Although we did not dine at Pergola, we had the pleasure of speaking to some of the long-time staff members who were eager to share the history of this simple, quiet French gem. Having celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2013, Christian, the son of the original owners, continues serving his guests in the same style that his parents envisioned when they opened in 1963. Jacques and Marie Ponsolle came to New York from their village in the French Pyrenees and were able to recognize their dream in Pergola Des Artistes. The restaurant reflects their passion for their homeland in both the decor and the menu options. Despite its proximity to the theater district, and the many tourists who wander in for a good French meal, I think what impressed me the most was the continuous flow of diners coming in at lunch hour who told me that they have been eating here for decades and would not think of going anywhere else!
Perhaps not as old an institution as some of the clubs on 44th, but this cafe has certainly had a long run, and I have enjoyed being one of their patrons for several of these decades. Occupying space on 44th since 1977, Un Deux Trois has hosted generations of artists and theater district figures. "We were very hot in the '80s, " explained manager Pierre, name dropping celebrities from Andy Warhol to Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. And Pierre went on to say that today, long-time regulars who grew up eating in the restaurant are now bringing in their own children. Breakfast is served from opening at seven thirty until midnight every day of the year. The food is traditional French brasserie style, with a prix fixe menu available for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Steak tartare continues to be a popular choice, as does the quiche lorraine, but on my visit while walking 44th, I opted for another typically French favorite, a spinach and cheese stuffed crepe with a simple side salad. The decor remains from a past life as a hotel lobby, with a mosaic-tiled floor, stained glass windows and Corinthian columns amid all the festivities. Now appearing in various travel guides to Manhattan, it plays host to tourists, theater-goers and locals alike.
Opened by a gentleman known as Napoleon because of his “short stature and even shorter temper, ” Chez Napoleon does not simply pay homage to French culture — it strives to be French culture. Dimly lit and window-less, the interior is a world far removed from the streets of Manhattan. The warm French accent of owner Elyane Bruno and those who work alongside her, including her son William Welles, lends a special touch. The decor is a mix of black and white portraits, a jigsaw puzzle of Napoleon at Waterloo, and a sign that reads: “Save Water, Drink Wine. ”In 1982, the Bruno family took over the restaurant, and it was Elyane’s mom, “Grandmere” Marguerite, who was the chef for many years. “I’m the one who ran the restaurant. My mom did the cooking, and my dad tended the bar until he passed away in 1992. ” Despite drastic transformations to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Chez Napoleon has remained anchored. “The menu has stayed more or less the same — real French food that you do not often find in New York anymore. ”
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.
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. "
“We do not try to be trendy. We are here for the long run, and that has always been a success for us, ” said Paul Denamiel, the owner and chef of Le Rivage, a veritable institution on Restaurant Row. His father, Marcel, opened the restaurant with a vision for transporting patrons to his childhood home in the south of France. Marcel was raised in a centuries-old house in a secluded village within the Pyrenees mountains. His mother undoubtedly sowed the seeds of his culinary passion, as she did all of her cooking in their hearth, with a traditional cauldron, grill, and bread oven placed over the wood fire. “Everything she produced for the table, she had a hand in nurturing and growing, ” Paul said, explaining that his grandmother kept her own rabbits, pigs, and chickens and maintained an extensive garden. Paul himself was able to indulge in this idyllic lifestyle and be inspired by her expertise, as his father made a point of closing Le Rivage once a year to take the family on a month-long sojourn to France. “A lot of my recipes are aimed at recapturing the flavors that my grandmother introduced me to. ” Consequently, Paul describes his bistro’s cuisine as “French comfort food, ” which includes a rich boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and a simple ratatouille. It seemed inevitable that Paul would become a chef, not only due to his grandmother’s influence, but because all of his family members wound up in the food business. His father had several restaurants in New York, his mother had a creperie upstate, and most of his relatives had their own eateries in the U. S. “This was bred into me. ” As such, when Marcel was looking for a successor to lead Le Rivage, Paul, who had an “intensive education” in traditional French cuisine, was the natural choice. “My job was to bring in new recipes while staying true to the terms of the classic French style, from the food, to the decor, to the music. ”After decades of devotion to his businesses, Marcel continues to visit Le Rivage, as well as several other French establishments for which he is a landlord. “My father always said the restaurant came first. That is how you build a legacy, because the restaurant will be there long after we are not. ”
"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country, ” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years. The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U. S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon. With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair. Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.
Not only does Barbetta profess to be the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row, it is also one of the oldest Italian restaurants in New York. Opening its doors in 1906, in four adjoining townhouses built in the late 1800s by the Astor family, Sebastiano Maioglio began his long restaurant career. The emphasis has always been on Italian dishes and wine from the Piemontese region, where he was from. Sebastiano’s daughter, Laura, took over in 1962, and immediately began to remodel the restaurant in the style of 18th C. E. Piemonte. With her passion for collecting art, great sense of personal style, frequent visits in Piemonte, and an art history degree from Bryn Mawr College, it is no wonder that Barbetta’s exquisite interior has become as highly regarded as its food. The dining room demonstrates its old-world opulence, with ornate chandeliers, chairs, and tables meant to evoke a palazzo of the eighteenth century, during Piemonte’s cultural height. The baroque interior serves as more than just a reference to its heritage; it is a part of it. The great chandelier in the main dining room initially came from a palazzo in Torino, where it belonged to the royal family. Laura negotiated to obtain this 18th C. E. chandelier for two years. Other highlights of Barbetta’s extensive collection include the harpsichord in the foyer - crafted in 1631, as well as hanging wall prints from Piemonte - part of a distinguished set crafted in 1682. Items that could not be authentic, such as the numerous chairs and barstools, are reproductions of museum pieces that were specifically chosen by Laura to be reproduced in Italy. The garden, available for dining in the summer, holds trees dating back over a century ago, and, in line with the interior, holds the atmosphere of refined European aristocracy. Barbetta, while serving as a cultural landmark, remains focused on the excellence of its ever-changing list of dishes while serving classics such as risotto and polenta since its founding. Every dish on its menu since 1962 has been approved by Laura, and celebrating its long history and heritage, each menu item is marked with the year it began to be served, while dishes from Piemonte are in red print. Although esteemed for its dishes, Barbetta is also famed for its 72-page wine list, which has won numerous awards. Barbetta has also transformed the Italian dining scene through its numerous examples of “being the first”- from its conception to the present day. A few highlights include its beginning as the first Piemontese restaurant in New York, its status as New York’s first elegant Italian restaurant after its 1962 transformation, as well as its usage of numerous ingredients that at the time, were not commercially available in America and which had to be specifically imported by them from Italy. A particular example of one of these imported ingredients is white truffles. Years ago, Barbetta’s own truffle-hunting dogs became so well known that they were asked to perform a demonstration at Carnegie Hall in 1992. Barbetta is also unique in its emphasis on low sugar and low salt dishes - Laura even decided that Barbetta would smoke its own salmon to ensure it would not be too salty. Laura described Barbetta as “an institution, much more than a restaurant, ” due to the extensive culture that has been built around it and that it has created. The description as “much more than a restaurant” struck us as particularly apt, due to Barbetta’s long list of famous regulars - from The Rolling Stones to Jacklyn Kennedy - its exceptionally elegant and unusually spacious interior, variety of phenomenal food, and historical significance.
Joe Allen, founded in 1965, is the archetypal post-theater restaurant. With one of the longer histories on Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has been serving classic American cuisine in a brasserie setting since I was a little girl. I was always happy to come here with my parents and be able to order a hamburger rather than having to go out for a fancy meal. Mr. Allen - who also owns Orso, an Italian restaurant next door – had an initial concept to provide a comfortable, dynamic atmosphere with good food. And while the restaurant continues to serve some of the best comfort food around, spending time at night in the bar area, shows Joe Allen's real appeal. The high energy level from the post-theater crowd is contagious. The manager explained to us on one visit that they are the first phone call that people make after they have secured their seats for the next Broadway show. And, while he remained hesitant to divulge names, he shared how many actors and actresses have continued over the years to head immediately to Joe Allen after they perform - "here, " he elaborated "you're surrounded by theater, and we do all we can to promote that culture. " I can attest to the numerous actors who grace their tables, as I have had the pleasure of meeting a few over the years, as well as a highlight one evening when Barbara Walters sat right next to me. It is hard to say something new about Joe Allen, so long has it been a staple for theater goers. While the menu remains updated and contemporary, Joe Allen does not take any risks. Rather, it thrives on its reputation among patrons based on its long tradition of casual dining. Seeing the last of the pre-theater crowd during our visit, we were struck by how Joe Allen seemed appropriate equally for a quick burger and glass of wine in half an hour before a show, or a long, late into the night dinner where no one wants to head home.