Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.Manhattan Sideways is thrilled to be working alongside Simon and his team at Locasaur. Finally, there is a platform that invites both small businesses and customers to seamlessly connect with one another making their shopping, eating or drinking experience that much more meaningful.Il Fiorista uses Locasaur - to engage personally with their regulars. Join their community here to message directly with their team, reserve a bar seat for happy hour, and plan for a next evening out, surrounded by flowers.
Fabio Camardi - the charming owner both of this restaurant and Mercato on West 39th Street - announced as we walked inside his brand new restaurant that it had taken two years to complete his renovation. He went on to say that he had chosen the location because he is fond of the architecture in the NoMad neighborhood – “architecture is my hobby,” he told me. “I built this place myself,” he went on to say, showing me how he had added the beams in the ceiling and created the new floor made of reclaimed red and white oak. When I commented on the furniture filling the restaurant, including tables from a library upstate and an old butcher’s block, Fabio informed me that he has been collecting antiques for years.While continuing to chat about the renovation, Fabio explained that it was slow going due to the fact that the building dates back to 1865 and has achieved landmark status. Therefore, he had to wait for official permits to do any work. When the restaurant opened in April 2016, Fabio was delighted by how friendly the neighborhood was. “They were immediately nice,” he said.The highlight of visiting Ulivo, aside from Fabio, was seeing the “Pasta Lab.” Unlike its sister restaurant, Ulivo focuses on pasta, with fifteen different dishes on the menu. Thirteen of those are made with help from an enormous machine that sits in the basement. “It’s the most advanced machine we have in Italy,” Fabio proudly told me. He turned the machine on and I was able to watch as it created large tubes of rigatoni and then long strings of spaghetti, using a different setting. “The more pasta you make, the better it gets,” Fabio informed me.Beyond the pasta lab, there was an event space that seats forty, complete with a full bar and a Faema espresso machine from 1949. At the end of the room, I spotted a special door with a porthole that opens onto the beer cooler, and, in the very back, built out of the old coal shaft, I discovered a cave where the liquor is kept. Upstairs, there is a wine cellar encased in glass with a wooden ladder next to the kitchen. I was intrigued by the row of twenty different olive oils sitting on the counter in easy reach of the chefs. Fabio makes sure that each brand is made and bottled in Italy. When I asked which olive oil was the best, he said he could not answer the question. “It’s based on your taste, like wine.” In the kitchen itself, different meats were hanging across from a wood fire oven on the opposite wall.Along with pasta, Emanuel “Mano” Concas, partner and the chef (whom Fabio refers to as “The George Clooney of Sardinia), cooks “dal forno a legna” in the wood-fire oven. Each plate is created using a cast iron pan placed directly into the oven. Some of the more popular non-pasta dishes are the tail-in branzino and the dry-aged steak. Being familiar with the themes of good Italian cooking, I was not surprised when Fabio told me, “Everything is fresh.” This is especially true for the restaurant’s “fritture,” little dishes. These items include fresh octopus, cold cuts, burrata, and fried meatballs with sea salt, a dish that is particularly popular in Sardinia, where the chef is from.There are also two flatbreads on the menu, but Fabio was adamant that Ulivo is not a pizza restaurant. He simply chose the two that they do "best" at Mercato: The San Daniele with prosciutto and arugula and the Regina Margherita. Fabio shared the myth behind the latter: The story goes that Italian chefs decided to put something special before the Queen. Up until that time, pizzas just had sauce, and so they added buffalo mozzarella to make it royal, hence the “Regina.”If there is a certain nonchalance about Fabio and his attitude toward owning two restaurants in New York, it is probably because he has a lot of experience in this world – he even went to culinary school, which is rare amongst Italians, who often just rest on the fact that they were born into a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on high-quality food. Fabio shared that he owns four restaurants in Italy, which his forty-four cousins help to run. He went on to tell me that he came to the United States in 2004 because he “didn’t like Berlusconi” (the unpopular former Prime Minister of Italy) and that he began his career in New York as a bartender (the cocktail list at Ulivo is his own creation). In addition, there are four local beers on tap, including Smart Beer, which Fabio says is the "first organic beer made in New York." There is also a substantial bourbon list – “It’s what people want.”I particularly loved the story of how he met his wife, who is originally from Korea: they were both attending English school. Several years later, they have two adorable children and “She’s my bookkeeper,” he said with a smile. His wife is also responsible for the beautiful candles and dried flowers throughout the space. Fabio is playing with the idea of opening an Italian restaurant in Korea. He told me that there is no fresh olive oil available in eastern Asia, but that China had recently planted one million olive trees to try to remedy the situation. Olive oil is absolutely essential to Italian cooking, which is why Fabio named his restaurant “Ulivo.” He stated, “There is no Italian cuisine without olive oil.”Fabio’s vision for Ulivo is a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Though he uses traditional Italian culinary methods and pasta recipes, he embraces new technology - such as his pasta machine - and trends. When I asked what was next for Fabio, he responded, “I’m full of ideas – there’s a lot of stuff that I want to try and eat. I love to eat!”
“New York is full of a lot of Italian sounding restaurants, but what they do in the kitchen, in the dining room, it’s not true Italian,” Guiseppina Torno, owner of Cardoncello DiVino shared with Manhattan Sideways during our first encounter. “Real Italian food is tasty but it’s healthy. For example we don’t use any butter, only true Italian cooking.”Besides its modern take on, and dedication to truly authentic Italian cuisine, their emphatic focus on hospitality sets the restaurant apart from so many others in New York. Our team felt it from the moment we walked in and were greeted with an outpouring of warmth, charisma, and genuine concern for our comfort and experience. This dose of Italian hospitality came in the form of Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, Christian Ferrulli - or what Guieseppina calls “the soul of the place.”Christian protested at first but then stated passionately, “That’s what we try to do here - to meet people and let them know they have a space where they can come and feel comfortable. It’s not just serving plates of food or taking empty plates back to the kitchen - its about making people feel they’re having a unique experience. We work to make sure everyone is happy before they leave our restaurant."Though the only reason we could see for a customer leaving unhappy, would be their having an uncommon aversion to the Cardoncello mushroom - the edible fungus that is surrounded by myth and legend and was once banned by the pope. The Cardoncello mushroom inspired the restaurant’s name and takes center stage on the menu.“We wanted to create something that’s a totally different experience from the other places. This is why we are called a modern Osteria. Of course we have our Italian roots, but we offer these special dishes that we do in a modern way. For example if you go to Italy right now, you’ll find a lot of what you’re eating here. But you will never find Fettuccine Alfredo, Chicken Parmigiano, these kinds of dishes are no longer in Italy - they are from our ancient great great grand parents.” Guiseppina explained. She is a true native and resident of Italy right up until bringing her restaurant concept to New York.However, Guiseppina was not always in the restaurant business. After a twenty-four year career in investment banking in Italy, it was a visit to Christian’s restaurant, while they both still lived in Italy, that made her think, “Wow, it would be nice to have a place exactly like this, but in a little bigger city. I always thought Manhattan was a big challenge and I wanted to take that challenge.”A challenge that would multiply and shift and present others hurdles throughout the grueling process that can be opening a restaurant in New York. But no challenge was too great. Overcoming all obstacles, the pair have created an oasis in the city. Christian beams, “When people say they felt like they were at home - not only Italians but Americans too - that’s what makes me so proud. We want to make people feel at home.”
In January of 2007, Oscar Farinetti founded the first Eataly in Turin, Italy, specializing in quality Italian goods. Under B&B Hospitality, the marketplace has since expanded throughout the United States. The first New York City location opened in the summer of 2010 near the iconic Flatiron building, and an expansion has been planed in the Financial District for 2016.Strolling through the epicurean haven, I saw a dazzling array of artfully displayed gourmet products. The produce section alone reaped multiple varieties of earthy mushrooms, vibrant stone fruits, and luscious greens. The cotton candy grapes and sea beans were astoundingly similar in flavor to their namesakes. Other sights included a traditional espresso bar, a butcher counter with cuts from sustainable farms, and a station entirely devoted to making mozzarella, turning out two to three hundred pounds daily. Above, ornate ceilings accentuated these wonders, paying homage to the building’s previous life as a luxury hotel.“Eataly is the gallery, the producers are the artists, and the products are the art,” explained Italian-born Dino Borri, Eataly’s brand ambassador. He got his start working under the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Pertrini, at the age of fourteen, eventually helping to open an Eataly branch in Japan. He is now based in New York as a major product buyer. He still, however, visits Italy frequently. The gallery analogy is a perfect metaphor, especially since Eataly advocates for small businesses by clearly crediting them with their products and financially sponsoring projects to accelerate capacity growth. “The majority of our products come from Italy, but we also get some locally,” Dino told me. Some of the local sourcing has to do with shipment restrictions - salami and unpasteurized cheese are not allowed to cross over the borders, but primarily the goal is to find the freshest ingredients. One of the benefiters from Eataly's work with local businesses has been Wild Hive Farm, a small farm from Upstate New York with organic, stone-ground bread. GuS Soda also met immense popularity after hitting Eataly’s spotlight, and local farmers turn to the marketplace for a steadier income source than farmers’ markets.However, it is not just the labeling of product origins that keeps shoppers at Eataly informed. Cooking classes are offered regularly at La Scuola, recipes are provided with many of the meals, and various signs give product tips and facts. “The olive oil expert can go on for over twenty minutes in a discussion of delicate, grassy, and herbaceous varieties,” stated PR Associate Brianna Buford, “he knows the proper tasting techniques.” I am sure the vinegar expert is just as well trained.Passing by the highly specialized eateries, my cravings constantly wavered between savory and sweet. The newest edition when I visited in the summer of 2015, the Nutella bar, features a constantly running chocolate hazelnut fountain, ready to be poured on a bounty of appetizing creations. In the bakery section, I learned that all the hearth-baked breads come from the same “mother yeast." Nearby, serving some of the best pasta and perfectly charred Napoli-style pizza pies in Manhattan is La Pizza & La Pasta.During my discussion with Dino, he told me, "We really made this store for ourselves." He declared himself a primary customer for Eataly, saying, “We are what we eat.” It is less about the fancy products than about having everything be “good, clean, fair,” and having something for every price point. “We have introduced a new way of eating,” he smiled. He is glad that others have begun to mimic Eataly's highly successful marketplace model, since it means increased quality for everyone.While spending hours touring Eataly, I sampled the food at some of the eateries. A favorite was the zucchini Carpaccio with fried capers, toasted pine nuts, soft white cheese, and fresh mint at Le Verdure, a veggie-centric eatery that has been a go-to place for me since it first opened. After trying the Pesce Crudo Trio, including raw pink snapper, swordfish, and steelhead trout, from Il Pesce, my photographer, Tom, exclaimed, “this is fresher than the fish my dad caught and cooked last night.” The Manhattan Sideways Team finished off with a necessary treat at Il Gelato. By providing quality flavor, supporting small farmers and educating shoppers, Eataly has truly maximized their slogan “Eat. Shop. Learn.”
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me,” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back.” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful.” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill,” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to.” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.