“My parents were definitely not thrilled when I opened the restaurant,” said Thomas Chen, executive chef and founder of Tuome. It didn’t matter that he had taken classes at the International Culinary Center or worked at restaurants as renowned as Jean-Georges, Commerce, and Eleven Madison Park. His parents, Chinese immigrants who had opened a restaurant to survive, believed that working as a chef was not the way to a better life.
Since Tuome opened in 2014 to great critical acclaim, Thomas’ parents have started to come around. But no matter what they think of the restaurant, there is no denying the huge influence they have had on Tuome. According to Thomas, many of the menu items—including his personal favorite, chicken with gem lettuce—are modeled on the foods he ate as a child. Even the restaurant’s name is a tribute to his mother, who called him “Tommy” as a child, but pronounced it “Toe-me.”
Thomas has also taken culinary cues from the high-end New York restaurants where he started his career, and he describes Tuome as “American with Asian influences.” A trip to Asia played an important role in his cooking style as well—he was especially inspired by the made-to-order dim sum in Hong Kong and the unique flavors of Thai food.
I was eager to ask Thomas about his entrees, many of which require hours of preparation. The “Pig Out for Two,” one of Tuome’s best-selling dishes, is cooked for fifteen hours in duck fat, while the veal and the egg tartare both take three hours to prepare. “We do sell out at a certain point,” Thomas explained, “because we only have one convection oven and the amount of food we can produce is limited.” But the restaurant has never had any catastrophes; a former accountant, Thomas has a system in place to predict how much food he will need on any given night.
With its hip décor and intimate atmosphere, Tuome is perfect for a weekend date night. But Tuesdays may, in fact, be the best day to stop by, as Thomas tends to showcase off-menu dinner and dessert items at the beginning of the week. I asked him for a few examples and immediately regretted it—for the rest of the afternoon, I daydreamed about duck dumplings, summer sundaes, and Chinese beignets with goat’s milk caramel, fig jam, and red bean glazed ice cream.
When I asked Thomas what he cooks at home, he smiled sheepishly. “I don’t really cook at home,” he said. “Water bottles are the only thing in my fridge.” Instead, he often goes out to eat at restaurants near his house, finding inspiration in their unique flavors and ingredients. Though he doesn’t live in the East Village, he decided to open a restaurant there because he was attracted to the atmosphere. “It’s a melting pot for different cuisines,” he told me, “and the locals really appreciate good food in a casual setting.” Tuome is also a favorite among foreigners—particularly tourists from France, Switzerland, and Hong Kong—who discover the restaurant online.
On my way out the door, I asked Thomas about the challenges of owning a restaurant. The hardest part, he told me, is the lack of sleep—on a normal day, he arrives at Tuome around 1pm and doesn’t leave until 1am. But he loves experimenting with new ingredients and creating his own menu, and he is constantly searching for ways to improve the restaurant. And that is what he plans on doing in the near future: changing Tuome’s menu seasonally, mixing things up, evolving.
Reed Adelson, owner of the American restaurant Virginia’s, was trained by the best in the industry. He learned about wine at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, interned at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, then returned to his Manhattan roots to work under Jean-Georges to open the Mark Hotel, and finally worked at Locanda Verde. Riding in a car with industry legends Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, he was presented with the answer to his doubts about working in the restaurant business, "If this is what you’re passionate about, there is nothing else you can do. It’s more of a vocation than a job choice. "Reed brought all of this expertise to open his first restaurant in 2015. Named for his mom, Virginia’s has become known for its burger, with bone marrow aioli, cabot cheddar, and house-made pickles, but there are more sophisticated dishes that deserve equal praise including the wild king salmon with red cabbage slaw and golden beet puree. Reed focuses on consistency for his menu, with a few seasonal dishes, such as the corn ravioli with fontina cheese and crispy shallots. With his eye on the future, Reed is contemplating moving a little closer to the city’s center, while admitting, "there’s something romantic about the side streets. "
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious, " was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
In May 2006, Ten Degrees opened its doors under owner Moti Hasson. With a staff “so lovely” that he would have them at his own Thanksgiving dinner, Moti told us that he runs his business with “great” and “honest” service. In the ensuing years, he has worked to provide “high quality product without asking high prices. " Dark wood, warm lighting, and comfortable seating provide the perfect backdrop for those looking for a place that has a vast selection of wines or who want to try some great local beers -- all accompanied by a comforting meal from an eclectic menu. Ten Degrees also hosts private parties in its back room - an ideal space for an intimate gathering.
Craving a traditional hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut? Or perhaps something a bit more eccentric? Crif Dogs is known for its creativity when it comes to putting together a hot dog meal. How does avocado or pineapple sound, or perhaps a dog wrapped in bacon with cream cheese spread on top? Their sides have quite the reputation as well - be sure to try either or both the tater-tots and chili fries. Amazing. Be prepared to wait on line, as there is sure to be one at almost any hour of the day, including weekends at 3: 00am. Old-school video games such as Double Dragon, Spy Hunter, Galaga, or my favorite, Ms. Pacman, help pass the time.
How nice to see birch trees, weeping willows and turtles sunning themselves in the pond in this garden of paradise. In El Jardin del Paraiso, a great big willow tree shades this space. While this tree is magnificent on its own, it is highlighted by an octagonal tree house that encircles its trunk. The wooden structure's design was donated by tree house architect Roderick Romero, who resides in the East Village. His work for this 4th street garden, in 2003, was his first community project and we were delighted to see him featured in a July 15, 2012 segment of the CBS Morning Show. We learned that he is known for his tree houses both in the US and abroad including those that he designed for Julianne Moore, Val Klimer, Donna Karan and Sting. Climb a few rungs of the ladder and you will be several feet above the ground, taking in the lush greenery and appreciating the talents of this esteemed architect.
Strolling along 5th Street, I was immediately drawn to a row of old-fashioned light bulbs hanging in the window of a small hair salon. Alexandra, the owner, invited me in while announcing that today, June 3, 2015, was Filament’s first day open! As I admired the salon’s hardwood floors and simple, appealing interior design, Alexandra told me that she and her co-owner, Seiji, had recently decided to leave the nearby hair salon where they both worked. A native Puerto Rican, Alexandra specializes in curly hair, while Seiji, originally from Japan, mostly works with straight hair and extensions. The pairing is perfect, Alexandra explained, because “there’s something for everyone here. ” And while she and Seiji have different styles, they both believe in a natural approach to hairdressing: instead of trying to change their clients’ hair, they embrace and enhance its natural beauty. The salon’s name reflects this philosophy. Alexandra and Seiji spent hours trying to decide what to call their new endeavor, but it did not click until they bought their signature light bulbs. When they saw the glowing filaments inside the shop, Filament Hair Salon was born - a place where "the light inside you shines through the strands of your hair. ”
By the time I arrived at Fish Bar on a Friday afternoon, a few regulars had already settled in. They chatted quietly as I explored the bar, which - true to its name - is decorated with fish and undersea creatures of all kinds. As I checked out Fish Bar’s reasonably priced drinks, which attract a diverse group of young people and locals, I wondered why the owner had decided on a nautical theme… and why there were so many dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. Fortunately, John, the owner, was happy to answer my questions. In the mid-nineties, he said, he frequented a bar called the Castro Lounge, which was unofficially known as “Fish Bar. ” When the owner put the bar on the market, John bought it and made the unofficial name official. Fish Bar opened on January 1st, 2000, and regulars immediately began bringing fish back from vacations to decorate the ocean-blue walls. “It escalated quickly, ” John said with a sigh. That explained Fish Bar’s origins, but not the money on the ceiling. According to John, it is a game invented by the regulars, who have a special technique to get the dollar bills to stick. But he refused to tell me anything else. “I guess you’ll just have to come by and check it out, ” he said, and I assured him that I would visit Fish Bar soon - with a wallet full of dollar bills.
When I first walked into Doggie Dearest, I had no idea that it was one of the oldest businesses on 5th Street. The reception area was decorated with leafy green plants and painted a cheerful shade of “dog’s ear pink, ” and the owner, Evelyn, took a break from grooming to share her story. Now a fixture on 5th, Doggie Dearest started out as a hobby. “I was bartending and working as a personal assistant, ” Evelyn said, “and I decided to take a grooming class. ” She discovered that she had a talent for the work and in 1993, Doggie Dearest was born. Though the business has grown over the years, Evelyn has not hired a large staff. She and her assistant do all of the grooming work, and she prides herself on the individualized care she gives to each pet. While other groomers often keep cats and dogs waiting for hours, Doggie Dearest is structured like a human hair salon, so that each animal gets a personal appointment. Evelyn also describes herself as the “first line of defense” against diseases: she has often alerted pet owners to symptoms they would never have noticed themselves. Between rising rents and her own battle with cancer, it has been difficult for Evelyn to keep the business afloat, but she keeps going, because she loves the work. “I even love the crazy dog people, ” she added, laughing.
We stopped in for an early lunch at Dumpling Man. After hearing from a bartender down the street that the dumplings were “oh so good, ” we had to find out for ourselves. The menu was simple and concise, yet complex in the flavorful concoctions you could pack into your dumpling. One of us ordered a mixture of pork and chicken, and another had the vegetable one. The dumplings arrived – the juicy meat steamed perfectly within the browned casings, and the veggie choice, filled with tofu and mushrooms was delicious as well. As everyone ate their savory dumplings, we were entertained, watching the deft hands of the chefs roll out dumpling dough that would soon be filled, steamed or fried, then eaten by the next lucky customer.
Richard Ho is Californian at-heart. He is from San Gabriel Valley, where he grew up eating his mother’s Taiwanese food. Ho Foods seeks the excellence of the home-cooked Taiwanese meals he experienced as a child, including his well-known beef noodle dish. Beef noodle shops, Richard explained to the Manhattan Sideways team, are like pizza shops in Taiwan, but they were not necessarily always popular. In fact, beef noodles were originally soldier food that ultimately became a large part of the Taiwanese diet. Growing up in the LA-area, Richard never felt that he experienced any Americanized version of culture or food, but rather was able to be immersed in pockets of culture hard to find elsewhere. When he first moved to New York in 2007, he worked as a manager at Blue Ribbon Sushi, but found while living here that no one made Taiwanese food like his mother did. So, Ho Foods was born in January 2018, with a curated menu that feels like his home. The idea? Take simple, classic comfort food from his youth and translate it into a restaurant setting. The staff works like a home as well - everyone cooks, everyone cleans, everyone serves. Each member has “kind of been a friend” - they met through mutual connections or college. Richard has been surprised by the passion they have taken to learning about Taiwanese culture, whether that be cooking techniques or even the language. Christian, a member of the staff at Ho Foods, is so confident in his pronunciation of dishes that people often assume he fluently speaks Mandarin. When we asked Richard about why he chose 7th Street and how it has been working out, he told us that he feels connected to the building. A friend previously lived there and even wrote their name in the cement before he came, so it felt a little like he had been there before. He enjoys his location in the East Village, calling it "not-so-obvious. " In addition, he has found that there is a loyal Taiwanese community wanting to support each other, and in search of places that celebrate and capture their culture;. And, through this endeavor, he has realized the extensive, and sometimes unlikely, connections people have to Taiwan. Laughing, Richard went on to say that he has encountered a number of Polish customers who claim the Taiwanese beer he serves reminds them of one from Poland. Richard’s perspective on the business is in many ways simple. A focus on comfort, taste, and family-like service is always a safe bet. His philosophy comes from an opinion that "Life is just better when there’s food between two people. "