“We have always felt that sushi should be a lighthearted kind of food,” said Keito Sato, whose father, Katsuhide, started Hatsuhana as a way to share this belief. Japanese dining is known for its upscale omakase experiences, in which patrons are served whatever the chef pleases. “What we push at our restaurant is basically the opposite: okonomi, meaning ‘what you like.’” This unique approach has made Hatsuhana stand out since its inception. Katsuhide emigrated to the U.S. from Japan in the late 1960s, drawn to the American lifestyle and seeking a change of pace. He spent years as a chef in upstate New York before happily joining a Japanese restaurant in midtown. At the age of twenty-five, he was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease and was told he would need dialysis three times a week. The news put an end to his career as a sushi chef, which required him to work long hours with only one day off, and he was forced to find a new path. “Sushi is what my father knew best in the world. If he couldn’t be a chef, then he realized he had to open his own sushi restaurant.” Thus, Katsuhide created Hatsuhana and “set the standard for the sushi industry, offering the most authentic sushi possible to New Yorkers.”Not only did other Japanese eateries take their cue from Hatsuhana’s menu, but Katsuhide was also insistent about procuring the highest-quality ingredients possible. Upon finding that pink-dyed sushi ginger was common in U.S. restaurants, he traveled to California and struck a deal with a vendor for more natural sliced ginger that was free of food coloring. To this day, all fish and food is sourced from “wherever the best place is for the specific item” – be it flying in sushi-grade yellowtail and sea urchin from Japan or salmon from Norway.Today, Katsuhide is retired and resides in Hawaii, while Keito continues to run the show. Though Keito was rigorously trained in sushi making and endeavored to master the art, he devoted much of his attention to working on the business rather than in the kitchen. Most importantly, he continues to promote his father’s overarching philosophy on Japanese cuisine. Instead of viewing sushi as an extravagant indulgence, Harsuhana strives to present the food in a more accessible light. “People should understand the essence of sushi. At the end of the day, it is a snack.”
Dainobu is a small Japanese market filled to the brim with aisles of colorful packages of food. Fridges along the side walls house the day's selection of bento boxes prepared fresh in a small kitchen at the back of the store. When we walked 47th street, Maria and Jasphy, two of the summer interns, loved browsing the aisles, impressed by its authenticity – "Dainobu is the real deal," they said. The girls picked up a daifuku each and left happy with their sweet treats.
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Lyn Trotman describes Quest as “a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of midtown.” President of the New York Theosophical Society, which studies the wisdom behind various world religions, Lyn also operates the Society’s book shop, Quest. The store is a pleasantly-scented oasis, with a section devoted to incense, candles, and gemstones. People interested in esoteric studies and rituals can browse through books on every conceivable spiritual tradition, from Kabbalah, to Sufism, to Buddhism, and all things in between. “A lot of other metaphysical bookstores are gone. We are the oldest one left.”
The story of La Grenouille begins with “il était une fois,” once upon a time. Gisèle Collas and Charles Masson first crossed paths in Paris after World War II, during which Charles enlisted in the American army while Gisèle cared for her younger sister in Nazi-occupied France. When the two met again in New York, Gisèle had just moved to the city with only forty dollars “but a lot of passion.” The couple married in 1949, destined to open a door to bygone Paris in Manhattan.Gisèle was sipping on a Triple Manhattan when she signed the lease to what had once been the Copenhagen restaurant. At the time, Charles had found work on independent cruises and Gisèle was eager to put an end to his long departures. It was through a wire message that Gisèle informed her voyaging husband that they were the proud owners of a building they would transform into their dream restaurant. Charles named it after his pet name for Gisèle, “ma petite grenouille.”“It’s a fairytale story,” expressed current owner Philippe Masson, who carries on his parents’ legacy. He developed his culinary passion early in his childhood by “burning meringues to find out the right temperature of the oven” late into the night with his father. Today, he is able to design new dishes seasonally and deliver menu classics such as the Grand Marnier Soufflé — always perfectly sugared and fluffed in its small white ramekin. His work is fueled by “a lot of joy, a lot of Cuban cigars, and a lot of good music.”On Mondays, however, all of Philippe’s energy is devoted to creating the floral arrangements for which the restau-rant is known. The exquisite arrangements began when Charles bought a “big, beautiful Baccarat vase” to temper the light shooting through the windows. The arrangements have since become one of the most renowned qualities of the restaurant, intermingling with the lush red banquets, original chandeliers, and a center-hung portrait of the stunning “grande dame” Gisèle. Upstairs, artwork pays homage to French painter Bernard LaMotte who once lived and hosted guests there including Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and Antoine de Saint-Ex-upéry, who wrote parts of Le Petit Prince in that same space.