Pepi Di Giacomo and Luca Di Pietry, veterans of the hospitality industry and wine and espresso intenditori, have taken a slice of the Abruzzo province and established it across Manhattan in their cafes. 18th Street, however, is where their Italian cuisine is most pronounced. It is as much about local produce and a dynamic menu as it is about traditional dishes. Depending on the time of day, there is espresso, a selection of pastries, an extensive wine list and a full Italian menu. An added surprise in the warmer months is their gelato booth, stationed right outside the restaurant. Perfect for us on the first day the temperature reached 80 degrees.
The Azzollini family has been at the heart of Paul & Jimmy’s since Cosmo Azzollini waited tables at its 1950 incarnation on Irving Place. Back in 1968, when Cosmo purchased the restaurant, the Azzollini’s made it their own slice of southern Italy. Even today, Louis and his son, Greg, keep the focus on home: homemade cuisine, a home-style atmosphere, and the homey touches of Italian hospitality. Paul & Jimmy’s is truly a family-run, neighborhood business. Louise and Greg emphasized that “one of us is always here - we are the only ones with the keys. We open and close every night.” Greg has worked in the restaurant since 2005, and - after culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education, working at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria in Manhattan, and furthering his culinary studies in Italy - is currently the head chef. Linda, Louis’s wife, is in charge of the accounting. Together, the whole Azzollini family works hard to ensure that everyone who walks through their doors feels like part of the family. They are proud that the majority of their customers are local, and are particularly pleased that they have “a lot of customers who have been coming forty, fifty, sixty years, and also a lot that come three, four, five times a week.” As for Paul & Jimmy’s younger clientele, they are often surprised when Louise is able to tell them what their parents or grandparents used to eat. Their secret is that their “food is phenomenal… we have great waitstaff, we have reasonable prices, a cozy atmosphere, and are extremely accommodating.” They try their best to fulfill non-menu food requests or change the dish to suit their customers’ needs, which is generally “very easy” since “everything is cooked to order.” Louise told us it does not surprise him that many of their customers come so often, since they have “fifty or sixty different dishes on their menu - not including specials.” With an emphasis on freshness, they are proud that they source their fish, produce, and meat from well-established New York businesses. Gregg makes their own mozzarella fresh every day, as well as many of their pastas, and Paul & Jimmy's offers their own line of sauces, both in the restaurant and at a few local shops in the city.
Ribalta is all about bringing the customer a complete and genuine pizza experience. From the three separate ovens that produce slightly different crusts, to the flour that is milled in Italy, to their "master instructor" (who comes to us straight from Scuola Italiana Pizzaloll, a pizza school in Italy that was begun in 1988), the people behind this restaurant take their pizza very seriously. When three of us ate here, we shared a thin crust mushroom pizza with truffle oil splashed on top, their soup of the day - carrot and potato - and a rather large salad. We wished that we could have ordered several more pies to sample, but they were large and there was no way any of us could have finished one. What we did have, though, was terrific. And in my spare time, some day, wouldn't it be nice to enroll in their pizza training program?In the fall of 2014, Ribalta made the brilliant decision to bring mixologist Franklin “Stilo” Pimentel on board, and some of us from the Manhattan Sideways team were invited to the unveiling of his new cocktail menu.Ribalta was abuzz when we entered, and we were immediately enticed by what was going on behind the bar. Mixed at lightning speed and served with wide smiles and a laid back attitude, the colorful drinks looked both intriguing and imaginative. A perfect complement to Ribalta's pizzas, the inaugural selection was inspired by classic Italian cinema, with names such as “Il Postino,” “It Started In Naples,” and “La Dolce Vita.” The entire evening evolved around this theme, with black and white Italian movies projected on the walls and a live band to set the mood. The combination of sweet tunes and strong cocktails soon gave way to a full dance floor, and we were thrilled to be there to celebrate the exciting kick-off of Ribalta’s new cocktail program.
On any given beautiful day, this restaurant is set up early in the morning and looks incredibly inviting. The windows are swung open and there are roses on every white linen table. Shut down temporarily by a fire in October 2011, Il Cantinori seems to have quickly bounced back and the people in the neighborhood feel like they “haven’t skipped a beat since they served their first Italian meal in 1983.” Part of that is because, aside from adding a few mirrors on the walls, Il Cantinori was restored to its exact pre-conflagration state. The staff saw no reason to change the décor that customers had come to adore.Upon our arrival to Nicola Kotsoni and Steve Tzolis’ Italian restaurant, we were greeted by a waiter who had been with them for over seventeen years. We learned that he works ten shifts a week, since his customers “love him so much.” The general manager, told us that he had no idea what they would do when the beloved waiter decided to use his well-deserved vacation days.The general manager had also been with the restaurant almost since its inception, stating that he stayed because of its attention to “consistency, quality, ambience, and service.” He went on to say that Il Cantinori “is like a ‘home’” both for the people who work and dine – “We have been open since 1983 and there is still a line out the door on some evenings.” Continuing on, the manager was pleased to announce, “And everything tastes exactly like it did in the 1980s.”He was a terrific storyteller, seemingly unsurprised when I told him that I could listen to him all day. “I have had people tell me I should be a stand-up comedian,” he said matter-of-factly. “A reality show of this place would be amazing,” he suggested, as he had countless fun tales about his quirky Manhattan regulars -“I am from Brooklyn,” he explained, “so I grew up normal.”Despite the fact that Il Cantinori receives many high-profile clients - Andy Warhol and Basquiat were known to be regulars - the manager insisted that “97.8 percent of the people who come here are really wonderful people - really nice.” When he told me how the “crème de la crème of New York” continue to come to Il Cantinori, he made it clear that he did not just mean celebrities, but the real New Yorkers - the wonderful people who make this city what it is.There is a unique relationship between the staff and the network of New Yorkers who visit Il Cantinori. Everyone knows everyone: customers bring their favorite waiters Christmas presents, and on occasion, the staff has been known to walk the dogs of some of their guests. Il Cantinori will do anything for the people who dine on 10th Street. “It is really small town in a small city,” the manager explained. “People barely consider us personnel. I tell everyone they are my friends, except they pay for dinner.’”So much to write, and I have yet to mention the food. The staff of Il Cantinori treated us to a veritable feast. While sitting in the back room flooded with afternoon light, under a whimsical black chandelier made to look like a seppie (the cuttlefish whose ink colors black risotto), members of the Manhattan Sideways team tasted a delicate squash and zucchini salad, scrumptious paella, crispy roast potatoes, green beans and asparagus, and something that the waiter rightfully called “the best pasta,” filled with peas and sausage and a light creamy sauce.The atmosphere was perfect: we were surrounded by Nicola’s elaborate and illustrious bouquets of dogwood and cherry blossoms, that the manager told us would open into devastatingly gorgeous blooms within a few days. Of Nicola he said rather seriously, “I do not know what her parents fed her as a child, but the creative part of her brain is amazing.” Ending our spectacular meal with classic flourless chocolate cake we turned to one another and acknowledged that we now understood what the manager had boasted earlier: “People don’t come here to dine, they come here to eat.” There is no doubt that at the end of the day, the beauty of Il Cantinori is that the food and staff are always superb.
On a beautiful, tree-lined strip of 9th Street sits this old-world, white tablecloth, Northern Italian restaurant. The ambiance is warm, the staff professional, the dining room elegant and the food delicious. There are a few tables that spill out onto the sidewalk when the weather cooperates, but a larger outdoor space is available in the back garden where we chose to dine.
Our senses all perked up as we experienced the exotic scents in this Mediterranean café where the Arabic name translates to welcome and peace. Bassam Omary came to New York thirty-five years ago as a student and worked at his cousin’s Greenwich Avenue Syrian restaurant. With his wife Joan, he bought and moved the restaurant to 13th street, where they have been cooking traditional Middle Eastern dishes and satisfying culinary cravings for fifteen years. The food is superb. After a long day of interviews, we stopped back at Salam for a late lunch. We were served a platter with an array of food: hummus with a lemon flair, babaganouj with fresh pita, grape leaves stuffed with cheese, crispy falafel, a filo dough spinach pie, and a cup of sweet Arabic coffee to perk us up. Bassam, Joan explained, has a stake in the restaurant both as owner and chef. He is constantly experimenting, returning to the traditional dishes his mother taught him how to cook, and using the freedom he has as owner to explore the spices, ingredients, and flavors he is passionate about. Thank you, Joan and Bassam, for genuinely welcoming us into this lovely restaurant.
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.