Opened by a gentleman known as Napoleon because of his “short stature and even shorter temper,” Chez Napoleon does not simply pay homage to French culture — it strives to be French culture. Dimly lit and window-less, the interior is a world far removed from the streets of Manhattan. The warm French accent of owner Elyane Bruno and those who work alongside her, including her son William Welles, lends a special touch. The decor is a mix of black and white portraits, a jigsaw puzzle of Napoleon at Waterloo, and a sign that reads: “Save Water, Drink Wine.”
In 1982, the Bruno family took over the restaurant, and it was Elyane’s mom, “Grandmere” Marguerite, who was the chef for many years. “I’m the one who ran the restaurant. My mom did the cooking, and my dad tended the bar until he passed away in 1992.” Despite drastic transformations to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Chez Napoleon has remained anchored. “The menu has stayed more or less the same — real French food that you do not often find in New York anymore.”
“We do not try to be trendy. We are here for the long run, and that has always been a success for us, ” said Paul Denamiel, the owner and chef of Le Rivage, a veritable institution on Restaurant Row. His father, Marcel, opened the restaurant with a vision for transporting patrons to his childhood home in the south of France. Marcel was raised in a centuries-old house in a secluded village within the Pyrenees mountains. His mother undoubtedly sowed the seeds of his culinary passion, as she did all of her cooking in their hearth, with a traditional cauldron, grill, and bread oven placed over the wood fire. “Everything she produced for the table, she had a hand in nurturing and growing, ” Paul said, explaining that his grandmother kept her own rabbits, pigs, and chickens and maintained an extensive garden. Paul himself was able to indulge in this idyllic lifestyle and be inspired by her expertise, as his father made a point of closing Le Rivage once a year to take the family on a month-long sojourn to France. “A lot of my recipes are aimed at recapturing the flavors that my grandmother introduced me to. ” Consequently, Paul describes his bistro’s cuisine as “French comfort food, ” which includes a rich boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and a simple ratatouille. It seemed inevitable that Paul would become a chef, not only due to his grandmother’s influence, but because all of his family members wound up in the food business. His father had several restaurants in New York, his mother had a creperie upstate, and most of his relatives had their own eateries in the U. S. “This was bred into me. ” As such, when Marcel was looking for a successor to lead Le Rivage, Paul, who had an “intensive education” in traditional French cuisine, was the natural choice. “My job was to bring in new recipes while staying true to the terms of the classic French style, from the food, to the decor, to the music. ”After decades of devotion to his businesses, Marcel continues to visit Le Rivage, as well as several other French establishments for which he is a landlord. “My father always said the restaurant came first. That is how you build a legacy, because the restaurant will be there long after we are not. ”
Although we did not dine at Pergola, we had the pleasure of speaking to some of the long-time staff members who were eager to share the history of this simple, quiet French gem. Having celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2013, Christian, the son of the original owners, continues serving his guests in the same style that his parents envisioned when they opened in 1963. Jacques and Marie Ponsolle came to New York from their village in the French Pyrenees and were able to recognize their dream in Pergola Des Artistes. The restaurant reflects their passion for their homeland in both the decor and the menu options. Despite its proximity to the theater district, and the many tourists who wander in for a good French meal, I think what impressed me the most was the continuous flow of diners coming in at lunch hour who told me that they have been eating here for decades and would not think of going anywhere else!
Lured by the enticing array of small fruit pastries, cakes, and mousses lined up in glass cases, we wandered into this delectable patisserie, owned by a French couple. After chatting with the people behind the counter, we learned that La Bergamote serves three complete meals each day. We, miraculously, resisted the temptation of having dessert first, and instead were seated where we could begin with lunch. The menu features excellent light options such as salads, soups and sandwiches. As expected, however, dessert was the highlight. We lingered over the selection for ages before finally settling on tiramisu, coconut-chocolate creme brulee and a pistachio-hazelnut mousse. It always makes me happy to witness the joy on the Manhattan Sideways team's faces and know that I have taken them somewhere spectacular.
This three-tiered observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center offers an unobstructed 360-degree panoramic view of New York and beyond. Its view is somewhat different from that of the Empire State Building as one is at eye-level with surrounding skyscrapers, rather than gazing down upon them. Opened in 1933, it was designed to resemble the upper decks of a 1930s ocean liner. When Top of the Rock reopened in 2005 – after having been closed since 1986 – my family was one of the first to ascend to the 70th floor, as it held special memories for my parents when they were dating back in the 1940s. It has since become a favorite tourist stop for me when out-of-town guests are visiting. With its mezzanine photo exhibit and other items of interest on the way to the top, what a phenomenal place to wow people of any age and to begin their journey through the side streets of Manhattan.
Toloache, a bustling Mexican bistro on 50th street, shares its name with the legendary Toloache flower. According to a myth in Mexican culture, the flower can be brewed into a love potion - if someone tastes the drink once, he or she will always return for another sip. The restaurant’s food and drinks have the same effect: Many people who eat there once return time and time again. General Manager Jorge shared a story about his friend from Japan who visited Toloache on the first night of a weeklong vacation in Manhattan. He ended up returning every day that week and then again every year during his annual visit to the city. Toloache on 50th is the first of many restaurants opened in New York by chef-owner Julian Medina. Chef Julian grew up in Mexico City, where he was inspired by the home cooking of his father and grandfather. He was originally brought to New York by Chef Richard Sandoval, who appointed him as Chef de Cuisine at Sandoval’s Maya. He went on to gain experience at distinguished restaurants and graduated from the French Culinary Institute with recognition. Today, Chef Julian owns seven of his own restaurants in the city and has been featured in several publications, including Men’s Journal, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He has appeared on shows such as "Iron Chef" and "Beat Bobby Flay. " His impressive background is reflected in the success and distinctive menu of his “first child, ” Toloache. Julian designed Toloache’s extraordinary menu to have something for everyone – the wide range of dishes include both vegetarian and gluten free options. He prides himself on using only the freshest of ingredients, whether it is white truffles or chapulines (dried grasshoppers imported from Oaxaca). These crunchy critters have gained quite a bit of media attention, including a feature on "The Today Show. " The kitchen brought out the Tacos Chapulines for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph, and we had to admit that the insects were made to look very appetizing. We were also presented with the diverse Trio de Guacamoles, which allowed us to sample three varieties of the dip: the familiar traditional guacamole; the Frutas Guacamole, which incorporates fruit instead of typical ingredients (pomegranate, mango, and apple instead of tomato and Thai Basil instead of cilantro); and the Rojo guacamole, made with chipotle. Several of us went on to sample the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche y Trufas (made with fresh truffles), The Baja Tilapia Pescado, and the braised short rib, served with quinoa and carrots. Each dish exemplified Chef Julian’s inventiveness and ability to put small, flavor-enhancing twists on typical Mexican cuisine. The drinks were equally impressive, including Julian’s favorite “Chef’s Selection Margarita, ” made with his hand-picked bottle of Herradura Tequila. The bartender mixed a few cocktails for us to photograph and taste, including the refreshing “De la Calle, ” made with cucumber and jalapeno; the spicy “Mezcalita de Pina”; and the signature “Toloache, ” made with hibiscus and blueberries. The food is amazing and the drinks are fantastic, but what really keeps so many guests coming back is Toloache’s dedication to quality service. As Jorge informed us, “Our goal is to make every guest feel at home. They are our friends. ” Each of the servers have their own style, creating unique, yet equally enjoyable dining experiences. Guests are able to experience Toloache in a completely new light from one day to the next just by sitting at a different server’s table. It was event manager Temple who summed the restaurant up perfectly: "Toloache feels like a family – like you’re walking into Little Mexico. ”