Opened in 1963, Victor's Cafe has a long history of serving traditional Cuban food in an elegant yet relaxed environment. The tropical decor conjures up fantasies of dining in Havana as does the menu, which features Cuban classics such as Ropa Vieja and Lechon Asado. Run by Victor del Corral's daughters, this family-owned restaurant has retained its charm over the years, although long-time patrons bemoan the fact that they can no longer smoke their Cuban cigars in the Lounge.
When we ate at his restaurant during the summer of 2014, Vice Versa co-owner Franco Lazzari offered his advice. "If you don't like competition, don't open a restaurant in Manhattan. " This attitude towards the New York restaurant scene, one shared by fellow owner and chef Stefano Terzi, is precisely what has allowed Vice Versa to survive, grow, and thrive in the fifteen years since its inception. When the Italian restaurant first opened in 1999, its out-of-the-way West Side block was entirely populated by old-world French restaurants, most of which the men told me had been in the neighborhood for forty years or more. With its sleek interior, full bar, and contemporary Italian cuisine, Vice Versa was something entirely new - and even seemingly, they felt, out of place in its side street location in the midst of Hell's Kitchen. In retrospect, it is clear that the restaurant was not an anomaly, but a herald of coming change. "We were pioneers, " Stefano told me. The neighborhood has grown to meet its forward-thinking denizens; today, only one of the French restaurants (Tout Va Bien) is still in business, and the block is dotted with restaurants serving everything from Japanese to South African cuisine. Ironically, Vice Versa is now one of the more established restaurants on the block, thanks almost entirely to word-of-mouth recommendations and a loyal customer base. In the 90-degree weather, it was a relief to sink into one of Vice Versa's tables and peruse the menu. I did wander outside to their lovely patio for a moment. Complete with ivy-covered stucco walls, tea lights, and white umbrellas, it felt like stepping into a small piece of Italy, but just for a moment on this rather warm afternoon. Rather than ordering off the menu, I asked Stefano to surprise us. The members of the Manhattan Sideways team were treated to an excellent meal of banzino (sea bass) with olives, cherry tomatoes, and oregano, and very large sea scallops, cooked to perfection and set alongside a roasted lemon over escarole. We were started off with three different types of pasta - casoncelli, stuffed with veal, amaretto cookies, raisins, sage, pancetta and parmesan; garganelli, red beet pasta coils with alfredo sauce, roast prosciutto, and green peas; and a simple seafood-stuffed ravioli. Blending a wide variety of ingredients and flavors for a subtle and delicious eating experience, the team was simply delighted. After lunch, I chatted with Franco and Stefano over coffee, biscotti, and a pistachio cake with raspberry sauce. Both men are transplants to New York: Stefano grew up in Bergamo, Italy, while Franco was born and raised in Bologna. He came to the United States in his twenties planning on staying no more than a year. Twenty-six years later, he says that not a day goes by that he regrets his decision. Other than their shared national origin, the two told me that they could not be more different. Stefano grew up loving to cook; Franco's grandmother made food for the family, and he admits that he never took an interest in her cooking. Franco is small, with short grey hair, glasses, and a perpetual white suit. Stefano is taller, with a Dali mustache; he speaks slower and with a heavier accent than his counterpart. From my perspective, the differences between the two men are precisely what has allowed them to succeed as partners. Despite Franco's lack of interest in cooking, he loves to eat, and "makes a great critic, " according to Stefano. Franco runs the business side of the restaurant, while Stefano's domain is the kitchen. The respective roles have evidently worked well for the pair - they met working at the well regarded San Domenico (now closed), where Franco ran the front of the house and Stefano was chef de cuisine. Vice Versa presents a modern take on traditional Italian ingredients, which are imported from Italy as often as possible, through many local suppliers. The pastas are made from semolina, "which is a good thing for pasta, and for people, " Stefano said wryly, referencing the current gluten-free trend. In the last fifteen years, Stefano, Franco and their restaurant have grown and changed along with the city. "We went through two major events in New York, 9/11 and 2008, " said Franco. "On September 11, emotionally the world changed, and the 2008 financial crisis certainly changed New Yorkers' way of spending. " The goal now, " Stefano explained, "is to spend well your money. " The survival and continued success of Vice Versa is testament to its customers' ability to do just that.
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.
After a lawsuit, renovation, and rebranding, Sesamo has officially taken the place of Crispin’s at W52nd Street and 10th Avenue. Sesamo co-founders Nikita Levitan and Sabrina Gao filed the lawsuit against their previous partner, Crispin Mejia. They accused him of a series of problematic behaviors, including sexual harassment, repeatedly showing up to work drunk, and serving expired food. Taking a sharp turn away from Crispin's, the new Sesamo features an entirely different menu. “The new brand launches with an Asian-influenced Italian menu with many old Crispin’s favorites but with fresh and new Asian twists, " Gao said. She added that Sesamo also offers a unique drinks menu, including a brand new Asian fusion cocktail program with some first in NYC offerings, such as boba tea cocktails. Another beautiful feature of Sesemo is its 80-foot mural created by Selwyn Senatori back in 2018. The Dutch artist created the artwork depicting a champagne celebration with a “Feed Me Love” bubble to celebrate the opening of Decimo Ristobar. Though some of the mural has been painted over, the rest that remains adds an air of festivity to Sesamo's exterior. This story was adapted from the W42ST articles, "Crispin’s Becomes Sesamo as Partners Sue Hell’s Kitchen Chef" and "Hell’s Kitchen has Lost an Outdoor Dining Shed — but Regained a Mural. "
McKinney Welding Supply has been a fixture in Hell’s Kitchen since 1943. This long-running business is family-owned and employs about thirty-five people, ten of them being family members. Allen Dickon, branch manager of the West 52nd Street store, told us "We are the only place in Manhattan where you can find all of your welding and compressed gas products under one roof. ”