We were totally captivated by a café solely committed to perfecting one French treat, Le Croque Monsieur....basically a grilled sandwich on white sourdough bread filled with ham, cheese, and a bechamel sauce. And that’s the whole point behind this eatery -- to bring this popular burger-equivalent sandwich to New York and make it stick. “You’ll find it everywhere in France,” Nola, the woman behind the counter, told us one day while sliding a freshly made croque onto our tray. “It’s so hearty, so simple, it’s just perfect.” There are variations offered on this theme, therefore I was able to order a vegetarian combination of portobello mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, and goat cheese, while my husband had roasted turkey, sage, cranberry sauce and provolone all melted together.
Sandwiches in tow, we climbed the steps stopping to read the framed pieces on the wall that were paying tribute to a number of authors. We then learned from Nola that Anais Nin, the French writer who resided in this very old brownstone, had purchased her own printing press so that she could self-publish. There are so many aspects of walking the side streets that intrigue me, but one of the most important and satisfying is when I do my research - delving into the history behind a location or a person who lived there. Reading about Nin's life was fascinating. She was obviously a brilliant, well-traveled woman and a prolific writer who spent time with some of our greatest authors - many who were lovers - and she was even married to two men, simultaneously. Nin kept diaries her entire life, so there is much to be learned about her. Oh to have the time to read more...
The Arabic name of this Mediterranean cafe translates to welcome and peace, and its colorful, wordly decor effectively brings this atmosphere to life. Its owner, Bassam Omary, left his home of Damascus in the 1980s and came to New York, where he worked at his cousin’s Greenwich Avenue Syrian restaurant. When his relative was ready to hand over the reins, Bassam bought the business with his wife, Joan, and relocated to 13th Street. “We always had a good feeling about this place, ” Joan explained. The space is adorned with pillows, pictures, and tapestries from Syria and mosaic-patterned Moroccan tables. A small, private dining area allows groups to experience the Middle Eastern custom of sitting on cushions on the floor. Loyal patrons visit time and again for the succulent tagines, grilled kebabs, and what Joan says is the undisputed customer favorite: uzis — crispy phyllo dough stuffed with rice, raisins, and the protein of one’s choice. As the only chef, Bassam is constantly experimenting, returning to the traditional dishes his mother taught him how to prepare while freely exploring the spices, ingredients, and flavors he is passionate about.
When we first visited the Walker Hotel, it was known as the Jade. The 1920's speakeasy theme became obvious to us immediately as we entered the hotel and walked through the lobby, but it was quite fun to see that it was carried through to the guest rooms with their antique-looking rotary telephones by the side of the bed. The comment from the young people with me that day was that it immediately reminded them of "Boardwalk Empire. " This pleased the woman showing us around tremendously. Built from the ground up - the land was a vacant lot when Gemini Hospitality bought it in the early 2010s - the goal for the hotel is for guests to feel welcomed from the moment they step inside. There is a warm and embracing atmosphere with a fireplace and library as the focal points. We appreciated that the collection of books on the shelves will be by well-known favorite authors who once lived in the vicinity. This boutique hotel has 113 rooms on eighteen floors. We had the pleasure of previewing some of them all the way up. Besides the standard queen being perfectly lovely with all of the amenities one would need, it also sports an amazing view - with no obstructions. From the north, we could see the Empire State Building, and from the South we looked downtown to the Freedom Towers. Just spectacular. We certainly applaud the concept of the hotel, which is to introduce guests to the wonderful places, people and atmosphere that surrounds 13th Street. Rather than encouraging visitors to leave the area to explore the popular tourist spots around the city, they are providing guests with lists of things to do right in Greenwich Village and Union Square. A philosophy that matches ours completely. In 2016, the Jade became the Walker Hotel Greenwich Village. We were happy to hear that it is still spearheaded by the same management.
Originally, an offshoot of David Chang’s award-winning restaurant group Momofuku, 13th is one of the fortunate streets to have one of his well-loved milk bars open. Today, acclaimed pastry chef Christina Tosi takes the combination of baked goods and milk to a whole new level at each of her locations – yes, I have had many a treat. Soft serve “cereal milk” or jugs of this tasty milk to go, the infamous crack pie, cornflake or compost cookies... and then there are the packages of cake truffles – these are slices of cake that are condensed into supremely dense balls of sugary goodness. Definitely worth a bite or two... or three. Milk Bar also donates a portion of every dairy sale to various independent and family dairy farmers in need. All in all, Milk Bar is a dessert lover’s heaven.
Peridance Capezio Center is a mecca for dance in NYC, fostering the arts in the local and international dance communities, for over 30 years. Peridance offers multiple platforms for dancers and non-dancers alike, including more than 250 weekly open classes, a Professional Training Programs, an F-1 Visa Program for International Students, and The School at Peridance - a comprehensive children and teen program. Their adult open classes are offered in all styles and levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Peridance Capezio Center is also home to the professional dance company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and its affiliated Peridance Youth Ensemble. In conjunction with their renowned faculty and partners (Capezio, Djoniba Dance Centre, Limón Dance Company, Baila Society, and Dance Informa), Peridance has gained an international reputation for the programs it offers. The Center is housed in a beautiful landmark building featuring six spacious studios, The Salvatore Capezio Theater, the Peridance Coffee Shop, and the Capezio dance-wear Boutique. One afternoon, I had the privilege of stopping by the Peridance Capezio Center to observe their students training. I witnessed the explosive athleticism and technical discipline at play in Shannon Gillen’s Advanced Contemporary class, as students tested the strength of their bodies in an array of conditioning and floor exercises. Later, in the large upstairs Studio 1, bathed in the sun’s rays from the skylights above, I watched as dancers chasséd and pirouetted across the room in Breton Tyner-Bryan’s Advanced-Intermediate Ballet class. I would not be surprised to find any one of these talented performers on stage someday.
I do try very hard whenever I am out for a meal to frequent the side street restaurants, but I cannot deny that I have eaten at Peacefood Cafe on the UWS often, as it is one of my favorite vegan spots. The atmosphere is as relaxed and informal as one can get in Manhattan. The food is consistently excellent and inventive. I love their soups, sandwiches, desserts and muffins. One of my sisters-in-law has terrible food allergies, and whenever she comes to the city, this is her first stop. She loads up on whatever home-baked goods they have on the counter that day. Needless to say, I am thrilled that there is also a location downtown on a side street. I recommend to anyone, vegetarian or not, to go and enjoy a meal there, as this location is equally as wonderful.
Every time I am walking with someone new, I find myself winding past Breads Bakery to have us try yet another delicious bite of their freshly baked goods. I cannot call this a hidden gem, by any means, as the lines are sometimes out the door. In a matter of a few weeks from when Uri Scheft and Gadi Peleg opened, they have managed to be written up everywhere. They have even been cited as having the best rugelach and babka in different periodicals, but I must encourage all who visit to sample Breads' take on focaccia - the multigrain version. If it is not still warm from the oven, then take it home, heat it up, add a bit more olive oil and savor every bite. Another that I cannot resist are the flaky cheese straws. Direct from the oven, they are impeccable. In fact, fresh is king here, and the baked goods are often fresher than the vegetables around the corner. While most bakeries have their employees come in during the night to pump out a days worth of starchy creations, Uri's staff at Breads Bakery has fresh bread coming out just in time for each of the mealtime rushes. Uri was raised in Israel, but went back to his parent's roots in Denmark for his training in baking. He then traveled and worked in Europe before returning to his homeland to open up his first bakery in Tel Aviv. Many years later, Gadi was traveling in Israel and discovered Uri's Lehamim Bakery. It took several more years of persistence, but ultimately the timing was right and Uri made the huge decision to move to New York and partner with Gadi to open up shop near Union Square. The store itself feels modern and spacious, with one counter for bread and baked goods just as you enter on the left, and another further back with sandwiches and drinks. Extending further back another 75 feet are the kitchens. Customers can watch bakers ease proofed dough off rolls of canvas onto an adjustable conveyer belt, which feeds into the carefully regulated ovens. Unlike Sheft's locations in Israel, he got to design this one from the ground up so the technology involved is sometimes just as amazing as what comes out of the ovens.
Over many months, we had the pleasure of observing the construction of Amelie through each stage of its creation. To experience the ambience of this spectacular bar and restaurant alone is worth the visit... but then there is also the impressive wine list and a full French menu. The award-winning team behind Amelie in San Francisco opened their east coast wine bar in early 2012 and all we can say is tres delicieux.
A dining spot where the noise level is low, the ambience is urbane, the staff delightful, and the food unparalleled, Tocqueville came highly recommended by critics and friends alike. The restaurant, known for its local and seasonal ingredients with ties to the Union Square Green Market, was the first of five venues owned by husband and wife Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, which includes 15 East. Along with a grand main dining room, Tocqueville offers a private dining space, a bar with house mixes, and an award-winning wine list by Master Sommelier and Sake Samurai Roger Dagorn. On my first visit, I joined a friend for a ladies' lunch with uninterrupted conversation. We started out with Sunchoke Soup, moved to the House Made Tofu, and ended with Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto - all flawless in taste and presentation. The European charm of the high ceilings, elegant tableware, and spectacular chandelier was certainly not lost on us. But behind the scenes of this tranquil atmosphere, a vivacious chef breathes passion into the edible creations. “I like to eat and I like to travel, ” Chef Julien Wargnies told me. “That is why I cook. ” Once an elite soccer player in France, Chef Julien fell into cooking organically, without any premonition of talent or joy for the art. Since attending a prestigious, four-year culinary school, he has been the executive chef in many impressive restaurants. While the meal I shared confirms the chef’s gastronomic expertise, it is his good wit, childlike curiosity, and affability that animate the underbelly of Tocqueville. Fumes of fresh-baked dough filled the kitchen as the chef told me of his latest endeavor - a promising savory, French-inspired take on panna cotta with a horseradish base. He enjoys concocting new things, never getting too stuck on any one dish. When I asked him what his favorite thing to cook was he curled up his lips and answered, “You, ” sending the kitchen staff and myself into fits of laughter. When it was almost time to part, I asked the chef to have his picture taken, and before I knew it all the moving parts of the operation came together in their white and black aprons with big, toothy smiles. Only a backstage crew so cohesive and lively could put on such a seamless dinning room show.