Although they have changed hands over the years, El Parador is reputed to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Having opened his doors in 1959 on Second Avenue, Carlos Jacott moved to the current address in 1969 and then sold his restaurant to Manny Alejandro in 1990. He, in turn, handed over the reins to his son, Alex, who I enjoyed chatting with one winter afternoon. He told me that parts of the building date back over a hundred years. The menu is typically Mexican, however, Alex continued, "we are always showcasing traditional dishes while also playing with them to make a more modern presentation. " Mole Poblano is their classic recipe that has been handed down, but Alex and his team continue to tweak it. When I ask what his favorite dish is, he smiled and immediately responded, "Shrimp quesadilla - this is mine. " Alex trained at the French Culinary School before coming to El Parador. He initially came in as a manager under his father's guidance, until he purchased the restaurant from his dad in 2007. Now that his father is retired, Alex has his "hands in all the pots" both working his magic in the kitchen and up front with the customers. I always love the stories of the people behind a restaurant's success and on this day, I learned that Chef Boni Jr. has been with Alex for fifteen years, and Manuel, the bartender for twenty-five. The black lacquered beams, wood flooring, tin lanterns, strong margaritas, warm chips and salsa (not for vegetarians), topnotch guacamole and spending time with Alex made for a nice reprieve from the cold.
Tucked away in a ground floor plaza at Third Avenue is a sign that says TEXAS in bright neon letters. At this entrance, we were led into the Texan portion of El Rio Grande's two-sided restaurant. The well-lit space pays homage to this grand state with a large Texan flag, a stuffed buffalo with wings suspended over the bar and giant cowboy boots up on a shelf. Making our way through the kitchen and stopping to chat with the cooks, we found our way to the Mexican side. Crossing the border has never been so easy. We chose to eat in this part of the restaurant, although the menu remains the same either way. We started our lunch with their tableside guacamole. As our server began mixing the ingredients, he told us how the restaurant has been at this location for thirty years. He went on to say that his mom had been working in the kitchen for twenty of them, and how he has become the tableside guacamole expert. On his recommendation, we ordered two lunch specials: the Burrito de Puerco, covered in a savory-sweet mole sauce, and the Tacos de Tilapia. El Rio Grande's wall of windows looks out onto the public plaza. In the warmer weather, the restaurant's expansive outdoor seating is the perfect setting to sip on one of their many margaritas (they offer 15-20 varieties) and share an order of guacamole.
Manhattan has dozens of superb steak houses and Nick & Stef's certainly ranks up there with some of the better ones. Although I have not dined at this location, I recently had an excellent meal at their L. A. restaurant. Beginning with a great salad, as usual, I shared in the sides that everyone chose. I loved the cream spinach (sans bacon breadcrumbs), and I indulged in the numerous potato dishes. My husband was a happy guy having been served a perfectly prepared filet mignon, cooked exactly the way he likes it - charred on the outside and medium on the inside.
Middle Branch rebranded itself as LB33 in 2022. The concept behind Middle Branch is simply explained by manager, Lucinda Sterling. "It stems from drinks created before Prohibition while also utilizing the new ingredients on the market, " but Lucinda emphasized that they adhere to the classics as much as possible. Equally intriguing to me was Lucinda's own story and how she came to run this bar. Eight years ago, she set out on a whimsical cross-country road trip, looking for a "bigger destiny. " Stopping in Manhattan, and having a drink at the bar, Milk & Honey, she struck up a conversation with owner, Sasha Petraske. And as she says, "I never finished that road trip. " She went on to tell me how many inspiring people she has met on this journey and how she has learned to love and appreciate the craft of a good cocktail. "There is so much integrity in what we do here. " So when Sasha decided to open yet another bar, Lucinda was eager to stand behind him. Dimly lit, brooding, and brimming with mystery, Middle Branch is a sophisticated milieu to take a cocktail seriously, impress a date, or even to have a peaceful, uninterrupted evening with friends of all ages. Pineapple lights hang from the ceiling and cast their warm glow over the proceedings, while plush leather seats upstairs let customers sip in languorous comfort. Downstairs, where jazz is played on Tuesdays and bluegrass Wednesdays, standing tables encourage a more active approach to imbibing. We would not have been surprised to run into Voltaire and Montesquieu clinking glasses. But it is hardly all style, the substance is substantial. In addition to classic cocktails, a “bartender’s choice” option lets drinkers tell bartenders (do not make the mistake of calling them “mixologists”) what flavors they like, and then letting the pros perform their magic. Really, it is more poetry than prose. A “something new” section on the menu showcases recent drinks the bartenders have been working on... with wonderful results. There were quite a few of us drinking one Friday night, and we were appreciative of each of the recommendations. Did we like spicy, sweet, ginger, coconut??? Lots of questions until our waitress smiled and quietly walked away. Each time she came back with something unique and splendid. Some favorites were the Chin Chin (made with bourbon, apple cider and fresh ginger), the Cobble Hill (a cheeky spinoff of a Manhattan) and a drink that was yet to come out officially, the Pear Necessities. We were also pleased to have a constant bowl of handmade pretzels set before us as this along with mixed nuts are the only food options... and soon to be introduced, their secret blend of popcorn. Across the bottom of the menu, they score bonus points with pithy quotes from historical bon vivants. From Mark Twain: “never refuse to do a kindness unless the act would work great injury to yourself, and never refuse to take a drink - under any circumstances. ” If all of our drinks were created at Middle Branch, I am quite sure that none of us would.
New York City means a lot of things to a lot of people. For many members of the Sideways team, it means nothing if not basketball. But while the game historically flourished in and even helped define life in (parts of) the City, it is nowhere near its historical apex these days. Perhaps the playground ‘ball is as lively as it ever was. But the New York Knicks, the currently flawed tenants of Madison Square Garden, have not won an NBA championship in thirty years. Once beloved for its prowess, the team now seems more beloved for its power to inspire griping and grumbling among its loyal fans. Throughout it all, though, the Garden has remained a hallowed basketball ground, a place that has inspired basketball luminaries to some of their most electrifying performances. It is, perhaps, basketball’s most storied arena. The Garden wears many hats. The New York Rangers, the City’s NHL team, also calls this arena home. Musicians and stage performers come through here on tour (with Billy Joel recently being named the Garden’s first entertainment franchise, essentially a musician-in-residence), college basketball tournaments (and Saint John’s home games) are played, even wrestling events. Underneath, meanwhile, lies the transportation hub that is Pennsylvania Station. Once upon a time, this station was a beautifully built, high-ceilinged architectural masterpiece, an elegant way to arrive into Manhattan. It was torn down, however, in 1963, replaced by a much less grand iteration. (This loss of a great landmark was perhaps inspirational in the movement to preserve the beautiful Grand Central Terminal. ) Now, the future of the entire complex is up in the air as many are pushing for a new Penn Station. The Garden, meanwhile, has a ten-year operating permit, at the end of which, it may be forced to move.
Stout NYC has the magic ability of seeming both like a large fortress and like a cozy cavern. It claims to be New York's largest Irish pub, and yet comfortable seating and cobblestone floors give the bar a warm, friendly atmosphere. With two other locations in the Financial District and near Grand Central, Stout NYC has set itself up as a neighborhood hangout three times over.
Since August 2010, Le Parisien has specialized in exactly those dishes the French specialize in, while adding its own je ne sais quoi. Escargot. Onion soup. Steak frites. Duck Confit. Oui, monsieur. Locals aplenty turn Francophile to flock to this eatery, cozily tucked into a tight space but overflowing with personality-per-square–foot. In place of the usual butter and flour-heavy culinary techniques, the menu focuses on reductions to keep patrons a bit healthier. Merci, monsieur. In addition to having what they assured us is the best chicken in the neighborhood, the mussels are prominently featured on the menu, as they are "wildly popular. " Wine from France and the monde over complements the cuisine nicely. Whether looking for a lovely spot for an indulgent lunch or an amorous rendezvous, we found Le Parisien to be tres magnifique.