It appears that only a few short weeks after opening Osamil in the early fall of 2016, the three partners of Nomad Izakaya have another hit on their hands. At 5:00pm when Tom, the photographer for Manhattan Sideways, and I walked in, there were a few people milling about at the impressive white marble bar. By the time we left, about an hour and a half later, there was not a seat to be had upfront, and the tables for dinner were rapidly being filled.
Both Nathan, the manager, and Moku, one of the owners, greeted us with big smiles, enthusiastically showing off the beautiful decor. Staring at the front mural - with 5th Avenue and 31st Street signs painted on it - Nathan enlightened us that O-sam-il means 5,3,1 in Korean. From their doorway, one can see the real signs outside. The numbers have added significance, because in addition to being on 5th and 31st, the restaurant's address is 5 West 31st.
When the team first found this space, they had to strip everything down. When they came upon the brick wall on one side, they decided to sand it and leave it exposed. The end result is a checker board design that is strikingly different than other spaces I have seen. A Korean friend of Moku's did the mural on the rest of the wall. "We told him to do whatever he wanted - to use his imagination." Moonsub Shin did just that, creating a soft gray design that is soothing and beautiful.
The wood tables and short stools are spread down the middle of the restaurant with a few booths along the edges. Liquor lockers span the entire opposite wall, filled with customer's personal alcohol. Be it a fine bottle of Scotch or a vintage wine or bourbon, customers are welcome to store whatever they would like in their secured cubby - for a small corkage fee. Straight in the back lies the open kitchen where Chef David Lee performs his magic. Osamil is different from more traditional Korean eateries found just a few blocks away. Here they are striving to be more "modern and upscale" while still being reminiscent of a typical Korean barbecue restaurant.
After showing us around and chatting about Osamil, Nathan and Moku invited Tom and I to take a seat at the bar to await some dishes that we could photograph. Little did we realize that the presentation of these dishes would last for a delightful forty-five minutes. The first to arrive was a sizzling plate of cured shrimp, sauteed shishito peppers with broccoli rabe, and beef tartar. Each dish was presented on a unique plate as a culinary work of art. It was not long before a medley of grilled mushrooms and a large marinated lamb chop covered in a mix of herb and pine nuts were placed in front of us. While we watched Gelo, the bartender, whip up several intriguing cocktails, a 100-year-old oak board was put before us with a very large, crispy port shank. A knife and fork stuck out from the top and the shank was surrounded by a shaved apple salad, lettuce leaves, and three small bowls with an array of pickled relishes. Once Tom had finished taking photos of this impressive meal for two, he was instructed to grab a lettuce leaf and fill it with meat, salad, and a relish of his choice. It was great fun and, he assured me, very tasty. There is no doubt that Osamil is off to a fine beginning.
“We were just voted the best Asian barbecue restaurant in New York, ” said Philip, the general manager of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. “We’re getting a lot of buzz these days, because Korean food is very trendy right now. ” And Baekjeong, founded by Korean wrestler and TV personality Kang Ho-dong, is the trendiest of all. It is a favorite hangout of actors and celebrities, and has received high praise from celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and David Chang. At Baekjeong (the Korean word for “butcher”), meat is king. But while Korean barbecue traditionally makes use of the second-best cuts of meat, marinating them for flavor, Philip emphasized that Baekjeong uses only the highest-quality meat. “We don’t even marinate it, ” he added. Between the quality of the meat and the reputation of executive chef Deuki Hong, a twenty-five year old prodigy who recently won the 2015 Young Guns Chef award, Baekjeong has become one of the hottest new restaurants in New York. The wait to be seated, Philip told me, is sometimes as long as an hour and a half. By all accounts, it is worth the wait. As customers munch on small starter dishes known as banchan, waiters prepare the meat - mainly beef and pork - on large metal grills set into each table. Another highlight at Baekjeong is dosirak, a traditional Korean children’s lunchbox filled with rice, kimchi, and a fried egg. In the seventies, Philip explained, Korean kids always shook up their metal lunch boxes before eating them, and at Baekjeong - which aims for a “1970s industrial Korea feel” - customers are encouraged to do the same. But Philip emphasized that guests who do not know much about Korean food should not be worried. The waiters, who all speak English and Korean, “make sure to cater to customers who don’t know what’s going on. ” For the most part, though, the Chinese tourists and Americans who make up most of Baekjeong’s clientele (“Koreans don’t like to wait in line, ”) do know what is going on. “No one just walks in off the street, ” Philip told me. “The kind of people who come here are in the know. ”
When I asked the Manhattan Sideways team how they would best describe the atmosphere at Hangawi, they said at once, “tranquil…serene. ” I knew we would have a delicious culinary experience at this vegetarian Korean restaurant, but I had no idea how pleasant and peaceful it would be. Barely through the front door, we were politely asked to remove our shoes and leave them on the floor. On the way out, we just found them neatly placed in cubbies along the wall. We were seated at a wooden table close to the floor, but not low enough to make us uncomfortable. Silky red cushions placed on top of the wood allowed our feet to dangle. The servers moved about with ease and grace, taking orders and serving one outstanding dish after another. Sipping on ginger tea that was packed with flavor, we ordered a few different dishes—there was so much that we wanted to sample! For starters, the small stuffed shiitake mushrooms stacked on a piece of tofu with cinnamon almond dressing was so delicious that I had to take tiny bites—I did not want the pleasure to end. The pumpkin noodles with sautéed vegetables had a divine flavor and were cooked to perfection. The last item that we ordered came in a cast iron bowl with a bubbling, richly spiced broth, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables and bite-sized rice cakes. Served on the side was kimchi – both plain and with a red hot sauce. All of it was absolutely amazing. I could eat at Hangawi multiple times a week and never tire of their menu, or the “balance and harmony” that they effortlessly convey.
Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, and I stumbled upon Five Senses and knew immediately that we had not seen this restaurant before. Sure enough, we quickly learned that they had only been open for three days, and it was already bustling with customers. Diners sat near the windows, under the row of long wooden boards on the wall, at the main dining table, separated into separate sections by panes of glass, and in the rear of the restaurant by the kitchen, open to the room save for a curtain of birch boughs. The entire space gave off an air of calm, in hues of slate and brown. We met John Lee, the co-owner of the restaurant along with his brother, Richard. John has been in the food world for a long time, though mainly in supermarkets and fruit markets. Richard had been working on Wall Street. Together they followed their dream. “I’ve always had a passion for food, ” John explained, “And I’ve always wanted to do a Chipotle-style Korean restaurant. ” His goal is to give the everyday person a taste of the Korean experience, and thanks to his first joint venture with his brother, he can. Five Senses is different from the other Korean restaurants on the block. “Everyone else is old school, ” John explained. He assured us that he has nothing against “old school, ” but that it is not what Five Senses is about. John serves up traditional Korean food with a modern twist, using an army of young, talented chefs. “My chefs – they do everything, ” John beamed. The amount of skill in the kitchen has made it hard to choose what to put on the menu: John is using the first couple weeks - in June, 2015 - to play with his meal offerings and see what people prefer. John surprised us during our visit with a veritable feast. It started with an assortment of banchan, little plates of vegetables and other specialties that are traditionally served at the beginning of a Korean meal. The banchan vary each day, but we received dishes containing cellophane noodles, cauliflower and mushrooms, anchovies, a spicy root vegetable concoction, spinach, and, of course, kimchi. As we marveled at the intensity of flavors, John assured us, “All my food is fresh, never frozen. " We dove into the banchan with vigor as he told us about some of his other dishes, like an Ogam Oyster Gook Bap with seaweed, radish, and chive, which "no one else on the block serves, " and cod and short rib soups that he calls “Mother’s Soup” and “Father’s Soup” in honor of his parents. “My mother is a great cook, ” he said with a smile, "and My dad is a doctor. "Our feast was not yet complete: For Olivia, John brought out a light pork salad as well as fried pork served with a citrusy “secret sauce. ” John explained that he tries to use every part of the animal: “People know about pork belly, but pork neck can also be excellent. ” John sweetly placed a sizzling vegetarian masterpiece in front of me, made up of rice, radishes, bean sprouts, cucumber, mushrooms, and watercress, all cooking away on a huge slab of rock, ultimately causing it to be delightfully crispy. As we were getting ready to go, John informed us that he would like to eventually keep the restaurant open twenty-four hours. After 10pm he plans to offer special food pairings with soju, a Korean drink similar to sake. We look forward to returning to see Five Senses after hours!
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
All my assumptions about the Hyatt Herald Square were dashed upon entering the lobby. I assumed that the Hyatt Herald Square, as part of such a well-known, far reaching hotel brand, would be a reasonably generic, glamorous hotel like one would find in any other major city. I could not have been more wrong. As soon as I stepped inside and saw the fascinating art pieces, chic espresso bar, and unique layout, I realized that this was something special. The concierge is hidden at the back of the lobby, rather than the front, which invited me to explore the lobby’s many treasures before speaking to the staff. A series of clocks on the wall, inspired by Salvador Dali and echoing the shape and color of gourds, displayed the time zones of all the major fashion capitals. Plug ports were located by every seat so that guests could easily rejuice phones or work on laptops. Winding my way to the back, I met Nina Jones, the director of sales and marketing. She explained that all the main Hyatt hotels try to draw inspiration in their décor from the surrounding area’s history and culture. For the Hyatt Herald Square, that means drawing on the publishing and fashion worlds. Nina pointed out that the front desk was made from layers of old newspaper, and the brightly colored books creating a rainbow on the back wall were influenced by media and fashion. Nina went on to say that “Herald Heart, ” the spiraling mobile at the entrance, is made up of 151 sentences, carved from wood, representing the past and present of Herald Square. Having spoken with executive chef Gunnar Steden at Up on 20, I knew that the cuisine at the Hyatt uses local ingredients as much as possible and that even the snack counter around the corner stocks mostly treats from the Tri-State area. As I sipped on a Double Standard Sour in a classy pink hue at the lobby bar, Nina wowed me with the fact that most of the surfaces in the lobby are made from repurposed water tower wood. I left the Hyatt that day feeling like I had received a lesson in the history and culture of New York, as well as having been given a dose of highly-honed hospitality.
A newcomer to 31st in late 2013, I was happy to discover Friedman's Lunch. Having eaten at their restaurant in Chelsea Market on many occasions, I was quite familiar with them. Glancing quickly at the menu, I knew that I would, once again, have options as a vegetarian. Two of us shared the "House-Made Veggie Burger" with spicy tomato fennel jam, avocado and sprouts, and the "Veggie Bowl" with quinoa, sauteed vegetables, tofu and a delicious sesame lime dressing. Both were excellent. At the end of our meal, we struck up a conversation with one of the owners, Justin, who told us that he gave up being a real estate broker to pursue his passion for food. He helped turn Chelsea Market into the success that it is, and then came to open up this second location. Not via classical training in the kitchen, but rather through his love of food and hospitality, "traveling down a long road, " he has finally been able to open up his dream. Working with a young design couple from Tribeca, they created something simple using distressed wood and antique mirrors. "The decor is kick ass, " Justin exclaimed. With good music, a great neighborhood vibe, lots of gluten free options, and the most amazing signature potato chips, Manhattan Sideways has no doubt that Friedman's reputation will take off.
St. Francis of Assisi is a parish church named for the patron saint of peacemakers. In response to a temporary closing of the Church of St. John the Baptist, a Franciscan priest founded the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in 1844. Beginning with only a small congregation, the Church soon grew to house a school in the 1860s, assembled by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. The beautiful building of Gothic Revival design that stands today was erected in 1892. Upon walking inside, focus is drawn to the phenomenal mosaic behind the altar. This incredible artwork, Rudolph Margreiter’s The Glorification of the Mother of Jesus, has been with the Church of St. Francis of Assisi since 1928. Observant of the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood and the lives of the surrounding population, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi holds a “Nightworkers Mass” at midnight along with a midday mass for those who work in the day time. The Church was renowned for its vast provision of food to the hungry during the Great Depression, and continues to this day to notably demonstrate Franciscan compassion, as they maintain an ongoing tradition of a daily breadline.
With a history dating back to 1840, the parish Church of St. John the Baptist has gone through several transformations. What began as a modest timber church now stands as a stone marvel of French-Gothic architecture. Frequent changes in pastorship took place over the years, giving rise to the church’s association with the Capuchin Friars and to the building of the now connected, Capuchin Monastery of St. John the Baptist. The church honors in a shrine Saint Pio Of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, a Capuchin Franciscan, known for his work giving relief to the suffering. There are entrances to this stunning historic church on both 30th and 31st Streets.