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.
The stretch between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on 44th has something fascinating, historic and delicious at almost every address. Stepping inside Kellari, however, allowed me to remove myself from the fray for a little while, as I immediately felt transplanted into a Mediterranean setting. From the charming people who greeted me at the door to the far back of the restaurant, Kellari was an exquisite experience. There are high ceilings, ethereal drapes, an abundance of wood, foliage, and candles hanging in chandelier-style candelabras all adding to the je ne sais quoi of the scene.But what is a restaurant without good food? The manager we spoke with, Dimitrios, walked us to the middle of the restaurant where there is an impressive display of fresh fish laid out across a bed of crushed ice for diners to select. The array of fish changes on a daily basis, depending on what is happening in the market, and priced accordingly. A fish can be small enough for one person to enjoy, or at times there are large fish able to serve a party of fifteen.Organic salmon is served simply on a disc of beets with steamed wild grains, alongside potatoes and finished off with a dollop of saffron yogurt. Baked lemon sole came with a cauliflower puree and mixed grilled peppers. The whole grilled branzino was seasoned with just a bit of olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs, thrown on the grill and cooked to perfection, each step visible from the dining area through to the open kitchen. While we waited for Chef Gregory to prepare these few dishes for us to photograph, I observed the endless international business crowd coming in for lunch. By the time we left, the entire restaurant was filled with sophisticated patrons.Kellari means "wine cellar" in Greek, and they live up to the name, with wines stocked like a mosaic piece in the back of the restaurant. There are over 450 varieties carried here, half of which are Greek. The vibes are friendly, the food delicious, and we would be remiss not to mention the well-documented health benefits of a Mediterranean diet!
There was no question that Ellie Mendelsohn would stand behind the glass booth with her father, Hank, on 47th Street once she completed her college education. Her grandfather, who had introduced his son and granddaughter to the world of gold and jewelry, had retired to Florida, and now it was Ellie’s time to join the family trade. “The jewelry is my favorite part of the business, so I said, ‘Why not start my own line?’” The first piece Ellie ever made was a pair of earrings, based on a necklace that her father had made for her mom. “I loved it so much, I decided to create earrings.” Indeed, for those who work in the Diamond District, jewelry is much more than an accessory — it is a time-honored link to one’s heritage and family.
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actor's Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret," she says, "but we don't need to be." To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage," just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society." She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue." People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
For the first seven years, Phil Podemski had his shop on Park Row across from City Hall, but in 1973, with the help of his son, Sam, they came uptown and have resided on 47th Street ever since. "It was a good move on our part," Sam admitted. "It has allowed us to weather each of the storms that have come our way."Because Phil's Stationery is in the Jewelry District, there have always been customers in need of memorandum books, special jewelry bags for shipping, and other necessary items that Sam and his dad never allowed to run out of stock. "This has kept us alive." That and the warm customer service that he strongly believes in. "Yes, I could close up shop and sell my goods solely on the internet, but I would miss the people — the human connection." Sam's best connection, however, was with his dad. "We were together for forty years until he passed away in 1996. I have the best memories of him yelling at me throughout those years, always in the most loving way."When Sam and his dad initially opened, they were not known as an office supply store. They carried an amalgam of health and beauty products, chocolate, and other novelty goods. As time progressed, they evolved into a full office supply shop carrying absolutely everything that one could want or need for their desk. In addition to having fun rummaging through the stacks of notebooks, journals, pens, markers, and an array of art supplies, it is the collection of Berol pencils made in the U.S. in the 1960s, the old Swingline staplers — and several other items that date back some fifty to sixty years — that will provide a noteworthy trip down memory lane for many.
As the elevator doors open, a gust of vivacious conversation rushes to welcome every guest to the Haven atop the Sanctuary Hotel. This rooftop caters to three different spaces that gently correspond to the desired experience at hand. On the lower level, there are two bars. The first stands below geometrically alluring lights made to resemble stars. Dinner chosen from the Haven’s “French-Inspired” menu is served on this side of the roof where the mood is serene. On the other side, past the statue of a seahorse and the young trees, the volume rises and the crowd clings readily to this, the second bar. While some prefer to wind down with dinner, others are just trying to let loose. The Haven supports both pursuits. Upstairs, the uniform faded red lounge cushions fashion a more secluded setting that grants the wish for a private discussion or for the simple enjoyment of the mid-city view from a higher position. As is somewhat suggested by the name, “Haven,” this rooftop is plainly reminiscent of a getaway, more specifically a beach house.The Haven happened to be where we stopped by the day the US was playing Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. It was a memorable moment standing beside dozens of New Yorkers as our national anthem was being played. Glass enclosed in the colder months, and serving a French-American menu both during the lunch and dinner hours, this was another great rooftop find.
Named after Bible verses in Isaiah (the wolf and the lamb shall feed together), this restaurant opened in Manhattan in 1998, and expanded to Brooklyn the following year. Initially a traditional kosher deli, it later reinvented itself as a steakhouse. The extensive menu ranges from matzo ball soup to salmon burgers, veal Bolognese gnocchi and, of course, includes a variety of steaks and chops. Drawing on influences as diverse as Vietnamese, Tex-Mex, and French-country, Wolf and Lamb adapts its more customary function to a cosmopolitan venue. "Just because you're keeping kosher doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on quality," shared a waitress. And while we were told that the majority of customers keep kosher regularly, the crowded space was testament to Wolf and Lamb's broad culinary appeal.
Jose Meirelles began Le Marais (its name connoting the well-known Jewish enclave in Paris) in 1995 after being urged by a friend to consider opening up a kosher steakhouse. "There weren't any at the time" Jose told us in his thick Portuguese accent, "especially in Midtown - my friend thought that this would bring some new excitement to the kosher world."Jose and his butcher, Dominique Courbe, seem like an odd couple to have a kosher restaurant as neither is Jewish. Preparing to open an upscale kosher eatery that did not serve pork or seafood, and prepared particular cuts of meat became "an interesting challenge" to Jose after his first brasserie's success, Les Halles, on Park avenue.And, while Dominique Courbe learned his trade from his father, Meirelles never set out to be a chef/owner. Beginning his career as a banker in Portugal, Meirelles realized his passion for cooking after taking a yearlong sabbatical in America and being forced to work at odd jobs in between traveling. Soon thereafter, he enrolled at the French Culinary Institute, here in Manhattan, where he further honed his craft before opening Les Halles in the 1990s.A butcher shop fills the front of Le Marais, welcoming new customers with its glass case of aged kosher cuts. Expanding its role in kosher dining, Le Marais offers a meat selection separate from the restaurant itself. This focus on the quality of the meat continues into the kitchen, where Meirelles prepares dishes with simplicity. Jose recommends the steak-frites as representative of the restaurant's culture - skillfully prepared without unnecessary complication. As his slogan reads: "A rare steak house well done."