It is odd to think that one of New York's most reputable restaurants made its start in the midst of a recession, though it is no wonder that another of Michael White's ventures has ascended the ranks of premier dining destinations in the city. Known by many as the kind of place that "people plan for a special night out," the Sideways team enjoyed a quiet afternoon digging a little deeper to learn the nuances of the famed Italian seafood restaurant that is often host to celebrities and shares a street with Central Park.
The original concept of Marea (translated from Italian to mean "tide") was to provide a fine dining experience, with a sense of casual - a "no jacket necessary sort of understanding," is how social media and communications associate, Anthony Jackson, described it to us. Evidently, the decor skews formal, with Indonesian rosewood constituting the floors and walls, large silver coated seashells scattered about, and the iconic illuminated Egyptian Onyx wall made from the same stone as the stunning bar that sits in front of it. The giant slab for the wall was thinly sliced by craftsmen from Cairo who then came to New York to assemble it. Although captivated by the elegant ambiance, I was intrigued by the cork ceiling, which due to its porousness, absorbs the noise of approximately 130 patrons when filled to capacity. Anthony reported that diners constantly remark at the ability to carry on a proper conversation, despite the numerous people surrounding them.
Proud to be one of the first major kitchens in the city to highlight a female Chef di Cucina, Lauren DeSteno has been cooking at Marea since its opening days in 2009. Members of the Manhattan Sideways team were jubilant as they tasted the signature dish, fusilli with baby octopus and bone marrow. The menu at Marea is determined by what is seasonal around the world. Sometimes their products come from as far away as Japan, while at other times during the year, Nantucket supplies them with the best fish. Anthony did comment that they try to stay local as much as possible. The vast wine selection is primarily Italian with French and domestic bottles available as well.
Marea stands as the flagship restaurant of Michael White's Altamarea group, which notably include Ai Fiori, Nicoletta, and Costata. According to Anthony, each one takes a different slant on Italian food. While it is no surprise to learn that White's presence in all of his restaurants is constant, we were delighted to learn of Altamarea's regular program of shuffling its employees into different roles between their restaurants - both in Manhattan and abroad. As Anthony explained, "We have lots of talent, and we like to showcase everyone." He went on to say that they have found that this concept empowers each person to be innovative in their leadership role, while it is simultaneously building teams at the restaurants.
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. "
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.