Celebrity chef, Bobby Flay, hits all of the right notes with Bar Americain. Delicious plates of food are complemented by the glamorous decor; sweepingly high ceilings, crisp white tablecloths, and predominantly orange accents all add to the bold, classy atmosphere characteristic of Flay's restaurants. I have been a fan of this 52nd Street eatery for a number of years, but meeting Chef Justin Hunt made the experience exceptional. What a terrific young man. He has been at Bar Americain since 2012 but before that he began his career as a line cook, and then spent a year and a half as the sous chef before leaving to pursue other interests - that is until the "dream phone call" came from Mr. Flay, himself.
Justin credits Bobby for having taught him everything he knows both on site and off. He has had the opportunity to participate in Meals on Wheels, TV shows and charity events while also managing some sixty employees in the kitchen. "I work with an army of prep people who arrive each day at 6am and who enable us to feed as many people as we do at the high level that diners expect from Bobby Flay." He went on to say that he could never be what he is without each of them. He also gushed, "I am so proud to be working with and for Bobby."
Prior to meeting Justin, the Manhattan Sideways team sat down for lunch indulging in the Kentucky Hot Brown, a sandwich that Maria described as "the richest meal she has ever had," while Yelena attacked a large bowl of Mussels in Green Chile Broth (the mussels taken straight from the glistening raw seafood bar), and I was content with my artichoke chopped salad served with a simple meyer lemon vinaigrette. The real fun, however, came on the day when we returned to take photos and Justin produced numerous attractive dishes and explained how each was prepared. "We don't simply cook the safe steak," Justin said, but rather "we create a wider spectrum of food trying to give our menu a flair - a unique feel."
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.
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. "
Fig & Olive is Mediterranean-inspired dining in its most exquisite form. On my first visit to this location, I was drawn in by the collection of wine and olive oil bottles lining the walls and the chic rustic decor that feels reminiscent of eating in the Italian countryside. Never has there been a time when I have dined at one of the several Fig & Olives in Manhattan, that I did not have an excellent experience. I have feasted on fresh ingredients assembled into delectable creations. I was thrilled to take the Manhattan Sideways team here for lunch one day where they raved over the selection of crostini and devoured the mouthfuls of perfectly paired ingredients – goat cheese and caramelized onion, for example – heaped onto small squares of fresh bread. Another favorite that I introduced them to was the zucchini carpaccio served with lemon and olive oil. We accompanied the meal with a beautifully presented Cucumber Cosmos and Rossellinis, selected from the extensive cocktail menu.
After a lawsuit, renovation, and rebranding, Sesamo has officially taken the place of Crispin’s at W52nd Street and 10th Avenue. Sesamo co-founders Nikita Levitan and Sabrina Gao filed the lawsuit against their previous partner, Crispin Mejia. They accused him of a series of problematic behaviors, including sexual harassment, repeatedly showing up to work drunk, and serving expired food. Taking a sharp turn away from Crispin's, the new Sesamo features an entirely different menu. “The new brand launches with an Asian-influenced Italian menu with many old Crispin’s favorites but with fresh and new Asian twists, " Gao said. She added that Sesamo also offers a unique drinks menu, including a brand new Asian fusion cocktail program with some first in NYC offerings, such as boba tea cocktails. Another beautiful feature of Sesemo is its 80-foot mural created by Selwyn Senatori back in 2018. The Dutch artist created the artwork depicting a champagne celebration with a “Feed Me Love” bubble to celebrate the opening of Decimo Ristobar. Though some of the mural has been painted over, the rest that remains adds an air of festivity to Sesamo's exterior. This story was adapted from the W42ST articles, "Crispin’s Becomes Sesamo as Partners Sue Hell’s Kitchen Chef" and "Hell’s Kitchen has Lost an Outdoor Dining Shed — but Regained a Mural. "
McKinney Welding Supply has been a fixture in Hell’s Kitchen since 1943. This long-running business is family-owned and employs about thirty-five people, ten of them being family members. Allen Dickon, branch manager of the West 52nd Street store, told us "We are the only place in Manhattan where you can find all of your welding and compressed gas products under one roof. ”
Benoit strives to embody the quintessential French bistro. A descendent of the original Benoit, which opened in Paris in 1912, restaurateur, Alaine Ducasse has preserved the traditional French dishes as well as a taste of early twentieth century French decor. Extensive mirrors on the walls, a chandelier from the ceiling, and red velvet banquettes against the light-colored wood meet together in a conscientiously elegant design.
When we ate at his restaurant during the summer of 2014, Vice Versa co-owner Franco Lazzari offered his advice. "If you don't like competition, don't open a restaurant in Manhattan. " This attitude towards the New York restaurant scene, one shared by fellow owner and chef Stefano Terzi, is precisely what has allowed Vice Versa to survive, grow, and thrive in the fifteen years since its inception. When the Italian restaurant first opened in 1999, its out-of-the-way West Side block was entirely populated by old-world French restaurants, most of which the men told me had been in the neighborhood for forty years or more. With its sleek interior, full bar, and contemporary Italian cuisine, Vice Versa was something entirely new - and even seemingly, they felt, out of place in its side street location in the midst of Hell's Kitchen. In retrospect, it is clear that the restaurant was not an anomaly, but a herald of coming change. "We were pioneers, " Stefano told me. The neighborhood has grown to meet its forward-thinking denizens; today, only one of the French restaurants (Tout Va Bien) is still in business, and the block is dotted with restaurants serving everything from Japanese to South African cuisine. Ironically, Vice Versa is now one of the more established restaurants on the block, thanks almost entirely to word-of-mouth recommendations and a loyal customer base. In the 90-degree weather, it was a relief to sink into one of Vice Versa's tables and peruse the menu. I did wander outside to their lovely patio for a moment. Complete with ivy-covered stucco walls, tea lights, and white umbrellas, it felt like stepping into a small piece of Italy, but just for a moment on this rather warm afternoon. Rather than ordering off the menu, I asked Stefano to surprise us. The members of the Manhattan Sideways team were treated to an excellent meal of banzino (sea bass) with olives, cherry tomatoes, and oregano, and very large sea scallops, cooked to perfection and set alongside a roasted lemon over escarole. We were started off with three different types of pasta - casoncelli, stuffed with veal, amaretto cookies, raisins, sage, pancetta and parmesan; garganelli, red beet pasta coils with alfredo sauce, roast prosciutto, and green peas; and a simple seafood-stuffed ravioli. Blending a wide variety of ingredients and flavors for a subtle and delicious eating experience, the team was simply delighted. After lunch, I chatted with Franco and Stefano over coffee, biscotti, and a pistachio cake with raspberry sauce. Both men are transplants to New York: Stefano grew up in Bergamo, Italy, while Franco was born and raised in Bologna. He came to the United States in his twenties planning on staying no more than a year. Twenty-six years later, he says that not a day goes by that he regrets his decision. Other than their shared national origin, the two told me that they could not be more different. Stefano grew up loving to cook; Franco's grandmother made food for the family, and he admits that he never took an interest in her cooking. Franco is small, with short grey hair, glasses, and a perpetual white suit. Stefano is taller, with a Dali mustache; he speaks slower and with a heavier accent than his counterpart. From my perspective, the differences between the two men are precisely what has allowed them to succeed as partners. Despite Franco's lack of interest in cooking, he loves to eat, and "makes a great critic, " according to Stefano. Franco runs the business side of the restaurant, while Stefano's domain is the kitchen. The respective roles have evidently worked well for the pair - they met working at the well regarded San Domenico (now closed), where Franco ran the front of the house and Stefano was chef de cuisine. Vice Versa presents a modern take on traditional Italian ingredients, which are imported from Italy as often as possible, through many local suppliers. The pastas are made from semolina, "which is a good thing for pasta, and for people, " Stefano said wryly, referencing the current gluten-free trend. In the last fifteen years, Stefano, Franco and their restaurant have grown and changed along with the city. "We went through two major events in New York, 9/11 and 2008, " said Franco. "On September 11, emotionally the world changed, and the 2008 financial crisis certainly changed New Yorkers' way of spending. " The goal now, " Stefano explained, "is to spend well your money. " The survival and continued success of Vice Versa is testament to its customers' ability to do just that.
Opened in 1963, Victor's Cafe has a long history of serving traditional Cuban food in an elegant yet relaxed environment. The tropical decor conjures up fantasies of dining in Havana as does the menu, which features Cuban classics such as Ropa Vieja and Lechon Asado. Run by Victor del Corral's daughters, this family-owned restaurant has retained its charm over the years, although long-time patrons bemoan the fact that they can no longer smoke their Cuban cigars in the Lounge.
“I’ve never seen Central Park look so small, ” our photographer, Tom, exclaimed when we reached the sixty-fifth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. We were gazing out at a dazzling view, seen by the fortunate visitors who ascend the elevators to the Rainbow Room, a dining destination since the mid 1930s that has recently re-opened after a five year “facelift. ” For the time being, the public is invited for brunch on Sundays and dinner on Mondays, with the rest of the week reserved for private events. When the Manhattan Sideways team arrived, the late afternoon sun was streaming through the windows, and it became immediately apparent why the restaurant is known as the “Rainbow” Room. From the crystal "curtains" on the windows to the glass balustrades on the railings, each element turns the rays of light into beguiling dancing rainbows - and the ultimate glittering piece is found in the center of the ceiling where the spectacular crystal chandelier hangs. Above the fixture is a circlet of bulbs referred to as "the globe" that can change color and alter the quality of light emitted from the chandelier in order to match different party themes. If looking up was not enough to wow each of us, the marketing team giving us the grand tour then directed our eyes down to the other centerpiece of the room: the rotating dance floor. We were happy to learn that just as much dancing happens today as in the 1930s. We were told that in the weeks since the Rainbow Room unveiled its new look, guests have been eagerly stepping onto the gently spinning disk each night. The two women guiding us through the space agree that this is part of the allure of the Rainbow Room, as it is one of the few places in the city where patrons can dance in ways they are unable to in a nightclub. When I asked the ladies if they had had the chance to try out the dance floor, one of them grinned and admitted that yes, indeed she had. She described the exciting, dizzying feeling of stepping off in between songs to return to her table. I did not have the pleasure of experiencing the dance floor some twenty plus years ago, but I do remember an enchanting evening when I listened to my childhood idol, Leslie Gore, sing some of her classic songs from the 60s including, "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows! "The Rainbow Room is not the only dining establishment on the sixty-fifth floor. Down the hall, past the covered seating area called “the gallery, " SixtyFive was bathed in the light of the sunset. The bar has an excellent after-work vibe with a direct view of the Empire State Building. It also has a new balcony where outdoor seating is available and allows for some of Manhattan's most breathtaking and majestic views. "I am thrilled to be part of an iconic reopening, a part of New York history, " Molly Cohen, the beverage director, declared. While spending time with us, sharing the joy of traveling up sixty-five floors to her job every evening, she explained that she was in charge of creating the exciting cocktail list, broken down in the menu as either “classic” or “contemporary. ” Molly said that her goal is to pay homage to the traditional drinks (since modern mixology "began at the Rainbow Room") and to keep everything simple but imaginative. She is not a fan of being “fussy for the sake of being fussy, ” and prefers uncomplicated drinks that are very well thought-out. She continued by saying that she is equally proud of her wine list. "It is easy to create an excellent cocktail, but harder to please wine drinkers. " Molly encourages people to think of SixtyFive as a great place to return to for a night with friends or business associates, not just as a location for special occasions. She believes that there is a magical quality about the Rainbow Room and SixtyFive: “It’s hard to have a bad time. ”While sitting by the windows, peering out over New York, sipping on cocktails, and sampling some of the new, incredible food items rolling out that evening, we had the pleasure of speaking to Keith Douglas. As the managing director, he told us that he has been a central player during the renovation. He shared the story of bringing up pieces of the old dance floor and finding confetti and newspaper clippings from the 1940s. As he is planning the future of the Rainbow Room, he says he keeps remembering those hidden memories. He thinks about how in eighty years time, another crazy managing director could pull up the floor, see his name, and ask, “Who’s Keith Douglas? ”