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.
If the sight of a regular lunch rush doesn’t convince you to try La Bellezza Pizzeria, then their pitch-perfect, classic New York slices will. After a trip in to try their signature pepperoni and tomato slices (a well-seasoned combination of cheesy, crunchy and savory, the Bellezza team has mastered the elusive sauce-to-cheese ratio), we got a chance to check in with the Dedvukaj family who have operated the East Midtown pizza joint for the past 23 years. Founded by Bronx-based Marko Dedvukaj, son Frank Dedvukaj — who started slinging slices in the shop at just 20 years old — took over the business so that, as Marko put it, “I can focus on the most important job of all — spoiling my grandkids, ” he told us, surrounded by visiting family members, some of whom also used to work at La Bellezza. As groups of grateful office workers filed in and out of the intimate storefront for a slice of pizza or La Bellezza’s famous chicken parmigiano hero — “at one point we were voted the #1 Chicken Parm on Yelp” Frank told us, he added that the biggest change he’s seen in business is a post-COVID slowdown of daytime visitors to the block. “The area is quieter, ” said Frank, noting that they still maintain a set of loyal regulars. “We’re still here! ”