Fig & Olive is Mediterranean-inspired dining in its most exquisite form. On my first visit to this location, I was drawn in by the collection of wine and olive oil bottles lining the walls and the chic rustic decor that feels reminiscent of eating in the Italian countryside. Never has there been a time when I have dined at one of the several Fig & Olives in Manhattan, that I did not have an excellent experience. I have feasted on fresh ingredients assembled into delectable creations. I was thrilled to take the Manhattan Sideways team here for lunch one day where they raved over the selection of crostini and devoured the mouthfuls of perfectly paired ingredients – goat cheese and caramelized onion, for example – heaped onto small squares of fresh bread. Another favorite that I introduced them to was the zucchini carpaccio served with lemon and olive oil. We accompanied the meal with a beautifully presented Cucumber Cosmos and Rossellinis, selected from the extensive cocktail menu.
The stretch between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on 44th has something fascinating, historic and delicious at almost every address. Stepping inside Kellari, however, allowed me to remove myself from the fray for a little while, as I immediately felt transplanted into a Mediterranean setting. From the charming people who greeted me at the door to the far back of the restaurant, Kellari was an exquisite experience. There are high ceilings, ethereal drapes, an abundance of wood, foliage, and candles hanging in chandelier-style candelabras all adding to the je ne sais quoi of the scene. But what is a restaurant without good food? The manager we spoke with, Dimitrios, walked us to the middle of the restaurant where there is an impressive display of fresh fish laid out across a bed of crushed ice for diners to select. The array of fish changes on a daily basis, depending on what is happening in the market, and priced accordingly. A fish can be small enough for one person to enjoy, or at times there are large fish able to serve a party of fifteen. Organic salmon is served simply on a disc of beets with steamed wild grains, alongside potatoes and finished off with a dollop of saffron yogurt. Baked lemon sole came with a cauliflower puree and mixed grilled peppers. The whole grilled branzino was seasoned with just a bit of olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs, thrown on the grill and cooked to perfection, each step visible from the dining area through to the open kitchen. While we waited for Chef Gregory to prepare these few dishes for us to photograph, I observed the endless international business crowd coming in for lunch. By the time we left, the entire restaurant was filled with sophisticated patrons. Kellari means "wine cellar" in Greek, and they live up to the name, with wines stocked like a mosaic piece in the back of the restaurant. There are over 450 varieties carried here, half of which are Greek. The vibes are friendly, the food delicious, and we would be remiss not to mention the well-documented health benefits of a Mediterranean diet!
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
La Maison du Chocolat is a sophisticated example of a delectable chocolate shop. Everything sold inside its doors is made in Paris, with the exception of the ice cream that includes ingredients from France but is prepared on site. The day that Manhattan Sideways stopped by, we met Brigitte who has been working here since 2010. A knowledgeable chocolate connoisseur, Brigitte shared La Maison's history. We learned that Robert Linxe, the founder was originally from the French Basque Country, but acquired much of his craft while attending school in Switzerland. He went on to run a successful catering service in Paris for twenty years before deciding to pursue his true passion. At the time, chocolate was considered something to be saved strictly for special occasions; as Brigitte told us, people thought Linxe's enthusiasm for a shop devoted to chocolate was "crazy. " Nevertheless, Linxe was able to find an auspicious space in Paris with a wine cellar, which he used to make the delicacies and protect them from the damaging effects of the weather. In 1977, Linxe opened the doors and welcomed Paris to his specialty boutique. Within three weeks, all of the chocolate had been sold and Linxe was dubbed the master of ganache. And in 1996, over twenty years later, Nicolas Cloiseau, the highly acclaimed chocolatier and pastry chef joined the business continuing La Maison's coveted reputation. Brigitte stressed that the discussion of chocolate is akin to that of wine; expertise comes from reading on the subject, perhaps taking a course, and most importantly, much experience. Moreover, chocolate and wine may be enjoyed together when paired consciously. Chocolate always goes well with "a nice red wine, " Brigitte said. Quickly turning to the particulars, she added that milk chocolate is best paired with white wine and dark chocolate with port. Brigitte continued to enlighten us, saying with detectable fervor, "Good dark chocolate should not be bitter. " It takes approximately ten days to dry cocoa beans. Rushing this process, a common crime of many chocolate companies, results in this bitter taste. Brigitte made a point of showing us how to taste chocolate: smell it first and then let it melt in your mouth. After this incredible offering of chocolate wisdom, Brigitte presented us with a plate of small pieces of chocolate arranged deliberately in a circle. Beginning at forty percent, each successive piece around the circle had an increased concentration of pure chocolate. We continued to climb past eighty and concluded with a piece of one hundred percent pure chocolate. At this point, a natural thickness set in and the pieces lost all association with candy. Suddenly, each of us agreed, it felt as though we were appreciating chocolate, not as a beloved dessert or comforting treat, but as a wonder of the earth.