For a culinary adventure in fine Italian dining, I must recommend Il Mulino. Scoring a reservation is not easy, but I have been fortunate enough to sample their incredible food and twice been rolled out the door after a massive, rich meal. Opened in 1981 by two brothers who had a passion for preparing simple food with fresh ingredients and a desire to introduce New Yorkers to their hometown of Abruzzo, Italy, Fernando and Gino Masci began a journey that has resulted in continued accolades all these years.
We love Buon Italia in Chelsea Market for all their fresh ingredients imported directly from Italy, and what better way to enjoy those ingredients than prepared in a traditional Italian-style panini? La Panineria offers just that since it was opened by Mario Pesce, whose uncle is the owner of Buon Italia over in Chelsea Market. La Panineria is a quaint, authentic little Italian deli that offers sandwiches, pastries and desserts, soups, cheese plates, beer, wine, soda, and coffee, in addition to their small selection of Italian groceries. The shop is small, with just a couple of barstools in the window and one central table for people to eat around, but the food is absolutely delicious. We sampled the Parma Panini — a perfect combination of prosciutto and robiola cheese, along with the Cornetto — the Italian’s take on the croissant filled with Nutella and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Needless to say our taste buds were satisfied as we chatted with Mario about the subtle but notable differences between “American” Nutella and authentic Italian Nutella (Italian Nutella is apparently slightly healthier! ).
On a beautiful, tree-lined strip of 9th Street sits this old-world, white tablecloth, Northern Italian restaurant. The ambiance is warm, the staff professional, the dining room elegant and the food delicious. There are a few tables that spill out onto the sidewalk when the weather cooperates, but a larger outdoor space is available in the back garden where we chose to dine.
Casey Lane, a Los Angeles chef, opened Casa Apicii in the summer of 2016. A couple months later, Bar Fortuna opened in the space above Casa Apicii. The cocktail bar is run by Fabio Raffaelli, who formerly bartended at Daniel. While the restaurant is open everyday, the bar is open from Tuesday through Saturday and offers bar snacks along with Italian-influenced cocktails.
Reed Adelson, owner of the American restaurant Virginia’s, was trained by the best in the industry. He learned about wine at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, interned at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, then returned to his Manhattan roots to work under Jean-Georges to open the Mark Hotel, and finally worked at Locanda Verde. Riding in a car with industry legends Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, he was presented with the answer to his doubts about working in the restaurant business, "If this is what you’re passionate about, there is nothing else you can do. It’s more of a vocation than a job choice. "Reed brought all of this expertise to open his first restaurant in 2015. Named for his mom, Virginia’s has become known for its burger, with bone marrow aioli, cabot cheddar, and house-made pickles, but there are more sophisticated dishes that deserve equal praise including the wild king salmon with red cabbage slaw and golden beet puree. Reed focuses on consistency for his menu, with a few seasonal dishes, such as the corn ravioli with fontina cheese and crispy shallots. With his eye on the future, Reed is contemplating moving a little closer to the city’s center, while admitting, "there’s something romantic about the side streets. "
Kenkeleba Garden, named for an African healing plant, is simply magical. We followed the densely forested greenery around to the back, arriving at a clearing that transported us to another world far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We were completely surprised when we landed in front of the sculpture garden, which is only visible from 3rd Street. From large African sculptures to collections of scraps or bricolage, a specialty of the Lower East Side art scene, we could not help but linger before doubling back and re-emerging onto the concrete sidewalks of 2nd Street. It was not until many months later, when we had the pleasure of meeting Joe Overstreet and his wife, Corinne Jennings, that we learned that this is affiliated with their gallery next door, Kenkeleba House. It is their life-long dream to someday use these grounds to build a museum that would house their massive collection of African-American art. It has an entrance on both 2nd Street and 3rd,
Book Club isn’t just for the suburbs anymore — as a new bookshop, bar and coffeehouse gives East Village denizens and beyond a new place to pore over and pour over their favorite reads. Married proprietors Erin Neary and Nat Esten, East Village residents themselves, had longed for an independent bookstore to serve the Alphabet City area, they told the Manhattan Sideways team when we popped in to see dozens of happy customers enjoying a read and a latte one sunny Friday morning. “We always thought that the neighborhood needed another bookstore, ” said Erin, “and we also kept wondering, ‘Wouldn't it be so cool if you could drink wine while you were shopping for books? ’” They decided not only to open a bookstore and bar, but to additionally add in the day-to-night-element of coffee into the mix. While both Erin and Nat had worked in hospitality before, bookselling was new to them. “I started doing research in 2017 and worked with the American Booksellers Association’s consulting program to help new bookstores get off the ground, ” said Erin. “I met with them as well as other bar owners and bookstore owners in the neighborhood and did as much research as I could without actually doing it. ” The duo launched Book Club in November 2019, enjoying an enthusiastic community reception until COVID-19 forced them to pivot. “Nate started doing bike deliveries — as many as 20 miles a day! ” Erin told us. “He’d go out to Harlem to drop off books and then all the way out to Bushwick — so a lot of people learned about the store that way. ”Once they were able to reopen to the public, Book Club forged full steam ahead in engaging the community in “book club”-esque events — from author talks to poetry readings to creative writing workshops, with additional unique offerings like an adult spelling bee and a “drink and draw” sketching class. They’ve also recently received their full liquor license, and plan to roll out literary-themed cocktails like an In Cold Bloody Mary or the Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini, Erin told us. More than anything, she added, she enjoyed having customers back in the store to guide them toward their next favorite book. “Our staff are not just really good baristas, but they’re avid readers as well. So between myself and the rest of the team, we have a really good handle on the books here — it’s fun to be able to curate not just what we stock, but to get the right book into someone’s hands. ”