Gabriel Aiello describes himself as a "one man band," able to fill any role in his restaurant at the drop of a hat. He is quite proud, however, of the strong team that works alongside him. Nine of his employees have been at Gabriel's since day one - when they opened in 1992 - including the man who makes the pasta by hand, the butcher and a waiter. I would not be surprised if this long-standing synergy is the reason why the restaurant creates such a comfortable ambience.
There are warm orange sconces illuminating a roomy dining area lined with modern art by Hector Leonardi, chosen by Gabriel's son, a graffiti artist. In the corner is a painting of a crumpled piece of paper composed by his wife. While Gabriel does not deem his restaurant a family business, he admits that each member has left his mark on the restaurant, including his other son, who works as a waiter in the restaurant while continuing his career as a writer. Gabriel considers the private room to be the jewel of his restaurant. Seating up to thirty-six people, Gabriel told us that the space has hosted "everything from my son's fifth birthday party to Oprah's Thanksgiving bash." In the twenty-three years that they have been on 60th Street, Gabriel's has held over 5,000 functions. "We really nail parties," the proud owner exclaimed.
After being part of the opening team for Arqua, on Church Street, in 1983, Gabriel wanted to start a restaurant that would serve "peasant-casual" Italian food with no frills, as opposed to the high-end, ornamental dishes concocted by many of the surrounding restaurants. He aimed for "elegant, efficient, and not too expensive." A formula that seems to have worked, Gabriel went on to say that the space was chosen because the high, lofty ceilings set it apart from most others on the Upper West Side, making it feel more like a Tribeca piece of real estate rather than a neighbor to Central Park. As we headed downstairs on our tour, we learned that the whole building used to house Atlantic Records, and that Ray Charles recorded in what is now the second kitchen. Lined with rainbow trays of kale and eggplant tapenade, the kitchen was one of the most immaculate I have entered, while smelling like the house of the most skilled Italian grandmother.
When I asked Gabriel if he still enjoys coming to work every day, he answered immediately, "Yes - the only thing that gets me down are the slow days." The day we were visiting was clearly not one of them. In the middle of the week, during the lunchtime hours, we witnessed trays of tuna tartare being whisked by, wood grilled salmon over pureed cauliflower, and a bright pink risotto made with red beets. Gabriel spent a great deal of time speaking about the mix of clientele that he attracts - from tourists to locals, to those who work nearby at the Time Warner building. One patron, in particular, that Gabriel mentioned was Michael Bloomberg. Apparently, the former mayor declared this is his "favorite eatery in the city." Gabriel told us that Bloomberg ate here every Thursday while in office and would consistently bring an illustrious panel of people to dine with him. It is no wonder. With the simple, Italian fare and comforting atmosphere, Gabriel's offers a cool oasis in the middle of the hot rush of Manhattan.
The sign above the entrance to PizzArte promises 'Cucina Napoletana', making it clear what is at the heart of the establishment: Naples. The enormous red pizza oven found inside is imported from Naples, and everyone working at the restaurant hails from there too, making for an especially authentic experience. The space is narrow and has a distinctly modern feel to it. As the name suggests, the restaurant doubles as a gallery for contemporary art by Neapolitan artists. The idea of using a meal as an opportunity to engage with art is refreshing, and the perfect pizza dough feels like an artwork in itself.
After having successfully occupied the space at 33 West since 2001 - now home to his restaurant, Mozzarella & Vino - twelve years later, owner Gianfranco Sorrentino had a new vision for Il Gattopardo. The restaurant's current location features two dining rooms, two full bars and a larger kitchen for Chef Vito Gnazzo to create his magic. Early on a weekday afternoon, when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped in to meet the charming Mr. Sorrentino, the upstairs dining room was already filling up with elegant business people having quiet conversation. After spending a few minutes observing the perfectly timed flow of the restaurant, we were led downstairs to another room, which unexpectedly opened up into a back seating area with soaring ceilings and skylights. Upon each table was a slender pink calla lily that Mr. Sorrentino proudly told us was the personal touch of his wife, Paula. He went on to say that she works as a graphic designer, but also personally oversees the layout and decor of each of their three restaurants. As at Mozzarella & Vino, the food was incredible. However, the two restaurants diverge somewhat in their menus' focus. While Mozzarella & Vino puts its emphasis on appetizers and more simple plates, Il Gattopardo specializes in a more traditional Italian meal. Accordingly, we were encouraged to sample their lobster pasta, mussels marinated in a white wine broth, and eggplant parmesan. On our way out, as I thanked Chef Vito for the delicious food, l had one last chat with Mr. Sorrentino. My favorite line that he shared with me was that in addition to running three of his own restaurants in the city - the third being The Leopard at Des Artistes - he knows the owners of almost all of New York's Italian restaurants. And feeling well acquainted with the incredible quality and diversity of Italian cuisine here, he was prepared to make the bold statement: "The best Italian restaurants are in New York, not in Italy. "
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.