The entrance to Sushi By Bou consists of wooden steps leading down to an unmarked doorway adorned with unchecked graffiti. Inside, the Manhattan Sideways team found a space that it is barely larger than one's average bedroom. The décor is an explosive battle between colorful Japanese designs and minimalist, mid-century modern designs. Four barstools sit in front of a counter, behind which works the American-born David Bouhadana. David, himself, is part of the allure: his looks and roguish irreverence evoke the archetype of the wisecracking best man at a wedding. The crisp Japanese quips that he often fires at the grim-faced guest chef working next to him, who often responds with a boisterous laugh, hint that David is as comfortable in that language as he is in English. Indeed, his omnipresent half-smile and conversational, thinking-out-loud tone show him to be truly at home behind the sushi counter. The obvious question is probably how David found himself there wearing a hachimaki headband. He is quick to respond to with a phrase that, coming from anyone else, would seem cliché - “I didn’t choose sushi, sushi chose me. ” In his case, this is simply a statement of fact: on his first day as an eighteen-year-old waiter in Boca Raton, the chef tossed him an apron, proclaiming, “Tonight, you make sushi! ” David found himself suddenly thrust into a new, fast-paced world, one that demanded not only the self-discipline and love of labor required to cope with a rigorous routine but also the drive to push oneself and to constantly improve on yesterday. As it turns out, he had what it took, and he soon found himself on a one-way-trip to Japan. Studying under his sensei’s wing, he was quickly accepted by the local talent as he developed his own techniques and hand movements. His master, whose life was saved by American medicine, gave David a mission along with the tutelage: to repay the west by teaching them about sushi. “Sushi is an educated food, ” he explained to us as he rapidly prepared uni. “The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy it. ” According to David, western appreciation for food cannot compare with that of Asian cultures. “Food is simply more important in Asia, ” he claimed, describing how food in the Far East is in tune with even the turning of the seasons. He calls his somewhat educational approach "Sushi for the People. " It’s not inexpensive, as $50 will earn one an omakase selection, which in this case is a spread of twelve sushi types that David called the "New Basic. " However, David pointed out that compared to similar New York City fare, "it’s a steal, " and it complements the approachability David strives for. He elaborated by telling us that he also carefully selects guest chefs to be welcoming and approachable, deliberately avoiding the "tough angry chef. " He wants customers to feel encouraged to ask questions, which necessitates the intimate design of the restaurant. As for why he chose New York City, David thinks the accepting environment and pervasive mindset of equality will draw the type of person who is open to learning about other cultures. But he also chose the city for what he describes as a “wild, crazy, allure, ” a fast paced testing ground where one can come with nothing but become whoever they want. David chose sushi.
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
La Maison du Chocolat is a sophisticated example of a delectable chocolate shop. Everything sold inside its doors is made in Paris, with the exception of the ice cream that includes ingredients from France but is prepared on site. The day that Manhattan Sideways stopped by, we met Brigitte who has been working here since 2010. A knowledgeable chocolate connoisseur, Brigitte shared La Maison's history. We learned that Robert Linxe, the founder was originally from the French Basque Country, but acquired much of his craft while attending school in Switzerland. He went on to run a successful catering service in Paris for twenty years before deciding to pursue his true passion. At the time, chocolate was considered something to be saved strictly for special occasions; as Brigitte told us, people thought Linxe's enthusiasm for a shop devoted to chocolate was "crazy. " Nevertheless, Linxe was able to find an auspicious space in Paris with a wine cellar, which he used to make the delicacies and protect them from the damaging effects of the weather. In 1977, Linxe opened the doors and welcomed Paris to his specialty boutique. Within three weeks, all of the chocolate had been sold and Linxe was dubbed the master of ganache. And in 1996, over twenty years later, Nicolas Cloiseau, the highly acclaimed chocolatier and pastry chef joined the business continuing La Maison's coveted reputation. Brigitte stressed that the discussion of chocolate is akin to that of wine; expertise comes from reading on the subject, perhaps taking a course, and most importantly, much experience. Moreover, chocolate and wine may be enjoyed together when paired consciously. Chocolate always goes well with "a nice red wine, " Brigitte said. Quickly turning to the particulars, she added that milk chocolate is best paired with white wine and dark chocolate with port. Brigitte continued to enlighten us, saying with detectable fervor, "Good dark chocolate should not be bitter. " It takes approximately ten days to dry cocoa beans. Rushing this process, a common crime of many chocolate companies, results in this bitter taste. Brigitte made a point of showing us how to taste chocolate: smell it first and then let it melt in your mouth. After this incredible offering of chocolate wisdom, Brigitte presented us with a plate of small pieces of chocolate arranged deliberately in a circle. Beginning at forty percent, each successive piece around the circle had an increased concentration of pure chocolate. We continued to climb past eighty and concluded with a piece of one hundred percent pure chocolate. At this point, a natural thickness set in and the pieces lost all association with candy. Suddenly, each of us agreed, it felt as though we were appreciating chocolate, not as a beloved dessert or comforting treat, but as a wonder of the earth.