The Osso Buco at Sirio Ristorante is made from Chef Massimo Bebber's mother's recipe. This fact alone gives one a sense of what the restaurant, located inside The Pierre hotel, aims to achieve. Though labeled as a "ristorante," a term that demands a certain level of class, quality, and sophistication, Sirio also aims to be approachable and personal. One of the first things we noticed upon entering was that there are no white tablecloths, a choice that we discovered was very deliberate and sought to distance the establishment from traditional, often uncongenial eateries.
Sirio is named for Sirio Maccioni, the mastermind behind the notorious French restaurant, Le Cirque, which celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2015. While speaking with several of the family members, I learned that a few years prior to this, in 1972, Sirio had opened La Foret Lounge, here at the Pierre. When deciding where to open his namesake restaurant, he decided to bring the Maccioni Group full circle, back to where it all began for him. It is no wonder, then, that it feels like home.
During the ill-fated weekend of Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, Sirio opened his restaurant. A few years later, Massimo, a chef from Italy arrived to run the operation. According to the staff, he was the missing ingredient that caused the whole dining experience to click together. He has brought with him his Italian concepts and unique, modern plating, where everything that comes out of the kitchen, has his personal touch.
Experiencing a hotel's kitchen was a first for me and watching not only Massimo, but dozens of others operate together in this large, gleaming space - split between hotel room service (easily recognizable by its mini cereal boxes and rows of bagels) and the Sirio operations - was mesmerizing. What an extremely cohesive environment in which the staff works. While observing every aspect in the kitchen, Massimo spoke of his genuine appreciation for his position at the Pierre: "I have a good thing here - I really have to say that." After introducing me to his sous-chef, Jeff Michner, who he embraced in a bear hug upon seeing him, Massimo went on to rave about his amazing team, who "always seem to know what to do without being told." While cutting the top off a quail egg with a clever pair of round scissors, made for this specific purpose, Massimo went on to say, "I don't have to worry when I walk away from the kitchen." Yes, I was paying close attention to what the chefs were telling me, however, I could not help but recognize that there was something magical about watching Jeff and Massimo, both broad, strong-built men, handling these tiny speckled eggs.
Massimo went on to speak about the restaurant, exclaiming that it is improving each day, "we are always trying something new." And I was quite pleased to be able to taste the experiment of the day as it was placed on a plate: a fried pizza, made with dough resembling savory funnel cake, rich buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce, and a basil pesto sauce drizzled on top. What fun to be able to whip up dishes and try out different ideas on each other, when not overwhelmed by patrons' orders of pureed onion soup, "duck-on-duck" ragout, or delicate florets of vegetables embracing a chicken breast, cooked to perfection.
Although they seem to be having a grand time working downstairs in the Pierre, the energy in the kitchen is both relaxed and professional. I definitely understood when Massimo said, "I wake up every day excited to come to work."
Walking down the stairs and passing the espresso bar to enter Altesi, I felt like I had been transported onto an Italian street: the design was so perfectly European, with a calmness and slower tempo that signaled a Mediterranean location far removed from the bustle of Manhattan. The true jewel of Altesi, however, is the owner Paolo Alavian, who, after introducing himself and his very sweet wife, Antonia, treated us like royalty. Paolo's generosity and kindness is extended to each and every individual who enters his restaurant. As he guided us through the orange and cream interior, with wine trellises tucked into geometric patterns on the walls and out into the lovely backyard garden, he warmly greeted his guests before sitting himself down to speak with us. As we savored our veritable feast, beginning with sauteed artichoke, octopus in yogurt and tuna carpaccio, Paolo entertained us with stories. Having opened in 2014, he said that it had been an excellent first year. His other restaurants in Soho - Savore and L'Ulivo - have been around for many years, but, surprisingly, it is on the Upper East Side that Paolo finds the people to be the most supportive and friendly. As he said, "the neighborhood really wants you to succeed. It is the first place I have found where people are protecting the businesses. " Paolo does his part to create a neighborhood hotspot. He let us know that he often hosts breakfast and yoga sessions in his back garden. As our second course of pappardelle with duck, black truffles, and peas along with pasta decorated with chanterelles covered in melted pecorino cheese arrived, Paolo continued to amuse us with stories from his childhood and his arrival in the US. Paolo may be one of the few Italian restaurateurs who did not receive his love of food from his family. He explained that his mother, though a wonderful woman, was a terrible cook, and that until the age of eighteen, he weighed only ninety pounds. His parents, both pharmacists, assumed that he would follow in their footsteps and study pharmacology at the University of Miami, where he received a scholarship. Arriving in Florida, it did not take long, however, for Paolo to realize that his passion laid elsewhere. While continuing his studies, he got his first job in a restaurant as a dishwasher, and then quickly worked his way up to busboy and bartender. He would leave class early to "go to the bathroom" in order to get to his shift on time. He never dropped a class, though - Paolo is a big believer in education. He has always told his employees, "If you want to go to school, I will help you. I will work with you. "Paolo described his love for the restaurant business because it is a true meritocracy, where promotions happen quickly and fairly. His story of moving up the ladder sounds like a fairy tale: as a dishwasher, he was bullied by the kitchen staff, and his hands were cracked and bleeding because his coworkers would keep unplugging the dishwasher so that he would have to do everything by hand. When his employer, his figurative fairy godmother, found out, she moved him to the front room as a busboy. As the third course arrived and the Manhattan Sideways team indulged in a remarkable veal cutlet Milanese, a beautiful piece of salmon with exceptional spring vegetables, and a whole branzino, we continued to be impressed by Paolo's extraordinary generosity to others in need. He spoke of his effort to teach a trade to a person with Down Syndrome, hoping that by working in his restaurant that this person would have a skill that they can use throughout their life. Paolo also told us about the success of the Manhattan Girls Chorus, a group that was begun in 2011 by a patron of the restaurant, Michelle Oesterle. Her passion for music and her desire to provide an outlet for girls who are experiencing bullying, unpleasant situations at home, learning disabilities, or any of the other difficulties in simply being a teenager, drove her to found this organization. It is here that Michelle is able to provide a safe haven for the girls to come each week to practice and confide in one another. Having had the extraordinary opportunity to attend their first gala at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and to hear these young girls share their stories of their personal struggles was incredibly touching, but then they gathered to sing, and my heart could not stop pounding. They were magnificent. Paolo, too, has been affected by these teenagers and has taken one of them under his wing. In her, he recognized a well-behaved, smart girl who needed help, and he hired her to work in his restaurant. He has now, essentially, become her father: mentoring her, pushing her to be the best person she can be, and, Paolo jokingly said, "I even crack down on any clients who ask for her phone number. " Paolo explained that he has always remembered the woman who promoted him to busboy when he was having a hard time, and will always feel the desire to give people similar opportunities.
Gabriel Aiello describes himself as a "one man band, " able to fill any role in his restaurant at the drop of a hat. He is quite proud, however, of the strong team that works alongside him. Nine of his employees have been at Gabriel's since day one - when they opened in 1992 - including the man who makes the pasta by hand, the butcher and a waiter. I would not be surprised if this long-standing synergy is the reason why the restaurant creates such a comfortable ambience. There are warm orange sconces illuminating a roomy dining area lined with modern art by Hector Leonardi, chosen by Gabriel's son, a graffiti artist. In the corner is a painting of a crumpled piece of paper composed by his wife. While Gabriel does not deem his restaurant a family business, he admits that each member has left his mark on the restaurant, including his other son, who works as a waiter in the restaurant while continuing his career as a writer. Gabriel considers the private room to be the jewel of his restaurant. Seating up to thirty-six people, Gabriel told us that the space has hosted "everything from my son's fifth birthday party to Oprah's Thanksgiving bash. " In the twenty-three years that they have been on 60th Street, Gabriel's has held over 5, 000 functions. "We really nail parties, " the proud owner exclaimed. After being part of the opening team for Arqua, on Church Street, in 1983, Gabriel wanted to start a restaurant that would serve "peasant-casual" Italian food with no frills, as opposed to the high-end, ornamental dishes concocted by many of the surrounding restaurants. He aimed for "elegant, efficient, and not too expensive. " A formula that seems to have worked, Gabriel went on to say that the space was chosen because the high, lofty ceilings set it apart from most others on the Upper West Side, making it feel more like a Tribeca piece of real estate rather than a neighbor to Central Park. As we headed downstairs on our tour, we learned that the whole building used to house Atlantic Records, and that Ray Charles recorded in what is now the second kitchen. Lined with rainbow trays of kale and eggplant tapenade, the kitchen was one of the most immaculate I have entered, while smelling like the house of the most skilled Italian grandmother. When I asked Gabriel if he still enjoys coming to work every day, he answered immediately, "Yes - the only thing that gets me down are the slow days. " The day we were visiting was clearly not one of them. In the middle of the week, during the lunchtime hours, we witnessed trays of tuna tartare being whisked by, wood grilled salmon over pureed cauliflower, and a bright pink risotto made with red beets. Gabriel spent a great deal of time speaking about the mix of clientele that he attracts - from tourists to locals, to those who work nearby at the Time Warner building. One patron, in particular, that Gabriel mentioned was Michael Bloomberg. Apparently, the former mayor declared this is his "favorite eatery in the city. " Gabriel told us that Bloomberg ate here every Thursday while in office and would consistently bring an illustrious panel of people to dine with him. It is no wonder. With the simple, Italian fare and comforting atmosphere, Gabriel's offers a cool oasis in the middle of the hot rush of Manhattan.
The moment a diner sits down at Il Mulino, a cavern of scrumptious parmesan cheese is chipped onto their plates; an archaeological dig of bruschetta is brought piled high on a long platter with tongs, followed by garlic bread and other fine antipasti. Everything is delivered to the table, complementary, by some of the best trained staff in the city. One could fill up on this alone, without ever having to look at the menu. However, that would be a tremendous mistake. The ambience of this uptown location is very different from its original downtown spot. When walking on the side streets of Manhattan, I am always intrigued by the stories that I hear, and I was eager to learn about what inspired the latest addition to Il Mulino. Two Italian brothers, Fernando and Gino Masci, had both been trained to cook on board a passenger ship, and when they arrived in New York, they could not find what they believed to be authentic Abruzzo cuisine. In 1981, they decided to open their own restaurant in Greenwich Village, which was, at the time, a frightening locale. There were only eighteen tables in their intimate space, and there continues to be the same number today. Within no time, word spread to Wall Street and business people were coming "uptown" for what was considered some of the best Italian food and service anywhere. In 2012, the Mascis brothers decided it was time to sell the restaurant that had afforded them an international reputation. Although they never attempted to duplicate Il Mulino, the new management had a vision and began opening new locations, not only in New York, but in other parts of the US and abroad. As I spoke with the two extraordinary designers of the restaurant, Lee Katzoff and Rozhia Tabnak of Two Blocks East, I learned that they were hoping to appeal to an uptown crowd with the black and white photos of celebrities lining the white walls, and a burst of color coming from a dazzling bouquet of forsythia. This restaurant has a sleek, more contemporary look than the traditional decor of the Greenwich Village locale. "The food and the service must always be the stars of the overall aesthetic, " Lee explained. Therefore, they had a room constructed that complements, but does not pull the focus away from, the cuisine. The designers are also interested in capturing the spirit of the neighborhood, which is why Il Mulino Uptown has such a minimalist, modern vibe compared to the original. Every single visual detail of the restaurant has been carefully thought out by these two innovative women - from the uniforms of the waiters, to the traffic patterns from the kitchen. "It's highly emotional for us, " Lee says. Their job is to generate memories, she continued, "Every piece of the puzzle must fit into place to create an environment that people will remember for years to come. "
Upon entering Sant Ambroeus, our senses were flooded with the tantalizing smell of buttery pastry. While the other Manhattan Sant Ambroeus restaurants provide ample seating and more extensive menus, Sant Ambroeus on 61st Street, is a simple cafe, serving exceptional espresso, paninis, bread and European sodas. On a street with many sit-down places, the cafe is the perfect spot to grab breakfast, eat a quick lunch, or sneak a heavenly Millesfoglie, a traditional Italian puff pastry with cream.
There are many hidden gems to be discovered on the side streets of Manhattan, but the beginning of my walk on 61st might trump any that I have had thus far. For it was here that I was suddenly convinced that I had stepped into a time portal. Nestled between the skyscrapers that perch along the East River is a stone house dating back to the eighteenth century with a glorious garden (even in the middle of winter) tucked behind it. "Eighteenth Century" may be a bit misleading, since the building, which was built as a carriage house to go with a central mansion, was constructed in 1799. Originally named the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, as this is where she and her husband owned the land on which it was built, it was turned into a "day hotel" in 1826. This was a popular kind of institution that possibly resembled a country club more than an inn. With the rise of the middle class, centers for leisure were popping up all over the island. The city proper mainly existed below 14th Street, causing 61st to be considered a vacation getaway. Though the Mount Vernon Hotel is the only day hotel left standing, at one point in time there were numerous similar ones dotting both rivers. In 1833, the building returned to being a private residence. During the following century, it changed hands multiple times, once even being used as a soup kitchen, until it officially opened as a museum in 1939 in the capable hands of the Colonial Dames of America. To this day, their overall mission continues to be to preserve and teach America's history. The Museum also hosts guests and events of many different kinds: One of their largest affairs is Washington's Birthday Ball, but they also host pie-making workshops, school programs (which are often booked solid for three months at a time), and public events in the auditorium next door.
Descending down Scalinatella's ("little stairway") steps felt like traveling back in time as we entered a magical, underground grotto. Although it was a late winter afternoon, there was a perfect shaft of light shining down from the street onto the glistening display of luscious-looking grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The sweet scent of the berries was a winning welcome to a stunning discovery below 61st Street. The decor was classic, as we were surrounded by a three dimensional still life that Cezanne would have loved to have painted: baskets of impossibly red tomatoes, bouquets of orchids, pussy willows, and, of course, bottles of wine. The feeling of entering a timeless wine cellar was made easier to comprehend when we learned that the building is 145 years old. Apparently, some twenty years ago when Luigi Ruso was first building his restaurant, he watched as the workers chipped away at the cement and glass walls until they hit the original brick. He knew he had something special and chose to leave the raw beginnings down below in tact. In front of the kitchen, bricks have been removed, putting the chefs partly on display, as if the diners were peeking at them through a secret chink in a wall, while the bar seems to be chiseled out of the side of the cave. The food is as classic as the ambience, with Scalinatella's specialties being pasta and fresh fish. Diego, our server told us that he has been working along side Luigi for decades, as the two met at Il Mulino on West 3rd Street. While preparing and plating the food, he told us that he cooks much of his pasta dishes right in front of diners. "We do everything – any pasta you want. " Some of us sampled a soft and buttery dish of amorini pasta blackened with squid ink and liberally decorated with shrimp and lobster. Diego also paraded a feast of fish past us, including Branzino, Dover Sole, and more lobster. While listening to stories from several members of the restaurant's team, we learned that every night the dining room is filled with clientele that have been frequenting this hidden romantic gem for years and years.
While sitting comfortably in the lounge area of The Pierre Hotel, I literally witnessed the conception of a "pop-up. " A table and chairs were being rolled out and within minutes set up elegantly with a black tablecloth and rose petals strewn across the center. The staff at Two East were preparing for their Tuesday evening Social Club. Engaging in conversation with executive chef Ashfer Biju, head pastry chef Michael Mignano, Director of Marketing, Emily Venugopal and singer, Claire Khodara, they each offered their personal connection to this very special evening as it was getting ready to unfold. One might think of it as "unusual, " seated at this table, Emily stated, but she assured me that I would feel like I was in my own little world, elevated - propped up on comfortable bar level chairs surrounded by other foodies - where I would be able to watch and listen to Claire, the performer of the evening, while others sat below quietly enjoying a drink, some appetizers and pleasant background live music. The concept behind Chef Ashfer's Social Club is purely to bring people and food together in the best possible setting. His feeling is that people work hard and have little time to socialize outside of the office. Inside the Pierre's lounge area, men and women are encouraged to treat themselves to a mystery night out either solo, with a date, or, of course, book the entire communal table for twelve. No matter the choice, diners are promised to be taken on a culinary adventure. For $95. 00, the kitchen rolls out fourteen different courses with a cocktail to kick it off and wine pairings throughout the meal. The best part, however, was each time the two chefs popped out from the kitchen to explain what we were tasting, what inspired the dish, and to educate us on the wonders of curry and other spices. I enjoyed listening to Ashfer's extraordinary stories of travel around the world. He has cooked with a multitude of chefs who exposed him to tastes and flavors from Malaysia to the Maltese Islands, and from the Middle East to the Maldives. I was, thus, eager to participate in that evening's "Two E Returns East, " a themed meal accenting ingredients from China, Japan and India. Ashfer was born into a family of restaurateurs. His father continues to run two dining spots in Southeast Asia, but it was his grandfather who appears to have had a profound influence on him. Despite his efforts to convince other family members not to go into this business, after speaking with Ashfer for over an hour, I realized that it was this man that instilled the spark of travel and the love of food in him from a very early age while growing up in India. Apparently, the Pierre has a wondrous way of luring its chefs back, as is the case with Michael Mignano, who worked in the hotel's kitchen from 1998 until 2005. In 2011, he heeded the call to return as head pastry chef. For those years in between, Michael worked with the creme de la creme in the dessert world, appeared on Food Network shows, and ran his own, highly successful bakery in Port Washington, NY. As Ashfer referred to Michael, "He is my trump card in the kitchen. " Listening to the two men finish each other's sentences gave me deep insight into how well their relationship works. Together, they explained how they choose not to follow trends, but rather prefer to "create the trend, themselves. " They went on to say that it is always a chef's goal to be recognized, but that most do not realize what goes into preparing an exceptional meal. Yes, it is a science, but to these two men it is truly an art - one that takes a lot to pioneer day in and day out. They then described themselves as "artists of the senses - all five of them. "When discussing what influenced Michael most to pursue a career in cooking, he explained that he grew up in Queens, where food and family were at the core of his existence. He continued on by saying that he had a huge diversity of friends. "Since the age of five, I went to people's homes who were from Vietnam, South Africa, Europe - you name it. " He learned to try everyone's cooking and to appreciate not only the magic that goes into every dish, but also the passion. Today, Michael said that he continues to incorporate slight nuances from his own childhood experiences into each of the delectable desserts he imagines. Participating in our discussion was Claire. I would shortly have the pleasure of listening to her melodic voice while I indulged in course after course of some of the best vegetarian food (specially prepared for me) I have ever had. Although Claire only began her singing engagements at The Pierre in early 2015, she has already established her own following including a large showing of friends and family who come by to support her. Claire has spent a considerable amount of time flying back and forth between the U. S. and England, where she went to university and began her singing career. Moving back to New York at one point, she made it quite far on season nine's American Idol, and then, as she stated, "I sang at weddings and did a lot of the national anthem singing hoping to become a rockstar. " It was not until she returned to England, met her future husband, and was, ultimately, recognized by London's most elite, iconic clubs, including the exclusive Annabel's, that her career took off. Claire, once again, resides in New York, but continues to fly across the pond to perform in London. Upon her arrival back in the States, she put together an album, which Sony described as "country jazz, " though she prefers to call her music "soul pop. "When I asked Claire if she would be able to simply state her mission to me as a singer, she thoughtfully replied, "I honestly want to spread peace. I want to make people feel calm and relaxed. " She stopped herself and asked, "Does that sound dorky? " After listening to her for three straight hours, my answer is, without a doubt, no. Claire's voice was a beautiful backdrop to an evening filled with interesting company, phenomenal food and two extraordinary chefs. Special note: When Claire was searching for someone to "dress" her for her nightly performances on stage, she turned to Zac Posen, who designed the dress that her mother wore to her wedding. Claire said it is such fun to have ten outfits arrive each week from Zac that she can select from - sadly she must return them afterwards - but, in the meantime, she does look stunning as she is a tall magnificent woman, both inside and out. It was interesting to learn a bit about Zac Posen - this renowned designer who, although an international star with his classic, chic clothing, has his roots right here in Brooklyn. Two Manhattan Sideways team members, Tom and Olivia, returned to the Two E Lounge for a special event towards the end of 2015. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that occurs every autumn in the northern hemisphere. They found the space to be completely transformed from when we were last there listening to Claire Khodara sing: flower petals, chrysanthemum heads, and candles covered every available space and a tower with cubby holes filled with Indian delicacies occupied the center. The two told me that they have never seen such exquisite saris as the ones worn by the guests. Together with a room filled with guests, Tom and Olivia dined on small shot glasses full of goat cheese, beet, and orange slices as well as rock shrimp with tamarind aioli while listening to the chill sounds of Sa, a group that performs music with Indian root melodies. There was a “Tawa and Chaat” station where cooks served up lamb kebabs, green pea samosas, and more. On the other side of the room, an appetizer table was set up with traditional Indian food reinterpreted, including lamb koftas, biryani bowls, and kulchas. Ashfer proudly told Tom and Olivia that his sous chef, Manjit Manohar, had a large part in the menu for the evening. As Tom was taking a shot of Ashfer, Manjit, and Michael, the plates of mouth-watering Indian-inspired desserts were brought out, decorated with gold flecks. This was the Pierre’s first attempt at hosting a Diwali celebration, but we have no doubt that the beautiful décor, and visibly happy guests will inspire them to continue this tradition in 2016.
Suzanne Newman had always been interested in fashion and design. She began sewing on her parent's sewing machine as a child in South Africa - first teaching herself how to sew clothes for dolls, and then for herself. She began her career in London at a department store, where she stayed for ten years before moving to New York City. As a single mother, Suzanne began making hats under the tutelage of Josephine Trippoli in 1985. Two years later, she opened up her own boutique on Madison Avenue. For fifteen years, she developed her creative instincts and gained an enviable list of followers. In 2002, she moved to her current 61st Street location, bringing her regular customers with her, while simultaneously acquiring a host of new ones. With returning clients from the 80s as well as a host of younger customers, Suzanne continues to enjoy the range in hat requests that she receives. Suzanne finds inspiration in the world around her, often looking towards magazine, theaters, museums, and fashion trends. Since the vast majority of the hats she creates are custom made, she considers the settings the hat might be worn in, personality of the client, and, of course, the client's wishes. For bridal parties, Suzanne can very easily design head wear based on a swatch of a dress. With remarkable attention to detail, there are casual hats for simple occasions and then some extraordinary and extravagant ones for the Kentucky Derby or even England’s grand millinery event of the year, The Royal Ascot. While Suzanne especially loves “hat events” where women often want a hat that “goes all out, ” she believes that a women’s head piece is important no matter the occasion. “A woman looks good in the right hat - the right hat brings out her personality and it’s a form of expression. Express your whimsy! ”Located in the back of the stunning shop is where each step of the hat-making process is completed. Inside, the workshop is piled with all sorts of materials, including a variety of fabrics, straws, and feathers. Most amazing were the hats in progress, including a fascinator in the shape and colors of a coy fish, a shiny blue Spanish-style hat, and a helmet-like pink hat that could have come right out of the 1960s. The designers are constantly on the lookout for new materials to incorporate into their designs, such as 3D printing, and they are always experimenting with new ways to prepare and recycle the materials they have on hand. Suzanne told us that she is especially pleased to have her business be in New York City, as she is often able to source her materials locally. “We have a remarkable amount to choose from, I think the best in the world. ”While chatting with some of the staff, one of the first things that they shared with us was that Suzanne has her hand in every project. If one of them is feeling creatively challenged - not sure if something is working properly - or simply looking for feedback, they turn to Suzanne. And, whenever Suzanne and her assistants go out together, they wear samples of their work. Not only do they make a statement, but it allows them to determine if they need to reinforce parts of a hat to combat the wind, or tell clients to duck low when exiting cars to spare long feathers. There is something beautiful about imagining that scene – these exquisite pieces of art being worn by the people who can best appreciate them.