Dainobu is a small Japanese market filled to the brim with aisles of colorful packages of food. Fridges along the side walls house the day's selection of bento boxes prepared fresh in a small kitchen at the back of the store. When we walked 47th street, Maria and Jasphy, two of the summer interns, loved browsing the aisles, impressed by its authenticity – "Dainobu is the real deal," they said. The girls picked up a daifuku each and left happy with their sweet treats.
On more than one occasion, as we walked 45th, a long line snaked out of BentOn, a small takeout eatery. This tiny gem provides authentic Japanese bento boxes to the lunch crowd in Midtown, a welcome break from traditional American fare. When striking up a conversation with a Japanese businessman who had stopped by for lunch, he shared his opinion about the food, saying that he felt it had been modified a bit for American palettes, but was as close to authentic as he had tried in Manhattan. The bento boxes vary per day and are served alongside their specialty drinks.
Aburiya Kinnosuke itself seems to be a portal away from the midtown bustle into a quiet and elegant Tokyo restaurant. Seating is available in the main dining room, around the grill, and in small private rooms - one of which features tatami mats, where guests can have a more traditional Japanese experience.Focusing on the izakaya style of dining, the meal is usually comprised of several small dishes shared among a table (comparable to the Spanish tradition of tapas). The menu is extensive, featuring over 100 plates, most of which are based on robata grilling, another Japanese culinary tradition in which skewers are slow-grilled over hot charcoal.Arriving in time for lunch, two of our team were the eager enthusiasts willing to try the specials of the day - dishes prepared in limited quantities each afternoon. On this particular day, there was very fresh Bluefin tuna collar, followed by the Aburiya set – a dish that featured simmered fish, washu beef and sashimi – and then everyone's favorite, the bentou box set, filled with a combination of Japanese small dishes.
Once we figured out where we needed to go - through the lobby of a commercial building and down a few flights - we parted a curtain, and turned to each other with broad smiles on our faces and gestures of approval. A friend had mentioned Sakagura a while back, saying don't forget to find this amazing Japanese restaurant when you are walking on 43rd. I put it in my notes, and made reservations on a Thursday evening at 7:00 pm. We only waited a few minutes, but when we were taken to our booth - we were a party of six - every table was filled. Somehow the minimal interior with cement flooring, simple wood tables, bamboo, and a bar that extends down an entire side of the restaurant came together seamlessly. For me, however, it was the large flowering branches of cherry blossoms that captured my attention - and heart. It was the middle of April, and I had been eagerly awaiting these trees to open their buds in Central Park, but they had been taking their sweet time after a very cold winter.Known for their extensive selection of Sake, we browsed through the long list, and then took the advice of our server. Several of the items on the menu were a bit different from what some of us were accustomed to sampling, but that we did. Together with some standards like edamame, we ordered numerous small plates and main dishes to share - chicken, beef, fish, including fried eel and fillet of salmon sashimi, udon noodles, spinach with a sesame paste, rice balls with miso painted on top and the show-stopper, mashed potato balls fried in a sweet donut batter. Different and delicious.
“We have always felt that sushi should be a lighthearted kind of food,” said Keito Sato, whose father, Katsuhide, started Hatsuhana as a way to share this belief. Japanese dining is known for its upscale omakase experiences, in which patrons are served whatever the chef pleases. “What we push at our restaurant is basically the opposite: okonomi, meaning ‘what you like.’” This unique approach has made Hatsuhana stand out since its inception. Katsuhide emigrated to the U.S. from Japan in the late 1960s, drawn to the American lifestyle and seeking a change of pace. He spent years as a chef in upstate New York before happily joining a Japanese restaurant in midtown. At the age of twenty-five, he was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease and was told he would need dialysis three times a week. The news put an end to his career as a sushi chef, which required him to work long hours with only one day off, and he was forced to find a new path. “Sushi is what my father knew best in the world. If he couldn’t be a chef, then he realized he had to open his own sushi restaurant.” Thus, Katsuhide created Hatsuhana and “set the standard for the sushi industry, offering the most authentic sushi possible to New Yorkers.”Not only did other Japanese eateries take their cue from Hatsuhana’s menu, but Katsuhide was also insistent about procuring the highest-quality ingredients possible. Upon finding that pink-dyed sushi ginger was common in U.S. restaurants, he traveled to California and struck a deal with a vendor for more natural sliced ginger that was free of food coloring. To this day, all fish and food is sourced from “wherever the best place is for the specific item” – be it flying in sushi-grade yellowtail and sea urchin from Japan or salmon from Norway.Today, Katsuhide is retired and resides in Hawaii, while Keito continues to run the show. Though Keito was rigorously trained in sushi making and endeavored to master the art, he devoted much of his attention to working on the business rather than in the kitchen. Most importantly, he continues to promote his father’s overarching philosophy on Japanese cuisine. Instead of viewing sushi as an extravagant indulgence, Harsuhana strives to present the food in a more accessible light. “People should understand the essence of sushi. At the end of the day, it is a snack.”
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.