Upon entering the Palm, one can tell it lives and breathes New York. Whether it is the famous caricatures on the walls, the rich mahogany leather high chairs, the sizzling steaks or the unmistakable din of a successful New York City restaurant, the Palm has each and every trait of a staple. It is a restaurant where tradition is paramount and regulars are treated like family.
Opened by Italian immigrants Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi on the east side in 1926, the restaurant has been family-owned from its inception. Surprisingly, the Palm began as somewhat of an accident. Bozzi and Ganzi intended to call their traditional Italian restaurant La Parma but, with their thick Italian accents, the city licensing clerk misunderstood. And so, the restaurant's name – and trademark – was born. The original location, on Second Avenue at 45th Street, served as a lunch and dinner club for members of the city's newspapers, whose offices were located within a few blocks of the restaurant. It was here that my husband first discovered the Palm some forty years ago with his college roommate. He recalls how the mustachioed maître d' took no names but remembered everyone in order, and being excited by seeing the fight promoter, Don King, at the very next table. Ever since, my husband has revered the Palm, particularly the softball-sized juicy filet mignons served charred on the outside and perfect-to-order on the inside.
Four generations after Bozzi and Ganzi opened their restaurant, most of the Palm's traditions remain intact. The West 50th Street setting is true to the Palm's roots. Hospitality and consistency of service and quality of food is the mantra the Palm lives by, according to General Manager Richard Hammel. And while the city, and especially the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant, rapidly changes, the Palm serves as a reminder that tradition still sells. As Hammel said, "Hospitality knows no age."
When Lucy and Casey, two members of the Manhattan Sideways team, visited The Palm in November 2016, they had the pleasure of taking a tour with Robert, the restaurant’s hospitable and enthusiastic sales manager. He explained that the crowd is a mix of businesspeople, theatergoers, and families. Celebrities, politicians, and sports figures, many of whom are featured in The Palm’s constantly expanding collection of wall caricatures, can also regularly be spotted in one of The Palm’s dining rooms. (In the past, there was a "sing for your supper" policy - an artist could enjoy a free meal by drawing a portrait for the wall). When Robert first started working at the Palm three years ago, nobody wanted their faces on the back wall. Then, Robert added Hugh Jackman, who was performing in “The River” across the street, and the back wall suddenly became the spot to be for Broadway actors. Now, “Robert’s Wall” is filled with the caricatures of Broadway’s stars and their autographs. The Palm’s walls feature famous people alongside lesser-known faces and, in Robert’s words, “people we just love.” If there’s a signature under a caricature, you know that person has visited The Palm.
The Palm is all about loyalty. An estimated forty percent of its customers are return guests, according to Hammel, in part because of the 837 Club, the loyalty club that provides guests with points for dining there. But while regulars provide a large chunk of its business, there has been a surge of younger guests and tourists in the past few years. This is partly due to the new specialty drink and cocktail menu, intended to shake things up and diversify the clientele. Even Hammel admitted: "the Palm is still a men's club at times." But the Palm is not afraid to adapt to changing times and, as Hammel said, "consistency and staying the same are different."
While the photographer was taking shots of the restaurant and the food, I also struck up an endearing conversation with Armando, a waiter who has been working at the Palm since this location's opening in 1989. He was standing below a caricature of Sarah Jessica Parker. A swirly cursive note next to her face read: "Just simply the only place for 'the folks.' Much love and luck. SJP."
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, which opened in the late summer of 2014, pairs ease with elegance as a welcome addition to 51st Street. “We live in a very fast-paced world. ” In midtown Manhattan, these words resonate. But spoken by Aldo Sohm, seated at a table in his eponymous wine bar, they seem incongruous. “The idea is basically that when you walk in here, you walk into my living room. To me, it’s always important that you be in a place where you feel comfortable. ”Sohm continues his role as wine director at Le Bernardin, the four-star restaurant located across the 6½ Avenue pedestrian plaza. At the wine bar, however, he and Le Bernardin’s co-owners, Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert, have created a setting distinct from the formal restaurants in Manhattan, in its simplicity and lack of pretense. To be clear, it shares the elegance and attention to quality of its neighbors. But upon entering, an open arrangement of sofas beckons patrons to sit down. Sohm has noticed guests who arrived separately conversing across tables - sometimes even discussing their choice in wine. And wine is the focus at Aldo Sohm. Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin’s acclaimed chef, oversees the food menu; so, whether wine accompanies lunch, dinner, or a snack, it promises to impress. Guests can order bites to complement a glass of wine, like a grilled foie gras “lollipop” or a warm skewer of baby beets. Shareables include a whole baked cauliflower and a plate of Murray’s cheese with a Maison Kayser baguette. Sohm emphasizes the flexibility of the experience. If not in the lounge area, there are tall square tables for seating. The thick oak “sommelier table” incorporated into the bar seats guests on both sides, ensuring that no one is excluded from conversation. Sohm chose these arrangements intentionally. The wine bar endeavors to be unpretentious, relaxing and fun. Evoking this sensation, the architectural firm Bentel & Bentel incorporated clean lines and bold color in designing the interior. Sohm and his co-owners deliberated considerably in choosing the art in their “living room. ” Ample shelves extend to the double height ceiling, featuring artifacts meaningful to Sohm. Having grown up in Austria, Sohm points out, “I like things very very clean, very European. I like colors on top of it. ” A stack of Interior Design magazines becomes a design object itself as a cube of rainbow spines. The curves of miniature Panton S-chairs, each a different color, mirror the charred wood molds of the delicately hand-blown Zalto glasses in which each wine is served. Sohm is the brand ambassador for Zalto, an Austrian-based glassware manufacturer. To learn more about the varied wine offerings, visitors can reserve the tasting room. Aerial photographs of wine growing regions flank the eight-person table, allowing the sommelier to incorporate a visual element and story of provenance to the tasting. Sohm - once designated the “Best World Sommelier” by the Worldwide Sommelier Association - maintains humility despite his accomplishments. He wants the wine bar to be just as down to earth; an antidote to a demanding day, it exudes precision and sophistication.
As the elevator doors open, a gust of vivacious conversation rushes to welcome every guest to the Haven atop the Sanctuary Hotel. This rooftop caters to three different spaces that gently correspond to the desired experience at hand. On the lower level, there are two bars. The first stands below geometrically alluring lights made to resemble stars. Dinner chosen from the Haven’s “French-Inspired” menu is served on this side of the roof where the mood is serene. On the other side, past the statue of a seahorse and the young trees, the volume rises and the crowd clings readily to this, the second bar. While some prefer to wind down with dinner, others are just trying to let loose. The Haven supports both pursuits. Upstairs, the uniform faded red lounge cushions fashion a more secluded setting that grants the wish for a private discussion or for the simple enjoyment of the mid-city view from a higher position. As is somewhat suggested by the name, “Haven, ” this rooftop is plainly reminiscent of a getaway, more specifically a beach house. The Haven happened to be where we stopped by the day the US was playing Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. It was a memorable moment standing beside dozens of New Yorkers as our national anthem was being played. Glass enclosed in the colder months, and serving a French-American menu both during the lunch and dinner hours, this was another great rooftop find.
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
Joe Allen, founded in 1965, is the archetypal post-theater restaurant. With one of the longer histories on Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has been serving classic American cuisine in a brasserie setting since I was a little girl. I was always happy to come here with my parents and be able to order a hamburger rather than having to go out for a fancy meal. Mr. Allen - who also owns Orso, an Italian restaurant next door – had an initial concept to provide a comfortable, dynamic atmosphere with good food. And while the restaurant continues to serve some of the best comfort food around, spending time at night in the bar area, shows Joe Allen's real appeal. The high energy level from the post-theater crowd is contagious. The manager explained to us on one visit that they are the first phone call that people make after they have secured their seats for the next Broadway show. And, while he remained hesitant to divulge names, he shared how many actors and actresses have continued over the years to head immediately to Joe Allen after they perform - "here, " he elaborated "you're surrounded by theater, and we do all we can to promote that culture. " I can attest to the numerous actors who grace their tables, as I have had the pleasure of meeting a few over the years, as well as a highlight one evening when Barbara Walters sat right next to me. It is hard to say something new about Joe Allen, so long has it been a staple for theater goers. While the menu remains updated and contemporary, Joe Allen does not take any risks. Rather, it thrives on its reputation among patrons based on its long tradition of casual dining. Seeing the last of the pre-theater crowd during our visit, we were struck by how Joe Allen seemed appropriate equally for a quick burger and glass of wine in half an hour before a show, or a long, late into the night dinner where no one wants to head home.
A restaurant with a history to rival that of its surrounding District, Sardi's first opened its doors in 1927. In an effort to attract customers to their new location, Italian owners Vincent Sardi and wife Eugenia Pallera recalled a favorite Parisian jazz club that hung movie star caricatures as wall decor. The couple imitated the gimmick, hiring Russian artist Alex Gard to depict Broadway stars in exchange for a meal each day, a deal that was honored until Alex died in 1948. The tradition established, Sardi's became known for the drawings of Broadway's elite that peppered its walls. In the 1930's a group of great Broadway figures and newspapermen who called themselves the "Cheese Club" met at Sardi's regularly and helped catapult the restaurant into the middle of the Broadway community. Sardi's became a haven for theatrical folks and stayed open late to welcome actors, and host after-show and opening night parties. Notably, Antoinette Perry's partner, Brock Pemberton, invented the Tony Award while dining at Sardi's, an award that continues to be given in her honor each year. Though owner Vincent Sardi was born in northern Italy, the food itself is not Italian, but rather continental – a decision rumored to have been intended to disassociate the restaurant from the Italian mafia. Over the years, both the elder and younger Vincent Sardi attempted to open other locations in Manhattan and on Long Island, but they ultimately failed. Sardi's is exclusively a Theater District institution, having evolved with the area for nearly a century, and consequently becoming a major player in its development - a fixture in Broadway's world of constant change.
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. ”
Jose Meirelles began Le Marais (its name connoting the well-known Jewish enclave in Paris) in 1995 after being urged by a friend to consider opening up a kosher steakhouse. "There weren't any at the time" Jose told us in his thick Portuguese accent, "especially in Midtown - my friend thought that this would bring some new excitement to the kosher world. "Jose and his butcher, Dominique Courbe, seem like an odd couple to have a kosher restaurant as neither is Jewish. Preparing to open an upscale kosher eatery that did not serve pork or seafood, and prepared particular cuts of meat became "an interesting challenge" to Jose after his first brasserie's success, Les Halles, on Park avenue. And, while Dominique Courbe learned his trade from his father, Meirelles never set out to be a chef/owner. Beginning his career as a banker in Portugal, Meirelles realized his passion for cooking after taking a yearlong sabbatical in America and being forced to work at odd jobs in between traveling. Soon thereafter, he enrolled at the French Culinary Institute, here in Manhattan, where he further honed his craft before opening Les Halles in the 1990s. A butcher shop fills the front of Le Marais, welcoming new customers with its glass case of aged kosher cuts. Expanding its role in kosher dining, Le Marais offers a meat selection separate from the restaurant itself. This focus on the quality of the meat continues into the kitchen, where Meirelles prepares dishes with simplicity. Jose recommends the steak-frites as representative of the restaurant's culture - skillfully prepared without unnecessary complication. As his slogan reads: "A rare steak house well done. "
Opened in May of 2014, Tender is adjacent to the Sanctuary Hotel and continues its luxurious vibe, channeling a 1930's feel. The restaurant serves American fare courtesy of executive chef Dale Schnell who has worked in many of Manhattan's hot spots including one of my favorites, Picholine. This trendy spot is located above the soon to open Fox Hole, a lounge reminiscent of a speakeasy with a hidden entryway.
The recently reopened Gallagher's Steakhouse is a New York classic. Founded by Helen Gallagher in 1927 as a speakeasy, Gallagher's was a favorite watering hole of writers, showgirls, and businessmen. In 2013, after Gallagher's announced its imminent closing, the restaurateur Dean Poll (owner of the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park) bought the legendary steakhouse and shut it down temporarily to undertake sweeping renovations. In February 2014, Gallagher's reopened with a new menu and an updated interior. The newly glass-fronted kitchen allows patrons to watch the chefs work their magic, offering tantalizing views of the charcoal burning ovens where huge slabs of steak sizzle. The old-fashioned bar is another highlight, inviting guests to linger over drinks while sitting atop burgundy barstools. The bartenders – many of whom have been working at Gallagher's for more than twenty years – serve classic cocktails along with stories of how in its speakeasy days, visitors would order "the other soup" and receive a soup cup filled with alcohol.