This charming French bistro looks like it would be at home perched alongside the Left Bank, or something one might stumble across while wandering through the Marais. The name of the restaurant – drunken boat - references a poem by French poet Arthur Rimbaud, written in 1871 when he was only sixteen. He might have composed it sitting somewhere like this: a French brasserie with an elegant bar and front walls that open up to allow continuity between the interior and exterior. This 51st Street mainstay has been offering classically French cuisine since 1999, with everything from cheese plates and salads to lamb, steak and plenty of seafood. The real highlight, however, is the wine. There are over 250 choices from regions throughout France.
Waiting to talk to the manager, I struck up a conversation with a businessman sitting at the bar. He was getting some work done over a steak and a glass of red wine; his laptop seemed anachronistic amid the nineteenth century decor. He told me that he had lived in the area for a decade, and came to the restaurant a few times a week. "It's the only place on this block I love," he told me (besides BXL, a Belgian restaurant only a few hundred feet away). A Francophile, myself, I understood exactly what he meant.
Candles flicker from every corner casting a glow over the dark wood bar and tables at Cello, while softly illuminating the bottles of wine and liquor on display. Modernity intrudes in the form of a small TV mounted in one corner, but, otherwise, the atmosphere is quiet and rustic enough that it is easy to forget one is still in Manhattan. Tom, a manager and part-owner of Cello for five years, describes the bar as an "easy-going place" with a focus on getting people to try new wines. Patrons are encouraged to sample wines before they make a decision, and Tom stressed that there is no price incentive to buy a bottle rather than a glass. He went on to say that the bartenders pour four glasses per bottle - "you're getting a really full glass," Tom added.Though they will sometimes keep a specific bottle in reserve for regulars who request it, Cello stocks a rotating collection of wines from "The Old World and New World" to keep their selection varied. One wine for sale when we visited came from a volcano caldera in the Canary Islands. Their list is meant to cater to wine aficionados and novices alike. Tom confidently declared, "We'll definitely be able to find something you like." Cello also offers a well-stocked bar and a modest range of beer choices for non-oenophiles, as well as a pizza and tapas menu featuring meats and cheeses imported from France, Italy and Holland. Tom described the food as "very good, very well thought-out" with wine pairing opportunities in mind.There are a lot of "first dates" that stop by Cello, but otherwise, Tom characterized the clientele as a mix of businesspeople, local business owners and residents of the neighborhood and, simply, people "chilling out" late at night.
Sofia Wine Bar is, in a word, intimate. A post-work favorite, its dim lighting and relatively small space makes Sofia’s the perfect place for a quiet night out. Owner and designer Antonia DeGrezia, along with his wife Tomasso, wisely chose to keep some pieces from the spot’s previous life as a chandelier gallery to add to the ambiance. Although the emphasis is on their extensive wine list, Sofia has a short menu of “Italian inspired” tapas and thin crust pizzas with a variety of toppings. For a complete old world Italian meal, the couple’s DeGrezia Ristorante is only a few doors down.
Wine Bars were a relatively new trend in the early 2000s – Orhan Cakir and Burak Argun the owners of Pierre Loti, would know best. They met one another - and a third partner - when Burak emigrated from Istanbul in 2000, and they all attended the same language school. Together, they opened one of the first wine bars in New York City, Turks and Frogs in the West Village, and then went on to provide an excellent wine experience for customers at Pierre Loti in Chelsea, Midtown and Union Square.Pierre Loti is a fictional character created by French novelist Louis Marie-Julien Viaud. Loti was a French naval officer who traveled to Istanbul and fell in love with the culture. Burka noted that he thinks the spirit of Viaud's character well exemplifies the cultural exchange between the tastes of French wine and Turkish cuisine happening in his bar. Orhan’s eyes lit up when he spoke of the variety of wine that the bar offers and how the bar brings in a new, “dynamic” wine every month. In addition to operating multiple wine bars, the men have helped create their own label of wines from France, with a specific emphasis on Burgundies and Bordeaux. Each bottle has an illustration of Loti on the bottle.Orhan is originally from Istanbul, where he studied engineering. It was there, however, that he also began his career in the restaurant business. Reflecting back, he told me that having worked in hospitality in two different countries enabled him to create a wonderful experience for others. When he came to the US, he realized that “wine was an addition to the food, but was never the main focus.” He wanted to change that notion, and that is what inspired him to open Turks and Frogs. As I admired the interior design of the space, Orhan revealed that he built everything in the restaurant, including the tables and the bar.While at Pierre Loti, wine continues to be the center point, there is also a menu of excellent small Mediterranean dishes available, including Manti, a type of Turkish dumpling that Orhan has recreated from his childhood in Turkey. The bar has a lot of regulars, and Burak told us that nearly half of their customers live on the block. In addition, given its cozy decor and romantically dim lighting, Pierre Loti is a prime first date spot. Having witnessed many a budding romance take place in his bar, Burak remarked, "If the lady orders a main course, I can tell it's a good date."
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.
While the lineups at Radio City Music Hall have changed dramatically over the years, the "Showplace of the Nation" has long been at the center of the city's entertainment scene. Opened to the public in 1932, the Art Deco building, with almost six thousand seats, was initially intended to "house high-class variety entertainment." However, the space was later converted to a movie hall, with films accompanied by stage shows. This lasted until 1979 when, for a variety of reasons, Radio City began transitioning into a concert hall. Besides consistently booking some of music's hottest stars, Radio City has also hosted numerous award shows, including The Grammys and The Tony Awards and is the home to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes, a tradition that commenced in 1933.
Saar, which translates to “the essence of something,” has a double meaning for Pastry Chef Surbhi Sahni. It represents the essence of Indian food, as well as the essence of her relationship with her husband, Chef Hemant Mathur. Although Surbhi has been in the industry with Hemant for years, the two have not worked together on a daily basis since their days at their Michelin-starred restaurants, Devi and Tulsi, both of which are now closed. Saar represents their fresh start while also staying true to their culture and roots.When Surbhi and Hemant met in 2000, Hemant was teaching Indian cooking classes at New York University as he was getting ready to open Tamarind on Park Avenue. Surbhi joined the opening team at Tamarind, designing the tearoom and promoting quick lunches. He went on to operate five different spaces, including Sahib, Haldi, Chote Nawab, Malai Marke, and Chola, while Surbhi helped manage events. During that time, she also launched Bittersweet NYC, a pastry business focusing on wedding cakes and Indian style desserts for larger corporate events. Surbhi’s relationship with cooking is unlike the typical love story of most chefs. Her experience in the kitchen started at the age of ten in New Delhi as more of a responsibility and chore when her mother’s health declined. She explained to members of the Manhattan Sideways team, “It was not something I could ever imagine myself doing for the rest of my life. I wanted to do art and write and paint or sing and dance - every other activity in the world but cook.” Notwithstanding these sentiments, Surbhi was encouraged by her father to take a job in hotel management in New Delhi. She was part of the Sheraton Group’s revolutionary all-female kitchen and restaurant at a time when there were only approximately twenty female chefs in all of New Delhi. At age twenty-five, however, Surbhi chose to move to the United States to pursue her Masters in Anthropology and Food at New York University. Despite never getting to study writing and painting at university, these endeavors have always been an integral part of Surbhi’s life. Her father is an accomplished artist exhibiting in both India and the US. Today, she is proud of her own teenage daughter, Soumyaa. "She is the true artist of the family." When entering the dining room on 51st Street, Surbhi’s artistic aptitude is obvious. The modern space is both clean and dramatic, with natural light and bright pops of color. Saar was a particularly exciting project for her, as she was given free rein in its design. In a mere five months, she turned what she described as a dingy, confused room into an open, tasteful dining space. Saar has also allowed Surbhi and Hemant to completely reinvent their menu. They focus on regional food, staying authentic to the specific flavors of each area. For example, Surbhi told us that the Turbuj Pachadi - a tomato and watermelon salad with a fennel and ginger dressing - is a Rajasthani staple, as watermelon is a fruit that is readily available there, and is usually consumed with freshly baked bread. She has also made an effort to challenge conventional conceptions of Indian cuisine. The Mango Coconut Soup is a light and sweet palate opener, proving that Indian food is not always too spicy or a combination of too many flavors. She believes that Indian food is actually very demarcated in the way flavors are put together. “Just how in Japanese food they have many different layers of flavors they add as they’re cooking, we do the same with Indian food.” While cooking can serve as a creative outlet, Surbhi still tries to write and paint whenever she can. In ending our conversation, Surbhi emphasized the importance of food’s role in building a community - something she looks forward to creating on West 51st Street.