freedom Towers. Just spectacular. We certainly applaud the concept of the hotel, which is to introduce guests to the wonderful places, people and atmosphere that surrounds 13th Street. Rather than encouraging visitors to leave the area to explore the popular tourist spots around the city, they are providing guests with lists of things to do right in Greenwich Village and Union Square. A philosophy that matches ours completely. In 2016, the Jade became the Walker Hotel Greenwich Village. We were happy to hear that it is still spearheaded by the same management.
Originally, an offshoot of David Chang’s award-winning restaurant group Momofuku, 13th is one of the fortunate streets to have one of his well-loved milk bars open. Today, acclaimed pastry chef Christina Tosi takes the combination of baked goods and milk to a whole new level at each of her locations – yes, I have had many a treat. Soft serve “cereal milk” or jugs of this tasty milk to go, the infamous crack pie, cornflake or compost cookies... and then there are the packages of cake truffles – these are slices of cake that are condensed into supremely dense balls of sugary goodness. Definitely worth a bite or two... or three. Milk Bar also donates a portion of every dairy sale to various independent and family dairy farmers in need. All in all, Milk Bar is a dessert lover’s heaven.
Peridance Capezio Center is a mecca for dance in NYC, fostering the arts in the local and international dance communities, for over 30 years. Peridance offers multiple platforms for dancers and non-dancers alike, including more than 250 weekly open classes, a Professional Training Programs, an F-1 Visa Program for International Students, and The School at Peridance - a comprehensive children and teen program. Their adult open classes are offered in all styles and levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Peridance Capezio Center is also home to the professional dance company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and its affiliated Peridance Youth Ensemble. In conjunction with their renowned faculty and partners (Capezio, Djoniba Dance Centre, Limón Dance Company, Baila Society, and Dance Informa), Peridance has gained an international reputation for the programs it offers. The Center is housed in a beautiful landmark building featuring six spacious studios, The Salvatore Capezio Theater, the Peridance Coffee Shop, and the Capezio dance-wear Boutique. One afternoon, I had the privilege of stopping by the Peridance Capezio Center to observe their students training. I witnessed the explosive athleticism and technical discipline at play in Shannon Gillen’s Advanced Contemporary class, as students tested the strength of their bodies in an array of conditioning and floor exercises. Later, in the large upstairs Studio 1, bathed in the sun’s rays from the skylights above, I watched as dancers chasséd and pirouetted across the room in Breton Tyner-Bryan’s Advanced-Intermediate Ballet class. I would not be surprised to find any one of these talented performers on stage someday.
“We’re a space for organizing and connection, ” is how Communications Director Helen Buse described the LGBT Community Center. Though the seeds of The Center were planted following the 1969 Stonewall riots, it took nearly fifteen years for it to be founded at the site of a former trade high school on 13th Street. Since then, it has been the birthplace of a bevy of key advocacy organizations that went on to gain national prominence, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Queer Nation, and the ACT UP coalition to fight AIDS. It is now home to hundreds of groups that run the gamut from drawing classes to political associations to twelve-step programs. The Center’s own resources are equally as wide-ranging, including substance abuse recovery and wellness services, mental health support, economic advancement initiatives, career guidance, and an abundance of arts activities such as film screenings and in-house exhibitions. The Center has long been a locus for artists, activists, and academics to discuss and create work that celebrates the queer community and addresses the relevant issues it faces. Its first cultural event, known as Second Tuesday, has been running uninterrupted since 1985. It serves as an opportunity for those in academia, politics, and a myriad of other fields to read their work and converse with the LGBTQ+ community. Speakers from Black writer Audre Lorde to AIDS historian Sarah Schulman have lectured under this series, which is a Center favorite. Helen is proud to say that these direct resources are continually growing to respond to the needs of all who flock to the organization. “It makes me excited for what the future holds because the Center has a track record of expansion and evolution that is part of what makes it so special. ”The Center’s significance is not merely limited to what it provides, but also the building where it is housed. In the 1980s, a host of artists were invited to paint murals across the walls, many of which are still visible today. A piece by Keith Haring located in the second-floor bathroom is especially popular, and Helen always urges visitors to take a look. “They are a great part of history. ”