The sign above the entrance to PizzArte promises 'Cucina Napoletana', making it clear what is at the heart of the establishment: Naples. The enormous red pizza oven found inside is imported from Naples, and everyone working at the restaurant hails from there too, making for an especially authentic experience. The space is narrow and has a distinctly modern feel to it. As the name suggests, the restaurant doubles as a gallery for contemporary art by Neapolitan artists. The idea of using a meal as an opportunity to engage with art is refreshing, and the perfect pizza dough feels like an artwork in itself.
After having successfully occupied the space at 33 West since 2001 - now home to his restaurant, Mozzarella & Vino - twelve years later, owner Gianfranco Sorrentino had a new vision for Il Gattopardo. The restaurant's current location features two dining rooms, two full bars and a larger kitchen for Chef Vito Gnazzo to create his magic. Early on a weekday afternoon, when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped in to meet the charming Mr. Sorrentino, the upstairs dining room was already filling up with elegant business people having quiet conversation. After spending a few minutes observing the perfectly timed flow of the restaurant, we were led downstairs to another room, which unexpectedly opened up into a back seating area with soaring ceilings and skylights. Upon each table was a slender pink calla lily that Mr. Sorrentino proudly told us was the personal touch of his wife, Paula. He went on to say that she works as a graphic designer, but also personally oversees the layout and decor of each of their three restaurants. As at Mozzarella & Vino, the food was incredible. However, the two restaurants diverge somewhat in their menus' focus. While Mozzarella & Vino puts its emphasis on appetizers and more simple plates, Il Gattopardo specializes in a more traditional Italian meal. Accordingly, we were encouraged to sample their lobster pasta, mussels marinated in a white wine broth, and eggplant parmesan. On our way out, as I thanked Chef Vito for the delicious food, l had one last chat with Mr. Sorrentino. My favorite line that he shared with me was that in addition to running three of his own restaurants in the city - the third being The Leopard at Des Artistes - he knows the owners of almost all of New York's Italian restaurants. And feeling well acquainted with the incredible quality and diversity of Italian cuisine here, he was prepared to make the bold statement: "The best Italian restaurants are in New York, not in Italy. "
Patsy’s Italian Restaurant is truly a family affair. It only took a few moments before we were greeted by the many generations of the Scognamillo family: Joe - whose father started Patsy’s in 1944 - stood alongside his wife, and their grandson, Joe Jr. Shortly after, an uncle emerged from upstairs, and then we were joined by Sal, Joe senior's son, and the chef and current face of the legendary Patsy’s. The family-oriented nature of Patsy’s is only part of what makes the restaurant feel like a flashback to a much earlier time. It was noon when we arrived, but the lights were low, and patrons were dressed formally, the atmosphere was hushed with soft conversation happening, glasses clinking lightly and classical music playing in the background. At the front of the restaurant, a bartender in a bow tie polished glasses. Scattered throughout the two floors of the space, the restaurant proudly boasts photographs of an extensive celebrity clientele beginning with Frank Sinatra to Frankie Valli and Michael Buble. For us, the scene was set. How incredibly special it was when Sal invited myself and the members of the Manhattan Sideways team to sit down at a table with him - not only while he shared the fascinating stories of his family's legendary restaurant, but to taste some of the classic Patsy dishes. He was friendly, garrulous, and bursting with quips and anecdotes. Patsy’s celebrates its seventieth anniversary in 2014. An astonishing feat made only more so by the fact that its founder - Sal’s grandfather Pasquale, renamed “Patsy” at Ellis Island - came to the U. S. from Naples in 1928 and spent his first few years driving a Macy’s truck. Later, he became a busboy and eventually was able to open his own restaurant, Sorrento, in 1942. Although short-lived, two years later, he established Patsy’s. By the mid-50s, it was thriving, enabling him to purchase the entire building, doubling the size of his restaurant. In the last seven decades, Patsy’s has borne witness to the multitude of changes that the city has undergone. While we ate, Sal called his dad over to tell us about 56th Street’s ongoing transformation. “Everything’s changed, everything, ” Joe told us, showing us a photo of the block in the 1940s, when the building that now houses Patsy’s belonged to Atlantic Records. "Eighth Avenue was the end of the earth back then, ” he recalled. The street was largely populated by car dealerships, and there was a gas station on the corner of the block. Joe went on to tell us that after its early commercialism, the street became dangerous for a while in the 1980s. Throughout, Patsy’s has endured - a constant in a sea of change. Sal was proud to report that he maintains professional relationships with several of its original vendors, including purchasing its cheese for most of their seventy years, from fellow New York institution, Di Palo. He went on to say that they have employed many of the same workers for generations citing the restaurant’s night porter, an eighty-plus-year-old Argentine man who lives upstairs, as a perfect example. “If you become our friend you’re in trouble, because you’re our friend for the rest of your life! ” Sal said cheerfully. Though it has retained its old-world charm and hospitality, the restaurant has adapted extremely well to the demands of the twenty-first century. Sal maintains an active presence on Facebook and other social networking sites, and frequently appears on cooking shows (to date, he told us that he has been on The Today Show some twenty-five times). In honor of their fiftieth anniversary, they created their own pasta sauce line, and published their first cookbook in 2002. Scheduled for release in 2015, is their second, which features a forward by Ben Stiller. At one point during lunch, Sal hit on the essence of his family’s restaurant, “I attribute our success to the three F’s, ” he said. “Food, family, and Frank Sinatra. ” The first two F’s may seem obvious; the third requires a bit of backstory. According to Sal, Tommy Dorsey brought Sinatra into Patsy Scognamillo’s first restaurant sometime in the early 1940’s, reportedly telling Patsy: “I’ve got this skinny kid from Hoboken you’ve gotta fatten up. ” Patsy’s would become a favorite of Sinatra’s; Sal distinctly remembers bringing the singer in through the restaurant’s hidden side entrance in 1975, when Sal was just thirteen. Today, a statue at the bar memorializes Sinatra, and Joe wears a pin in his lapel that Nancy Sinatra gave him after Frank’s death. At least in part because of Sinatra, the restaurant garnered a bit of a reputation as a gathering spot for old-time mobsters. Mario Puzo reportedly drew his inspiration for The Godfather’s Don Corleone from a series of people he encountered at Patsy’s. When the second Godfather movie was being filmed, director Francis Ford Coppola wanted to shoot a scene where a man is stabbed and then choked to death at Patsy’s front bar. Joe respectfully declined - “You think people want to think about that guy dying at the bar while they’re eating their spaghetti? ”For us, no such images disturbed our meal, as Sal presented us with Veal Milanese (Sinatra’s favorite), Eggplant Parmesan, Spirali Al Filetto di Pomodoro, Artichoke with a garlic and anchovy sauce and a classic plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs. The menu, like everything else at Patsy’s, is old-world Italian, featuring many of the same recipes that the family has been preparing since day one. An extra treat was getting to spend time with Joe Jr. before he headed off to begin his college career. He spoke of his younger brother, Peter, who loves to cook and often helps Sal come up with menus. Joe Jr., however, said that he isn’t interested in cooking, “it is too hot in the kitchen. " He went on to say, however, that he looks forward to managing the business side of the restaurant when he graduates. Sal proudly told us that his boys began working at Patsy’s at eleven, the same age his grandfather before him began. Though he has worked his way up over the course of his seven years at Patsy’s, Joe Jr. says that he still answers to his grandfather - “but that’s because he’s my grandfather, not my boss. ” And then proudly stated, "I wrote my college essay on Patsy’s. "
Beautifully decorated for the holiday season, Bistro Vendome was still abuzz with chatter when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped by at the tail end of lunch hour to meet with the delightful owner, Virginie Petiteau. Although she and her husband Pascal, who is the executive chef, hail from Brittany, France, they met in New York, where they both worked at Jubilee, a French restaurant on First Avenue. After fifteen years there, Virginie said they felt ready to open their own place. She told us that it was great to already have a base of customers in the area that knew and supported them when they opened Bistro Vendome in 2010. And she was pleased to tell us that they have maintained a loyal clientele ever since. As Virginie put it: "Some people who come here saw me when I was pregnant, and now my daughter is fourteen. "Pascal started working at high-end French restaurants in France at an early age. After coming to New York, he decided to focus on more casual French food. In 2014, he was inducted as Master Chef in Mątres Cuisiniers de France, a prestigious organization aiming "to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development. " An unusual occurrence continued to happen as we resumed our walking on 58th, as so many other businesses told us that they eat at Bistro Vendome on a regular basis because the food was as traditionally French as one could hope for in Manhattan.
Trendy, immense, packed at any hour and serving intriguing Pan-Asian food, Tao has been a sensation on 58th since opening its doors in 2000. Stepping inside, one cannot help but immediately feel transported to a different world. The interior design is exceptionally meticulous with beautiful calligraphy scrolls adorning the high ceilings, and a sixteen foot massive Buddha sculpture taking center stage down below. Despite the frenetic atmosphere, I have found Tao to be a fun restaurant to dine with friends and to enjoy an excellent meal.