The massive, open interior, high ceilings, white columns, and rows of long, pillow-strewn banquettes at this corner Mediterranean restaurant pay extensive, dramatic homage to what is really a tiny, unremarkable fish found in Greece. Since the restaurant opened in 2005, the barbounia has been elevated to what is most likely unprecedented fame. The sardine, for example, has yet to be honored with a white-feathered chandelier and twenty-foot long, soft cream-colored curtains. The airy space, which also comprises a large, inviting bar, semi-outdoor seating on 20th Street, and an open kitchen, is consistently packed and filled with raucous, lively conversation. Barbounia is certainly a scene worth partaking in, both socially and with its mostly Greek cuisine, especially the fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood. They also offer amazing bread and small pizzas and pasta.
Although this is not its original location, the 18th Street restaurant remains loyal to its traditional Mexican cuisine roots. Known for its signature guacamole and frozen pomegranate margaritas, the restaurant consistently offers excellent, authentic food. Rosa Mexicano roughly translates to “Mexican pink, ” which is meant to embody the colors of the country's sunset. A beautiful waterfall divides the cavernous room into two sections to provide a pleasant barrier between dining patrons and those enjoying drinks before their meal. This elaborate piece of art in the middle of the restaurant, which was created by a designer from Dubai, adds to the overall experience of entering a world outside of New York City. The back room, referred to as the sky room, is illuminated by natural light that enters through the ceiling. The first location was established in 1984 on 1st Street, where Rosa herself could be found cooking behind the bar, sharing her infectious personality with everyone around her. To this day, Rosa Mexicano is proud to employ a majority of Mexicans on its staff and to present the beauty of Mexico through its cuisine.
Javelina opened in the middle of a snowstorm in 2015, and was suddenly inundated with over eighty customers. They are the ultimate restaurant success story, and Matt Post, the owner, says it is all thanks to the Texas network. While speaking to me at the bar of his seemingly always-full new space, he let me know that when Texans would get together before Javelina opened (“we always find each other, ” he said), the conversation would steer towards how there was no good Tex Mex food in the city. Despite the fact that there were many places in the 1980s, there has been a noticeable dearth in recent decades. Matt suspects the reason is that people overdosed on cheap, badly-done Tex-Mex. “Any place with a frozen margarita machine called themselves Tex-Mex, ” he explained. There was, however, one Mexican restaurant that Matt liked, called Los Dos Molinos in Gramercy, nearby his apartment. When that eatery closed in 2009, Tommy Lasagna took its place and Matt momentarily forgot about it. It was fate, therefore, when Matt started looking for a decently priced space in which to open his very first restaurant, and discovered that Los Dos Molinos’ old home was for rent. He embraced the good karma and opened Javelina. A lot of research and preparation went into Javelina. Matt found an excellent chef in Rich Caruso, who had fallen in love with Tex-Mex on a barbecue research trip to Austin. He grew up in South Brooklyn, however, and so he did not know what “queso” was. Matt informed me that queso is central to Tex-Mex, and the first thing a Texan would ask him when they heard of his plans for Javelina was “Will there be queso? ” Rich therefore spent five days tasting forty different kinds of queso before developing four varieties for Javelina. We tried his “Bob Armstrong” queso, made with guacamole, pico de gallo, ground beef, and sour cream. The north easterners who make up a part of the Manhattan Sideways team were delighted by the perfect balance of creamy cheese and zingy spices – we became immediate converts. The décor was also carefully thought out, as Matt brought in a designer from Austin in order to ensure that the ambience would be authentic, without too many of the kitschy southwestern aspects that Tex-Mex restaurants often have. There are, however, many fun quirks that Matt specifically requested. For example, he told me he that he had to fight to get the taxidermy hog behind the bar, and that he was responsible for the “True Tex-Mex” sign. The restaurant also had the clever idea to put pictures of Texans on the bathroom doors. When we visited, we saw the faces of Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey. “We spent so much time on the restaurant design, but people end up instagramming the bathrooms, ” Matt chuckled. Taking a seat at the bar, we met the bartender, Adam, who made us “the most contrasting colors on the menu: ” The extremely refreshing avocado and prickly pear margarita became an instant hit with us, and, as Matt proclaimed, with his regular customers as well. Matt brought out some San Antonio-style puffy tacos, which were deliciously crispy and piled high with guacamole. With a broad smile, he declared, “I have all regions of Texas represented, ” and pointed out the different dishes for each geographic area. When I asked Matt how his experience opening his first restaurant has been, he looked happily exhausted. “It’s been surreal so far. ” He has been thankful for word of mouth and the positive press: He has already heard stories of Californians bonding over visiting his restaurant while in New York and a friend backpacking in South America who met a fan of Javelina on the trail. Though he explained that Murphy’s Law is the governing rule of the restaurant business, he said, “It’s been really fun. ” He is pleased to have provided New Yorkers (and especially transplanted Texans) with a kind of cuisine that has been missing from the streets of Manhattan. As we were leaving, Matt said, “People keep thanking us for opening, which is bizarre…and wonderful. ”
Desire a little bit of the Hamptons in New York City? Sagaponack Bar & Grill might be a perfect restaurant to visit. Named for a small village in Southampton, their menu revolves around fish and their setting is beautiful, involving a nautical theme. The classic menu of brunch, lunch and dinner includes a raw bar, omelets, salmon eggs benedict, goat cheese salad, lobster rolls, fish tacos and hamburgers. Sagaponack brings that beach town vibe to the side streets of Manhattan without a big crowd and lots of noise. Rustic wooden floors, white furniture and ocean-themed decorations provide a calm setting for a pleasant dining experience.
When Union Square favorite for Latin American tapas, Pipa, closed its doors, locals were heartbroken. To appease the masses when moving into the former eatery’s space in the spring of 2013, the team behind ABC Cocina tried to incorporate what diners loved about Pipa into their own restaurant, as well as a few surprises. Attached to the name Jean-Georges Vongerichten, ABC Cocina needed no press when it opened its doors. Dan Kluger has continued his role as chef at both ABC restaurants, but the theme here is Latin inspired - a nod to Pipa. As we mentioned in our post for ABC Kitchen, we have never had a less than spectacular meal at any of Jean-Georges’ many establishments. The menu at ABC Cocina focuses heavily on seafood, spicy flavors, and rice and corn based entrees. When the Manhattan Sideways team visited, the menu listed various sharing plates, including tuna sashimi with avocado, steamed bouchot mussels and chorizo, peekytoe crab fritters and patatas bravas with rosemary aioli, spicy baby back ribs, and seared diver scallops with coconut. Additionally, there were a variety of tacos. An interesting take on traditional guacamole is made with fresh spring peas and comes with homemade warm tortillas. Cocina is located on the ground floor of ABC Carpet and Home and can be accessed from 19th Street. It flaunts a dark, “sexy” atmosphere, decorated with an array of lighting fixtures to promote the idea of “luminance as art, ” explained Shari Garb, the restaurant’s public relations director. To keep with the restaurant’s dedication to sustainability, ABC Cocina makes use of LED lighting specifically to herald eco-consciousness. It also mirrors ABC Kitchen, in that it places considerable emphasis on local, organic, and otherwise sustainably grown ingredients. They source from “hyper local” venues like the Union Square Greenmarket, Hudson Valley farmers, and their own community supported agriculture program “ABCSA, ” supported by the non-profit FarmOn. A five-page wine and cocktail list should ensure that any exhausted ABC shopper can enjoy an eclectic, high-spirited meal.
Renowned Alsatian Chef Antoine Westermann opened his first restaurant, Le Buerehiesel, at twenty-three years old. For several years, the self-taught chef continued to prepare memorable cuisine, earning the restaurant an illustrious three Michelin stars. In 2006, he had those stars recalled in order to escape the creative constriction that accompanied them, and in 2007, he ceded the restaurant to his son. Chef Westermann’s more recent restaurant endeavors offer sophisticated cuisine sans pomp. In Paris, he is the proud chef and owner of four such restaurants - Mon Vieil Ami, The Durant, La Dégustation, and Le Coq Rico. Translating to “Rico the Chicken, ” the first Le Coq Rico opened in 2011 as a restaurant entirely devoted to poultry. After all, the refined chef’s cuisine of choice is fried chicken and French fries. Before bringing Le Coq Rico to Manhattan in 2016, Westermann spent a couple of months sourcing poultry and establishing connections with farmers across the US that adhered to his standards of quality as part of his exploration of “American terroir. ” Unbeknownst to the chef at the time, the space he chose in Gramercy resides next to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which houses a collection of taxidermy birds. “This one just felt right, ” the staff joked. As to be expected from a chef of Westermann’s caliber, the menu at Le Coq Rico in New York is anything but ordinary. The minimum slaughtering age of the specialty whole birds served is ninety days, more than double the forty-day standard, and Catskill Gunea Fowl are given one-hundred and thirty days. “After that they become a rooster, ” I was informed. Another specialty dish, the “baeckeoffe, ” originates from an Alsatian laundry day tradition. When the women were busy with laundry and did not have the time to cook, they would drop off a marinade of potatoes, beef and sauces to a baker, who would seal the casserole dish with dough and let it cook slowly. Westermann’s version employs chicken, truffles, and white wine. Watching some of the other dishes come out, I would have never guessed that they were all the same species. The playful giblets platter veiled the bird’s offal with elegant skewers, spiced croquettes, glossy wings, and horseradish toast. A foamy butter bath with micro greens overlay the slow-cooked guinea fowl egg, and I was relieved to find out that the tomato and poultry tartare was not raw, but instead similar to an elevated chicken salad encircled by caper sauce. Birds play a role in other parts of the restaurant, too. In addition to French and American wines displayed in a pristine wine cave, the bar offers a bird-themed cocktail program. One of the most popular, The Elvis in the Sky, is an alcoholic take on the singer’s famed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The “Duck Fitch, ” a mix of gin, turmeric, ginger, and mint, is named for the celebrated polymath artist, Doug Fitch. Having lived with a bird for a month after a live performance piece, Doug was deemed the perfect candidate to design the cheerful rooster that has become Le Coq Rico’s emblem. His backlit, blue-and-white painting is on view for guests seated in the main dining area or at the bar that faces the open kitchen. Serving simple food expertly prepared, Chef Westermann is not only a master in the kitchen, but an excellent mentor as well. Floor Manager and Sommelier Adrien Boulouque could not be more thankful for his fifteen years of experience working with the humble and soft spoken chef. “I met him in Washington D. C. and now I am here, ” he mused. “It is all about sharing and respect. ” This respect is geared towards the staff, the guests, and, of course, the birds.
Nemo Tile’s beginnings date back to 1921 in Jamaica, Queens. Nemo Tile is responsible for lining and decorating many of New York’s most famed and frequently traveled spaces and landmarks: The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the original World Trade Center, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the W Hotels, and “countless residences, ” according to their staff, all bear their unique tiles. The company specializes in usable, heavily trafficked tiles, of all colors, shapes, materials, and sizes, but Nemo also works on smaller, more decorative or intimate architectural and interior projects. I spoke to Charlotte Barnard, the head of marketing, who told me a bit about the the company’s history and the changes that Nemo has undergone since its inception. Jerry Karlin partnered with, and subsequently took over from, the original owner in the 1950s and since then, the company has been in the hands of three generations of this family run business. I think what struck me most, though, was when I put the pieces together and realized that I grew up in the same town as the Karlin's. One of their daughters was a childhood friend, and our parents were also very close. I even have fond memories of a trip that I took with the Karlins to Florida when I was about fifteen. All of a sudden, Nemo Tiles took on a whole new meaning for me. As I continued my conversation with Charlotte, she informed me that many things have not changed since 1921 - the original location is still operating in Queens and the Karlin family is still involved with MTA projects, including the new Fulton Street station, which features Nemo glass tiles. There have, however, been revolutionary inventions in the tile industry, especially thanks to advances in technology. 3D printing has made it possible to make porcelain look like stone, wood, and even metal. Charlotte proudly stated that Nemo Tile sees some of the most traffic of surrounding showrooms. She pointed out that they have a great location, and that similar companies have followed their lead in moving to the Gramercy area. The company finds most of their products at two major tile shows in Bologna and Florida, but they have wares from all over the world, from China to North America. They have an especially large Italian selection, and Charlotte told us that Nemo had been named “Distributor of the Year” by Confindustria Ceramica, the trade organization for Italian tile. I was deeply impressed with the showroom itself and the constant flow of people stopping by to browse and make purchases: the floor was a clever patchwork of different styles of tile, sliding pull-out displays were tucked into the walls, allowing the space to remain uncluttered, and props like shower heads and mirrors decorated the walls. Charlotte explained, “We are more than a typical tile store. We show tiles within the context of lifestyle. It is a new way to see space, and we are constantly updating the displays. ”
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”