There is nothing contemporary about this white tablecloth Italian restaurant where a simple rose sits in a vase on each table. How refreshing to make a reservation and be able to dine in a relatively quiet room, enjoying classic Continental cuisine. Brothers David and Danny Ramirez have worked diligently to preserve the old-world feeling that began back in 1919 just a few doors down, where Gene opened the original restaurant. In 1923, he moved to No. 73 where, for a few years, he operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Through wars, recessions and more, Gene's has thrived....and since 1979, when the brothers' father took it over, they have strived to maintain the same character and quality of food and decor - the original wood bar stands proudly right up front. It is obvious that people in the neighborhood appreciate their efforts, as David told me that some patrons have been dining here steadily for over thirty years. And why not, for the food has remained consistent all this time. The same chef now for thirty-two years has been cooking Clams Casino, their signature dish, a variety of pastas, veal parmesan, chicken piccata and many other classic entrees. Chatting with David one afternoon when the restaurant was quiet, he shared some childhood memories with me. Growing up in the family business served him well. He began as a bus boy, and was groomed to take over a few years ago when his father retired. One of the best stories, for me, though, was about a gentleman who has been eating lunch here for years, each week dining with a different guest, but always ordering the same thing - three bowls of their vichyssoise soup - a favorite of mine too.
Be prepared to wait, and then to wait some more, but once seated, there was no doubt that it was well worth our almost two hours. The good news, though, is that there are many terrific bars to visit on 10th Street while passing the time. Opened at the end of June 2012, Rosemary's has not skipped a beat since they began. The restaurant is always packed and on any nice day, the large windows are wide open onto 10th Street. We ate here on a Friday night in the middle of September. Everything that we ordered was just superb. My chopped salad had crunchy chickpeas, artichokes, olives, caper berries, ricotta, and more, but it was the fresh lettuce leaves and the perfect dressing that really made it all come together. And then came the pasta - linguini that was also cooked to perfection tossed with preserved lemon, pickled chili, and parmesan. Oh my goodness, it was just heaven. Once we were two for two with my meal, and everyone else was also thrilled with their choices, I decided I had to give dessert a try as well. The olive oil cake with whipped cream and blueberries was also terrific. Rosemary's does not take reservations, so to avoid the long waits, I might suggest is choosing an odd time - obviously not the weekend - and have a plan B (Manhattan Sideways has many to recommend).
Opened in 1936 in Milan, Sant Ambroeus has had a solid run both in Italy and in the New York area. Situated on a fairly quiet corner, this old-world Italian restaurant is known for its pleasant service and good food. What stands out for us, though, are the pastries, espresso and gelato which are available throughout the day.
One weekend, my husband was kind enough to join me for some great eating, drinking, and walking. By the time we got to Sotto, we were already feeling quite stuffed, but what the heck, we indulged ourselves just a bit more. First, I must comment on the interior which began with a long marble topped bar upfront, and an open kitchen midway with a large brick oven. Farther back was the contemporary full dining area with a skylight. Quite an attractive place. Everything is meant to be shared at this "Social Italian" restaurant - so we did - Chickpea fries with sundried tomato pesto, crisp shoestring zucchini, and butternut squash cannelloni with melted parmesan across the top. All three were winners. I thought we were stopping there, but my husband was enticed by the pizzas so he ordered a small, thin crust pie with arugula and bresaola. The chef was very kind and surprised us by making the pie with one slice that had no meat on it for me. A lovely way to end our day together.
Yes, pasta takes center stage here, however, one cannot help but appreciate the setting as well. After the lovely staff greeted us as we walked in, we immediately noticed the sleek refrigerator/freezers right near the main entrance and the chairs gathered around the bar at the front. The kitchen is set up in the middle of the restaurant and the tables for dining are in the back. An interesting layout that seems to meld in perfectly with the menu, which is Italian, but has a definite Japanese slant with an emphasis on fresh fish and seafood.
Da Umberto has never needed a sign outside its door. According to Vittorio Assante, the restaurant’s gregarious owner: “Either you knew about it or you didn’t. ” Opened by his father, “the great restaurateur” Umberto Assante, Vittorio took over after his father passed away in 2004. But Vittorio's immersion in the restaurant industry began far earlier. He vividly recalled being twelve years old and dressing in a proper suit and bow tie to help in the kitchen. Where some kids might have resented having to work, he thrived. “I loved it — I couldn’t get enough. I practically ran the place by the time I turned seventeen. ”Da Umberto is an elegant space that has remained largely unchanged since it opened its doors in the 1980s. With classic white tablecloths and dimmed lighting, the place oozes old-world charm, while a window at the back offers diners a peek into the bustling kitchen — a feature originated by Umberto, according to his son. Vittorio has preserved much of what endeared Da Umberto to the neighborhood in its heyday. The wine racks, the timeless Tuscan gold walls, and even some staff members have been fixtures in the restaurant for over thirty years. Vittorio credits his dad with teaching him his recipes — many of which are still on the menu today, although these days the classics are mixed with his more modern creations. Regulars insist the main attraction is the table heaped full of antipasti, which dominates one side of the restaurant, along with the iconic dessert cart. The tiramisu remains a firm crowd pleaser amongst the distinguished clientele that has continued to visit through the decades. “Some things I don’t mess with. ” As he added his personal flair to the business, Vittorio continued to honor his father’s memory with a portrait that overlooks the dining room. “I have my father’s traditions mixed with my own evolving sensibility. ” In fact, he attributes much of his continuing success to his father’s influence. “My dad taught me so much: those old school values of hard work and taking nothing for granted. ” Umberto chose to open on 17th Street for convenience, as his second wife’s parents owned the building, but the decision was a risky one. He was a pioneer in a neighborhood that was desolate. It was certainly not the kind of place that you would walk around, let alone have an elegant restaurant. Still, the restaurant prevailed “through dedication, grinding it out all the time, having the passion, and loving what you do even on the difficult days. We learned to just get back up and keep on fighting. ” It was the work ethic that his dad instilled in him that helped Vittorio ultimately achieve his dream of purchasing the building. Coming full circle, in 2015, Da Umberto cemented its place in the neighborhood. “My father would be happy. He would say, ‘Bravo Vittorio. ’
The ice cream at Alphabet Scoop is refreshing in more ways than one: Managed by Robbie Vedral, Alphabet Scoop is an extension of Father’s Heart Ministry, which has been focused on empowering the neighborhood youth in the Lower East Side since 2005. Robbie, for his part, has always believed that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of you—in this case, those employees just so happen to be high schoolers from the East Village. Under the wishes of his parents, who are still pastors of the church next door, Robbie has taken it upon himself to hold Alphabet Scoop to an uncompromising standard, always ensuring that things are done right. From a background of 25 years in retail, Robbie has found that he can learn from anyone’s mistakes - including his own. He has, in this vein, adjusted the shop’s schedule to keep it open all year; previously it was just a summer stop, but Robbie found that being a seasonal location made it more difficult for customers to anticipate when Alphabet Scoop would be in business. So, now, rather than seasonal hours, Alphabet Scoop boasts seasonal flavors. Pistachio flavor, a summer 2019 special, comes highly recommended by the Manhattan Sideways team. Alphabet Scoop is also constantly experimenting with new flavors suggested to them by customers, so if you’ve been saving up that million-dollar ice cream flavor idea, Alphabet Scoop might just be the place to make it a reality. The “sweet n’ salty” flavor is proof of the potential here, as it was suggested by one of the shop’s younger customers. While the spritely New Yorkers that work in the shop are paid for their work, Alphabet Scoop is also a non-profit. The mission, transparently, is as stated on the walls: “Justice & Sprinkles for all. ” The kids, typically between the ages of 14 and 16, learn all aspects of the business, from hands on skills such as making ice cream to managerial skills like taking inventory. The goal of Alphabet Scoop is to encourage maximum involvement from its employees, so they are invited to help make decisions about the business. Robbie told us a story of a young woman, for example, who has worked in the shop for close to two years, and who was initially quite difficult to work with - but with patience and persistence from Robbie and other employees, the young woman grew to better understand the mission of Alphabet Scoop, and now even has keys to the shop. Robbie’s work at Alphabet Scoop shows the importance of creating strong foundations for young people, as well as how truly influential small businesses can be in their communities. Stop by the shop - any time of year - to help Robbie make his impact.