Sopra, located above Amali and owned by the same restaurant group, is a communal dining concept that creates the feeling of an upscale dinner party. In this elegant, high-ceilinged former apartment, up to twenty people can sit at a long table next to the open kitchen and eat a family-style meal. It allows Rachel Goulet, the chef for both Amali and Sopra, to serve up dishes that are impractical to prepare in single portions for a traditional restaurant. What has quickly become most popular are the porchetta (a classic Italian roast pig) and the Roman lamb, a recipe typically made during the Easter season using the whole animal.
Sopra not only provides an unconventional style of dining where strangers are encouraged to socialize both with each other and with the chef, but it also provides an education in sustainable food. The meals served at Sopra are "super local and hyper-seasonal," Steve Breslawski, the events coordinator for both restaurants, explained. Guests receive an interactive and informative lesson in how food can taste if you pay attention to what is available at different times of the year. The patrons that dine at Sopra are often more adventurous eaters, Steve said, than those who frequent Amali - they are eager to taste the unusual meats that are presented, such as wild boar, beef heart and sweet meats. (Note that vegetarians are welcome to order from Amali's menu if Sopra's offerings are too carnivorous)
Sopra is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, but it is also available for private events. Large rolling bars separate the space from the "Fireplace Room," a cozy smaller area that can be rented out separately or as part of Sopra. As I was admiring the photographs that line Sopra's walls, Steve told me that they are pictures of the staff's family, which indeed add to the warmth and comfort of this venue.
Through an ivy-covered lattice front is Amali, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant with an earthy, minimalist interior marked by vases of twining branches. There, we met Steve Tzolis, the owner, who told us that he had been an attorney for many years before making the decision to join his partners in opening Amali in 2011. Steve has his finger on the pulse of every part of the restaurant. One of his old fraternity brothers, Caleb Mulvena, did the design. Caleb was just getting his company, Mapos LLC, off the ground. So, Steve thought it was a perfect way for two former brothers to help each other start their businesses. Mapos is a green company; therefore, reused materials comprise a large percent of the restaurant. Steve assured us that he does have a Mediterranean background as both of his parents are Greek (he calls himself "generation 1. 5"). He has a soft spot in his heart for Kiki's on the island of Mykonos, and based part of his restaurant decor on this Greek tavern. The combination of Steve's desire for the restaurant to have a Mediterranean tilt, and Chef Rachel Goulet's specialty in Northern Italian and French cuisine, makes for a fascinating menu. Rachel also adds some Greek accents to her American classics dishes, as some of the Manhattan Sideways team witnessed when sampling her divine lamb burger with tzatziki, as well as a perfectly seasoned Linguine Carbonara with a generous serving of bacon. We were interested in speaking to Steve about East 60th Street and all of the changes that have occurred on this block over the years. He said that when Amali first opened, it was one of the few eateries on a relatively dead street. Since then, more restaurants have followed, including Rotisserie Georgette and Il Mulino Uptown. Of course, there were a few institutions already residing on 60th Street, and Steve has a wonderful story about when he stopped by for a visit one day with Cathy Trebaux at Le Veau d'Or. She was quite busy on this particular day, and she very casually asked Steve to please tend the bar. Ultimately, Steve loves his side street location, and the fact that the neighborhood is turning into a restaurant strip only makes it better.
Although filled to the brim inside, the adventure begins simply by gazing through the impressive windows of John Salibello's three antique lighting shops on East 60th. The dazzling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at No. 211 were only the beginning, for upon entering, I learned that the excitement extends back into an even more inspiring gilded maze where every inch of space is utilized to display the carefully curated collection, both upstairs and down a flight. Lori Gray, the store's manager, spoke to me about John Salibello's origins. It turns out that she is one of the best people to do so, as she has been by John's side for years - ever since he was working in the fashion industry. Lori followed John when he left Benetton, as he had become a close friend and she "deeply respected his taste. " I learned from Lori that John was one of the first people to deal in Mid-Century Modern design, "probably because he opened his business just as it was becoming temporarily distant enough to be desirable. " Breaking new ground, he found his stride and has stayed true to it ever since. John's knowledge of the period is extensive, but he makes a point of not being driven by a particular designer, despite their fame. As Lori explained, "He can "talk that talk, " but in the end, John travels the world searching for beautiful pieces, no matter what their origin. "This is why he has been so successful as a trend-setter, " Lori proudly stated. Most items are vintage, but there are some custom-made objects, such as a row or colorful glass boxes made by an artist from Murano. The employees chimed in during a conversation one day, sharing with me how they enjoyed having input into the color combinations for each one. The staff is a crucial part of this well-oiled machine. As one woman put it, they are in charge of the "visualization of the store - John does the buying and we set it up and then sell it. " They are also meticulous about maintaining the inventory, as every piece is always gleaming, a hard outcome to achieve in a store filled with so much glass. John Salibello's triumph in the furniture world also has a lot to do with its location. Because the store is in the design district, everything is in one place, making it easy for interior designers and their clients. When engaging in conversation with John, himself, one day, he expanded on his concept of three boutiques on one street. "We have a tremendous amount of inventory, as that is what our customers prefer. " He said that he loves 60th, but because he cannot house everything in one location, he has chosen to take over additional retail space, while remaining in the same neighborhood. John explained that just the shear size of the pieces he finds requires more room, and then went on to say that he is pleased that his shops are in demand, as people like what he carries and he is forever finding new things to add. As John expressed, "if you want to be spectacular, this is the only way to do it. "
In 1852, six men with similar interests formed a club and called themselves "Gesellschaft, " a word that means "community and society" in German. This group would grow and solidify into the Harmonie Club, the second oldest private club in New York after the Union Club. All six of them were German Jews, and therefore were denied access to the Union Club because of religious discrimination. Much has changed since the Club's founding: at the beginning, a qualification for membership was German ancestry, and communal singing and declamatory contests were popular. Today, one must still be invited to join; however, the emphasis on musical interests has been lost. The building is also different - in 1905, the Club moved from its original 42nd Street location to its current Beaux Arts residence, complete with a grand, elegant dining room that is still in service. Despite all these changes, the Harmonie Club remains a place where the leaders and achievers of the world can find companionship. The above is the history of Harmonie; however, it is not often that I get to offer my own personal note to places of such distinction. Therefore, I must mention that I was married at the Harmonie Club in 1979. From the moment I became engaged, there was no question in my mind, that this was where I wanted my wedding to be held. My father had been a member of the club for a number of years and I had grown up having the most elaborate Sunday brunches in their exquisite dining room. My husband and I chose not to have the traditional Saturday night affair and, instead, opted for a morning wedding with a brunch motif. Having everyone we adored gathered in this private sanctuary was sheer perfection.
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
As we walked into Christ Church, one of the members of the Sideways team commented, "Sometimes it's good to feel small, and that's exactly how I feel right now. " The United Methodist congregation has called Park Avenue home since 1929. In shades of gold and deep blues, the stunning metallic, mosaicked ceiling supported by towering marble columns glistened over our heads. The tiled patterns, however, were not completed until 1949, due to World War II. High on the walls, larger-than-life icons stared down upon us as we sat in the rows of traditional wooden pews for prayer and meditation. Despite the sheer size of the sanctuary, we did not feel intimidated or unwelcome; rather, a sense of peace and calm came over each of us, making this the perfect haven for rest in the midst of the bustling streets of the Upper East Side.
I believe we saw one of the great wonders of the world when we were invited into the kitchen to see Philippe Chow work. The original chef for Mr. Chow's on East 57th Street for some twenty plus years and the man for whom the restaurant is named, Philippe’s speed and skill with a wok is unparalleled. After exiting the amazing heat and chaos roaring from Philippe’s metaphoric engine room, Steve Boxer, one of the very kind owners, exclaimed “And this is just lunch! ”The kitchen was the last stop on a tour of Philippe’s impressive restaurant, which includes several special places to indulge in the fine menu. There is a sleek, newly renovated bar, an expansive upstairs complete with its own bar, and a classic dining room with black banquettes and white tablecloths, known as the “Runway Room” for all the celebrities it attracts. One of the hidden highlights was the double wine cellar, which has tables and chairs set up between the rows of wine bottles, making for a more private, cozy, nocturnal setting. Guests sitting below ground can select their own music to play on the separate sound system using iPods or watch the flatscreen TV. At the end of our tour, Steve brought us to the “Skylight Room, ” which he says is a favorite spot for families, since it has a lot of natural light and has booth seating for kids to sprawl on, if necessary. It was clear to us that there is a place to sit for anyone, whether casual or classy, depending on one's mood. We sat down in the Skylight Room to enjoy some of Philippe's signature dishes and to continue our conversation with Steve. The Manhattan Sideways Team sampled the green prawns with carrots, mushrooms, and cashews, the vegetarian lettuce wrap with plum sauce, and the Beijing chicken with walnuts. Of the last dish, Steve said, “It’s like candy! ” and biting into one of the impossibly sweet walnuts, I agreed with him. He explained that there were healthy options, such as steamed vegetables and fish, and that they would be launching a light summer menu that he hoped would remain all year, including an eggplant dish and poached salmon. Ultimately, though, Steve believes that people do not come to Philippe to keep to their diet. He smirked and said, “Personally, I come here to sin. ”Steve sat and ate with us, and we were delighted to find that the owner of such a highly regarded restaurant was so down-to-earth and willing to chat. At one point he took out his phone to show us a picture of his dog in a baseball cap and had to flip past numerous photos of Rihanna’s party that she catered through Philippe the night before, perfectly demonstrating his friendly, casual nature. Steve is Manhattan born-and-bred, and so he knows exactly what New Yorkers want out of a restaurant. He has a lot of exciting plans for the Philippe empire: "I have closed quite a few locations recently, in an effort to regroup and reopen ten times better than before, " he explained. He continued, “I joined this venture looking for my own version of Cheers. I love it. ” He then mentioned that when he was finished showing off his east 64th Street location to us, he was headed to the Hamptons where he is about to open another Philippe. In addition to spending time with Steve and Chef Philippe, we met Kostas Paterakis, the floor manager and pastry chef. Due to his interesting combination of jobs (manning the floor and baking his treats), he often finds himself alone in the kitchen creating delectable desserts well into the night. He was not complaining, however, but declaring that he does his best work when left alone to experiment. The unexpected list of dazzling desserts on the Chinese menu include red velvet cake, apple cobbler, and selection of sorbets. "And everything is made in-house, " Steve proudly announced, and it all comes from what Steve calls “Kostas's little Betty Crocker Oven. ”We enjoyed observing the repartee between Kostas and Steve: After receiving a compliment from the owner, Kostas said, “I’d buy you a drink if it wasn’t your place. ” Later he said of Steve, “He listens to us as much as the customers, which is a big deal to the staff. He’s a great owner. ” Then he turned with an impish grin to Steve: “That’s what you told me to say, right? " Steve rebutted with, “I am blessed with the most loyal, trusting group of people. They treat this place like it’s their own. ”