My first apartment after getting married was in Kips Bay, and each anniversary for five years after, my husband's parents took us to dinner at Marchi's. It had been a long time since I had eaten my last meal there, but as soon as I walked in the door, the memories came flowing back. Nothing much has changed, even the menu remains the same as it was some thirty years ago. What I never experienced in the '80s, though, was getting to spend quality time with two of the brothers, Mario and John (Robert was not there). I was treated to a full tour of the multiple rooms, the wine cellar, and, my favorite, the kitchen, where I got to chat with Biondo, the chef from Kosovo who has been a member of the Marchi family for twenty-five years.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of walking the side streets is learning the history behind a business. Although I do not always share all of the details on the site, this particular story is worth documenting. I believe I took Mario on a walk down memory lane that he had not ventured on in quite some time, but once I got him started he kept going...and what he could not recall, his kind wife, Christine, was able to fill in the blanks.
Lorenzo Marchi, Mario's father, left Italy to come to New York in 1927, and had his wife, Francesca, join him a year later. They found a place to live on 31st Street, and became the superintendents of their building. Both husband and wife had day jobs, but when they returned in the evening, they would always cook an Italian meal. One of the other tenants in the building could not resist the aroma emanating from downstairs, and one day he offered to pay the couple if they would cook for him, too. Little by little, he would bring his friends, paying Lorenzo fifty cents a meal. The menu would vary, as whatever they were making for themselves that night, this is what they would serve their guests. By 1930, a business had begun to unfold. The Marchi's purchased the building and opened their first restaurant a few years later at the same address it is today. Over the years, as Christine told me, "when most women were out buying dresses, my mother-in-law was purchasing property." Today, they own several of the townhouses lined up along 31st Street and the restaurant has expanded into each of them. Much of the original details are still apparent, including the brick on the ceiling. Christine went on to tell me, "We would not be here today, eighty plus years later, if we didn't own the buildings. Who could afford this now?"
"Family style" dining has always been the way a meal is served at Marchi's. Everyone begins with a large antipasto platter. Following this comes the famous lasagna. It is remarkable to think that the pasta dish that Mario's father first cooked is the same "secret" recipe that he uses today. According to Christine, "only Mario has the patience to make this - it takes four days to prepare." Deep fried fish or sauteed chicken livers, string beans and beets are next, and then continuing on, both roast chicken and veal are brought to the table alongside a bowl of mushrooms and salad. Dessert always consists of fresh fruit, cheese, a lemon fritter, and my favorite, "Crostoli," twisted fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. Besides Thanksgiving, when the Marchi's serve turkey, this menu has remained exactly the same many, many decades later.
For me, the piece de resistance is the hidden terrace. Dressed up like a magnificent garden in Tuscany, diners can savor their meal outdoors in the warmer weather, but while one can imagine being in Italy, the backdrop is a view of the grand, beautifully lit, Empire State Building.
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
All my assumptions about the Hyatt Herald Square were dashed upon entering the lobby. I assumed that the Hyatt Herald Square, as part of such a well-known, far reaching hotel brand, would be a reasonably generic, glamorous hotel like one would find in any other major city. I could not have been more wrong. As soon as I stepped inside and saw the fascinating art pieces, chic espresso bar, and unique layout, I realized that this was something special.The concierge is hidden at the back of the lobby, rather than the front, which invited me to explore the lobby’s many treasures before speaking to the staff. A series of clocks on the wall, inspired by Salvador Dali and echoing the shape and color of gourds, displayed the time zones of all the major fashion capitals. Plug ports were located by every seat so that guests could easily rejuice phones or work on laptops.Winding my way to the back, I met Nina Jones, the director of sales and marketing. She explained that all the main Hyatt hotels try to draw inspiration in their décor from the surrounding area’s history and culture. For the Hyatt Herald Square, that means drawing on the publishing and fashion worlds. Nina pointed out that the front desk was made from layers of old newspaper, and the brightly colored books creating a rainbow on the back wall were influenced by media and fashion. Nina went on to say that “Herald Heart,” the spiraling mobile at the entrance, is made up of 151 sentences, carved from wood, representing the past and present of Herald Square.Having spoken with executive chef Gunnar Steden at Up on 20, I knew that the cuisine at the Hyatt uses local ingredients as much as possible and that even the snack counter around the corner stocks mostly treats from the Tri-State area. As I sipped on a Double Standard Sour in a classy pink hue at the lobby bar, Nina wowed me with the fact that most of the surfaces in the lobby are made from repurposed water tower wood. I left the Hyatt that day feeling like I had received a lesson in the history and culture of New York, as well as having been given a dose of highly-honed hospitality.
A newcomer to 31st in late 2013, I was happy to discover Friedman's Lunch. Having eaten at their restaurant in Chelsea Market on many occasions, I was quite familiar with them. Glancing quickly at the menu, I knew that I would, once again, have options as a vegetarian. Two of us shared the "House-Made Veggie Burger" with spicy tomato fennel jam, avocado and sprouts, and the "Veggie Bowl" with quinoa, sauteed vegetables, tofu and a delicious sesame lime dressing. Both were excellent. At the end of our meal, we struck up a conversation with one of the owners, Justin, who told us that he gave up being a real estate broker to pursue his passion for food. He helped turn Chelsea Market into the success that it is, and then came to open up this second location. Not via classical training in the kitchen, but rather through his love of food and hospitality, "traveling down a long road," he has finally been able to open up his dream. Working with a young design couple from Tribeca, they created something simple using distressed wood and antique mirrors. "The decor is kick ass," Justin exclaimed. With good music, a great neighborhood vibe, lots of gluten free options, and the most amazing signature potato chips, Manhattan Sideways has no doubt that Friedman's reputation will take off.
St. Francis of Assisi is a parish church named for the patron saint of peacemakers. In response to a temporary closing of the Church of St. John the Baptist, a Franciscan priest founded the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in 1844. Beginning with only a small congregation, the Church soon grew to house a school in the 1860s, assembled by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. The beautiful building of Gothic Revival design that stands today was erected in 1892. Upon walking inside, focus is drawn to the phenomenal mosaic behind the altar. This incredible artwork, Rudolph Margreiter’s The Glorification of the Mother of Jesus, has been with the Church of St. Francis of Assisi since 1928. Observant of the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood and the lives of the surrounding population, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi holds a “Nightworkers Mass” at midnight along with a midday mass for those who work in the day time. The Church was renowned for its vast provision of food to the hungry during the Great Depression, and continues to this day to notably demonstrate Franciscan compassion, as they maintain an ongoing tradition of a daily breadline.
It appears that only a few short weeks after opening Osamil in the early fall of 2016, the three partners of Nomad Izakaya have another hit on their hands. At 5:00pm when Tom, the photographer for Manhattan Sideways, and I walked in, there were a few people milling about at the impressive white marble bar. By the time we left, about an hour and a half later, there was not a seat to be had upfront, and the tables for dinner were rapidly being filled.Both Nathan, the manager, and Moku, one of the owners, greeted us with big smiles, enthusiastically showing off the beautiful decor. Staring at the front mural - with 5th Avenue and 31st Street signs painted on it - Nathan enlightened us that O-sam-il means 5,3,1 in Korean. From their doorway, one can see the real signs outside. The numbers have added significance, because in addition to being on 5th and 31st, the restaurant's address is 5 West 31st.When the team first found this space, they had to strip everything down. When they came upon the brick wall on one side, they decided to sand it and leave it exposed. The end result is a checker board design that is strikingly different than other spaces I have seen. A Korean friend of Moku's did the mural on the rest of the wall. "We told him to do whatever he wanted - to use his imagination." Moonsub Shin did just that, creating a soft gray design that is soothing and beautiful.The wood tables and short stools are spread down the middle of the restaurant with a few booths along the edges. Liquor lockers span the entire opposite wall, filled with customer's personal alcohol. Be it a fine bottle of Scotch or a vintage wine or bourbon, customers are welcome to store whatever they would like in their secured cubby - for a small corkage fee. Straight in the back lies the open kitchen where Chef David Lee performs his magic. Osamil is different from more traditional Korean eateries found just a few blocks away. Here they are striving to be more "modern and upscale" while still being reminiscent of a typical Korean barbecue restaurant. After showing us around and chatting about Osamil, Nathan and Moku invited Tom and I to take a seat at the bar to await some dishes that we could photograph. Little did we realize that the presentation of these dishes would last for a delightful forty-five minutes. The first to arrive was a sizzling plate of cured shrimp, sauteed shishito peppers with broccoli rabe, and beef tartar. Each dish was presented on a unique plate as a culinary work of art. It was not long before a medley of grilled mushrooms and a large marinated lamb chop covered in a mix of herb and pine nuts were placed in front of us. While we watched Gelo, the bartender, whip up several intriguing cocktails, a 100-year-old oak board was put before us with a very large, crispy port shank. A knife and fork stuck out from the top and the shank was surrounded by a shaved apple salad, lettuce leaves, and three small bowls with an array of pickled relishes. Once Tom had finished taking photos of this impressive meal for two, he was instructed to grab a lettuce leaf and fill it with meat, salad, and a relish of his choice. It was great fun and, he assured me, very tasty. There is no doubt that Osamil is off to a fine beginning.