The moment a diner sits down at Il Mulino, a cavern of scrumptious parmesan cheese is chipped onto their plates; an archaeological dig of bruschetta is brought piled high on a long platter with tongs, followed by garlic bread and other fine antipasti. Everything is delivered to the table, complementary, by some of the best trained staff in the city. One could fill up on this alone, without ever having to look at the menu. However, that would be a tremendous mistake.
The ambience of this uptown location is very different from its original downtown spot. When walking on the side streets of Manhattan, I am always intrigued by the stories that I hear, and I was eager to learn about what inspired the latest addition to Il Mulino. Two Italian brothers, Fernando and Gino Masci, had both been trained to cook on board a passenger ship, and when they arrived in New York, they could not find what they believed to be authentic Abruzzo cuisine. In 1981, they decided to open their own restaurant in Greenwich Village, which was, at the time, a frightening locale. There were only eighteen tables in their intimate space, and there continues to be the same number today. Within no time, word spread to Wall Street and business people were coming "uptown" for what was considered some of the best Italian food and service anywhere.
In 2012, the Mascis brothers decided it was time to sell the restaurant that had afforded them an international reputation. Although they never attempted to duplicate Il Mulino, the new management had a vision and began opening new locations, not only in New York, but in other parts of the US and abroad.
As I spoke with the two extraordinary designers of the restaurant, Lee Katzoff and Rozhia Tabnak of Two Blocks East, I learned that they were hoping to appeal to an uptown crowd with the black and white photos of celebrities lining the white walls, and a burst of color coming from a dazzling bouquet of forsythia. This restaurant has a sleek, more contemporary look than the traditional decor of the Greenwich Village locale. "The food and the service must always be the stars of the overall aesthetic," Lee explained. Therefore, they had a room constructed that complements, but does not pull the focus away from, the cuisine.
The designers are also interested in capturing the spirit of the neighborhood, which is why Il Mulino Uptown has such a minimalist, modern vibe compared to the original. Every single visual detail of the restaurant has been carefully thought out by these two innovative women - from the uniforms of the waiters, to the traffic patterns from the kitchen. "It's highly emotional for us," Lee says. Their job is to generate memories, she continued, "Every piece of the puzzle must fit into place to create an environment that people will remember for years to come."
Descending down Scalinatella's ("little stairway") steps felt like traveling back in time as we entered a magical, underground grotto. Although it was a late winter afternoon, there was a perfect shaft of light shining down from the street onto the glistening display of luscious-looking grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The sweet scent of the berries was a winning welcome to a stunning discovery below 61st Street. The decor was classic, as we were surrounded by a three dimensional still life that Cezanne would have loved to have painted: baskets of impossibly red tomatoes, bouquets of orchids, pussy willows, and, of course, bottles of wine. The feeling of entering a timeless wine cellar was made easier to comprehend when we learned that the building is 145 years old. Apparently, some twenty years ago when Luigi Ruso was first building his restaurant, he watched as the workers chipped away at the cement and glass walls until they hit the original brick. He knew he had something special and chose to leave the raw beginnings down below in tact. In front of the kitchen, bricks have been removed, putting the chefs partly on display, as if the diners were peeking at them through a secret chink in a wall, while the bar seems to be chiseled out of the side of the cave. The food is as classic as the ambience, with Scalinatella's specialties being pasta and fresh fish. Diego, our server told us that he has been working along side Luigi for decades, as the two met at Il Mulino on West 3rd Street. While preparing and plating the food, he told us that he cooks much of his pasta dishes right in front of diners. "We do everything – any pasta you want. " Some of us sampled a soft and buttery dish of amorini pasta blackened with squid ink and liberally decorated with shrimp and lobster. Diego also paraded a feast of fish past us, including Branzino, Dover Sole, and more lobster. While listening to stories from several members of the restaurant's team, we learned that every night the dining room is filled with clientele that have been frequenting this hidden romantic gem for years and years.
It is always refreshing to find an oasis among midtown's concrete jungle. Enclosed within an atrium, with soaring glass ceilings and scattered seating throughout, the Sculpture Garden has allowed New Yorkers to feel separate from both the offices attached to it and the street outside. The roof of the atrium functions as a giant skylight, filtering sunbeams down onto the imposing bamboo trees planted at various intervals and the impressive artwork that rotates on a regular basis. A favorite stopping point for me, since they opened in 2010, has been Obikà, a small cafe that specializes in phenomenal fresh mozzarella flown in from Italy.
Walking down the stairs and passing the espresso bar to enter Altesi, I felt like I had been transported onto an Italian street: the design was so perfectly European, with a calmness and slower tempo that signaled a Mediterranean location far removed from the bustle of Manhattan. The true jewel of Altesi, however, is the owner Paolo Alavian, who, after introducing himself and his very sweet wife, Antonia, treated us like royalty. Paolo's generosity and kindness is extended to each and every individual who enters his restaurant. As he guided us through the orange and cream interior, with wine trellises tucked into geometric patterns on the walls and out into the lovely backyard garden, he warmly greeted his guests before sitting himself down to speak with us. As we savored our veritable feast, beginning with sauteed artichoke, octopus in yogurt and tuna carpaccio, Paolo entertained us with stories. Having opened in 2014, he said that it had been an excellent first year. His other restaurants in Soho - Savore and L'Ulivo - have been around for many years, but, surprisingly, it is on the Upper East Side that Paolo finds the people to be the most supportive and friendly. As he said, "the neighborhood really wants you to succeed. It is the first place I have found where people are protecting the businesses. " Paolo does his part to create a neighborhood hotspot. He let us know that he often hosts breakfast and yoga sessions in his back garden. As our second course of pappardelle with duck, black truffles, and peas along with pasta decorated with chanterelles covered in melted pecorino cheese arrived, Paolo continued to amuse us with stories from his childhood and his arrival in the US. Paolo may be one of the few Italian restaurateurs who did not receive his love of food from his family. He explained that his mother, though a wonderful woman, was a terrible cook, and that until the age of eighteen, he weighed only ninety pounds. His parents, both pharmacists, assumed that he would follow in their footsteps and study pharmacology at the University of Miami, where he received a scholarship. Arriving in Florida, it did not take long, however, for Paolo to realize that his passion laid elsewhere. While continuing his studies, he got his first job in a restaurant as a dishwasher, and then quickly worked his way up to busboy and bartender. He would leave class early to "go to the bathroom" in order to get to his shift on time. He never dropped a class, though - Paolo is a big believer in education. He has always told his employees, "If you want to go to school, I will help you. I will work with you. "Paolo described his love for the restaurant business because it is a true meritocracy, where promotions happen quickly and fairly. His story of moving up the ladder sounds like a fairy tale: as a dishwasher, he was bullied by the kitchen staff, and his hands were cracked and bleeding because his coworkers would keep unplugging the dishwasher so that he would have to do everything by hand. When his employer, his figurative fairy godmother, found out, she moved him to the front room as a busboy. As the third course arrived and the Manhattan Sideways team indulged in a remarkable veal cutlet Milanese, a beautiful piece of salmon with exceptional spring vegetables, and a whole branzino, we continued to be impressed by Paolo's extraordinary generosity to others in need. He spoke of his effort to teach a trade to a person with Down Syndrome, hoping that by working in his restaurant that this person would have a skill that they can use throughout their life. Paolo also told us about the success of the Manhattan Girls Chorus, a group that was begun in 2011 by a patron of the restaurant, Michelle Oesterle. Her passion for music and her desire to provide an outlet for girls who are experiencing bullying, unpleasant situations at home, learning disabilities, or any of the other difficulties in simply being a teenager, drove her to found this organization. It is here that Michelle is able to provide a safe haven for the girls to come each week to practice and confide in one another. Having had the extraordinary opportunity to attend their first gala at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and to hear these young girls share their stories of their personal struggles was incredibly touching, but then they gathered to sing, and my heart could not stop pounding. They were magnificent. Paolo, too, has been affected by these teenagers and has taken one of them under his wing. In her, he recognized a well-behaved, smart girl who needed help, and he hired her to work in his restaurant. He has now, essentially, become her father: mentoring her, pushing her to be the best person she can be, and, Paolo jokingly said, "I even crack down on any clients who ask for her phone number. " Paolo explained that he has always remembered the woman who promoted him to busboy when he was having a hard time, and will always feel the desire to give people similar opportunities.
Although filled to the brim inside, the adventure begins simply by gazing through the impressive windows of John Salibello's three antique lighting shops on East 60th. The dazzling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at No. 211 were only the beginning, for upon entering, I learned that the excitement extends back into an even more inspiring gilded maze where every inch of space is utilized to display the carefully curated collection, both upstairs and down a flight. Lori Gray, the store's manager, spoke to me about John Salibello's origins. It turns out that she is one of the best people to do so, as she has been by John's side for years - ever since he was working in the fashion industry. Lori followed John when he left Benetton, as he had become a close friend and she "deeply respected his taste. " I learned from Lori that John was one of the first people to deal in Mid-Century Modern design, "probably because he opened his business just as it was becoming temporarily distant enough to be desirable. " Breaking new ground, he found his stride and has stayed true to it ever since. John's knowledge of the period is extensive, but he makes a point of not being driven by a particular designer, despite their fame. As Lori explained, "He can "talk that talk, " but in the end, John travels the world searching for beautiful pieces, no matter what their origin. "This is why he has been so successful as a trend-setter, " Lori proudly stated. Most items are vintage, but there are some custom-made objects, such as a row or colorful glass boxes made by an artist from Murano. The employees chimed in during a conversation one day, sharing with me how they enjoyed having input into the color combinations for each one. The staff is a crucial part of this well-oiled machine. As one woman put it, they are in charge of the "visualization of the store - John does the buying and we set it up and then sell it. " They are also meticulous about maintaining the inventory, as every piece is always gleaming, a hard outcome to achieve in a store filled with so much glass. John Salibello's triumph in the furniture world also has a lot to do with its location. Because the store is in the design district, everything is in one place, making it easy for interior designers and their clients. When engaging in conversation with John, himself, one day, he expanded on his concept of three boutiques on one street. "We have a tremendous amount of inventory, as that is what our customers prefer. " He said that he loves 60th, but because he cannot house everything in one location, he has chosen to take over additional retail space, while remaining in the same neighborhood. John explained that just the shear size of the pieces he finds requires more room, and then went on to say that he is pleased that his shops are in demand, as people like what he carries and he is forever finding new things to add. As John expressed, "if you want to be spectacular, this is the only way to do it. "
In 1852, six men with similar interests formed a club and called themselves "Gesellschaft, " a word that means "community and society" in German. This group would grow and solidify into the Harmonie Club, the second oldest private club in New York after the Union Club. All six of them were German Jews, and therefore were denied access to the Union Club because of religious discrimination. Much has changed since the Club's founding: at the beginning, a qualification for membership was German ancestry, and communal singing and declamatory contests were popular. Today, one must still be invited to join; however, the emphasis on musical interests has been lost. The building is also different - in 1905, the Club moved from its original 42nd Street location to its current Beaux Arts residence, complete with a grand, elegant dining room that is still in service. Despite all these changes, the Harmonie Club remains a place where the leaders and achievers of the world can find companionship. The above is the history of Harmonie; however, it is not often that I get to offer my own personal note to places of such distinction. Therefore, I must mention that I was married at the Harmonie Club in 1979. From the moment I became engaged, there was no question in my mind, that this was where I wanted my wedding to be held. My father had been a member of the club for a number of years and I had grown up having the most elaborate Sunday brunches in their exquisite dining room. My husband and I chose not to have the traditional Saturday night affair and, instead, opted for a morning wedding with a brunch motif. Having everyone we adored gathered in this private sanctuary was sheer perfection.
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
As we walked into Christ Church, one of the members of the Sideways team commented, "Sometimes it's good to feel small, and that's exactly how I feel right now. " The United Methodist congregation has called Park Avenue home since 1929. In shades of gold and deep blues, the stunning metallic, mosaicked ceiling supported by towering marble columns glistened over our heads. The tiled patterns, however, were not completed until 1949, due to World War II. High on the walls, larger-than-life icons stared down upon us as we sat in the rows of traditional wooden pews for prayer and meditation. Despite the sheer size of the sanctuary, we did not feel intimidated or unwelcome; rather, a sense of peace and calm came over each of us, making this the perfect haven for rest in the midst of the bustling streets of the Upper East Side.
Sopra, located above Amali and owned by the same restaurant group, is a communal dining concept that creates the feeling of an upscale dinner party. In this elegant, high-ceilinged former apartment, up to twenty people can sit at a long table next to the open kitchen and eat a family-style meal. It allows Rachel Goulet, the chef for both Amali and Sopra, to serve up dishes that are impractical to prepare in single portions for a traditional restaurant. What has quickly become most popular are the porchetta (a classic Italian roast pig) and the Roman lamb, a recipe typically made during the Easter season using the whole animal. Sopra not only provides an unconventional style of dining where strangers are encouraged to socialize both with each other and with the chef, but it also provides an education in sustainable food. The meals served at Sopra are "super local and hyper-seasonal, " Steve Breslawski, the events coordinator for both restaurants, explained. Guests receive an interactive and informative lesson in how food can taste if you pay attention to what is available at different times of the year. The patrons that dine at Sopra are often more adventurous eaters, Steve said, than those who frequent Amali - they are eager to taste the unusual meats that are presented, such as wild boar, beef heart and sweet meats. (Note that vegetarians are welcome to order from Amali's menu if Sopra's offerings are too carnivorous)Sopra is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, but it is also available for private events. Large rolling bars separate the space from the "Fireplace Room, " a cozy smaller area that can be rented out separately or as part of Sopra. As I was admiring the photographs that line Sopra's walls, Steve told me that they are pictures of the staff's family, which indeed add to the warmth and comfort of this venue.