"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Strolling on 7th Street in the East Village, it is quite easy to miss the narrow Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table. Doing so would be a shame, however, considering the unique wine-drinking experience that owner Patrick Cournot, a Greenwich Village native, presents to the customers that pass through its Moroccan-style arches. For starters, Patrick’s “dynamic groups of wines” - mostly from southern France - go beyond the usual red or white. Here, the red wines offered range from translucid to inky black, and the white wines from pale with hints of green to deep amber. Customers can enjoy their wine while looking at contemporary art by Alberto Burri and Patrick’s wife, Elena Hall, who also designed the space. Everything from the wine bar’s organic design to the intriguing dishes prepared by chefs Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre “puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the wine, ” according to Patrick. The polished 3, 000-pound concrete bar and colored ceramic patterns on the wall create a contrast with the colors of the wine, which Patrick thinks often get lost in the dark wood and dim lighted décor of most wine bars. The kitchen is located behind the bar, so customers can be reminded that Ruffian Wine Bar puts as much care into its food as its wine. As for the dishes, it is difficult to describe the menu as a whole because, according to Patrick, a vast percentage of it changes every week. The dynamic quality of the food selection, though, allows Patrick to “incorporate flavors as they come out” seasonally. Yet whatever the menu of the day is, Patrick wants to ensure that the dishes have an intense flavor, which often translates into doing a contemporary twist on familiar ingredients. Two members of the Manhattan Sideways team were able to sample Josh’s culinary inventiveness with a dynamic dish made of lentils cooked in salt water, dressed with yogurt spiced with curry leaf, mustard and cumin seed, and topped with beet sprouts, crunchy noodles, Thai basil, and lemon juice. The result was a perfect appetizer with many levels of texture that, Patrick assured us, “brings up and shows the vibrant elements of the wine” that accompanies it. More than that, it shows Patrick has reached his goal for his wine bar: “to do ambitious things in a small space. ”
The chef and owner, Frank Prisinazo, had it right when he opened Supper, the restaurant and wine bar, whose decor was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper". Italian food paired with Italian wine can make you feel like you have died and gone to heaven. Supper is an osteria where Northern Italian cuisine is the specialty, and for us, the dishes served are worth savoring. Seven of us were able to gather around our table where we each inhaled the grilled polenta appetizer, the limone pasta, the pappardelle wild mushroom entree and several other outstanding dishes. The rustic, yet warm and cozy ambience allowed us to have a perfect evening.
Bibi’s Wine Bar, opened in 2014, has a fascinating story behind its name. “We haven’t really told anyone the true version, yet, ” Bonny McKenzie, the managing director, explained to me when I stopped in one afternoon. According to the website, the bar is named after her great great grandfather, but the real story is more interesting than that. When Michael Lagnese and Jonny Cohen decided to open a wine bar in the East Village, they invited Bonny to join them and secured Carlo Soranno, from the 8th Street Winecellar, as their executive chef. Originally from Australia, Bonny had never expected to remain in the US, but after working for the two men on 8th Street, she decided to stay. The three wine connoisseurs found an excellent piece of real estate on 9th Street, and started planning their opening. They wanted to name the bar “bibi, ” which means “to drink, to visit, and to toast” in Latin. Unfortunately, they lost the space. A year later, the trio started looking into the bar’s current location. Bonny did not want to use the name “bibi, ” since she thought it would be bad luck. However, when she went home to Melbourne, she mentioned to her family that they were going to open a wine bar and might call it “Bibi. ” Bonny told me that her grandmother suddenly became very excited, expressing her joy that Bonny was naming the bar after her great, great grandfather. Bonny had not made the connection that her ancestor, whose given name was Richard, was called “Bibi” by both his parents and children. Bonny’s mother had even written a children’s book about how he had moved from Belgium to Massachusetts and learned English by using his weekly allowance to watch American movies. Bonny immediately got on the phone with Jonny and Michael to let them know that she approved of keeping the original name. A photograph of Bibi, the Belgian cigar-maker, now hangs in the back of the bar. When I asked Bonny how she felt about being on 4th, she said that she appreciates being on a street where eighty to ninety percent of her clients are locals. She told me that many people in the area are training to be sommeliers, and so she enjoys occasionally giving blind taste tests to help them study. Having worked at the 8th Street Wine Cellar, she can confidently say that it is a different mix of people than Greenwich Village. On 4th Street, life is more relaxed and bibi appears to be the ideal, unpretentious wine bar for the neighborhood.
When asked, people repeatedly named Il Posto Accanto as one of their favorite wine bars in the neighborhood. “The food is authentic, and not only is the wine list lengthy, but the staff are extremely knowledgeable, ” is how one gentleman phrased it. After sampling a classic and delicious Rigatoni Bolognese with a glass of red wine - both recommendations of the owner – the Manhattan Sideways team had to agree. The wine stock is exclusively Italian, and because they are open “until the last warm body leaves, usually around 3: 00 am, ” a late-night menu of small plates is available even after the kitchen closes.
Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City. Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts. Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things. ” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing. ”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people. ” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection. The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks. ” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U. S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University. “We are African-American, so that is what we do, ” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side. ” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people. ” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30, 000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
The space is fabulous at Billy Reid, furnished with vintage southern pieces and housed in an amazing Bond Street building. Billy began his fashion business in Alabama and opened up his inviting menswear enclave here in 2008. Soft flannel shirts, great suede boots, woven skinny ties, colorful bow ties, well-made blazers, beautiful striped shirts and more…I love everything about this boutique, and each time I stop by, I am inspired to make over the men in my family. Billy designs much of the clothing in the store (minus the Levi jeans). He has gorgeous fabrics to choose from for suits and sport jackets. And there is a tasteful selection for women, too.