Stepping inside Rain, the Manhattan Sideways team discovered an aroma of the divine. Perhaps it is expected for an artisan soap boutique to have a pleasant smell but Rain is far from typical.
Founded in 2000, Rain began as a job creation program in South Africa. Hendrien, Rain's South African owner, was, and remains, aware of the dire lack of opportunities for so many in her native country and elsewhere. With the hope of creating jobs and concurrently honoring the environment, Rain began as a business with both praiseworthy intentions and delightfully aromatic merchandise. All ingredients used in the preparation of Rain's vast array of soap products come from South Africa and include items such as baobab soap, made from the South African "tree of life." Hendrien gave us a tour of the awe-inspiring boutique, which houses countless soaps of diverse shapes and purposes. Each of us made a stop at the make-your-own bath foam station with rows of ingredients and scents, and had the best time testing some heavenly soaps. Officially fair trade and cruelty-free, Rain also vows to treat nature well. With an ostensibly terrific location next to Rockefeller Center, it would seem as though Rain would get plenty of attention. However, when we asked Hendrien about her experience on a side street, she explained that her first two years of business were rather difficult because she had not understood the significant difference between foot traffic on an avenue and that on a side street. Hendrien knows that the store's scent has the power to draw people into the shop, but she is also aware that keeping the door open is not energy efficient. Although this issue is frustrating, it is exemplary of the compassion with which Hendrien works. Every action taken demonstrates that Rain legitimately cares about nature, animals and humans. In an effort to express her shop's essence, Hendrien said, "Rain is a company with a soul." This could not be a more accurate description.
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
If the sight of a regular lunch rush doesn’t convince you to try La Bellezza Pizzeria, then their pitch-perfect, classic New York slices will. After a trip in to try their signature pepperoni and tomato slices (a well-seasoned combination of cheesy, crunchy and savory, the Bellezza team has mastered the elusive sauce-to-cheese ratio), we got a chance to check in with the Dedvukaj family who have operated the East Midtown pizza joint for the past 23 years. Founded by Bronx-based Marko Dedvukaj, son Frank Dedvukaj — who started slinging slices in the shop at just 20 years old — took over the business so that, as Marko put it, “I can focus on the most important job of all — spoiling my grandkids, ” he told us, surrounded by visiting family members, some of whom also used to work at La Bellezza. As groups of grateful office workers filed in and out of the intimate storefront for a slice of pizza or La Bellezza’s famous chicken parmigiano hero — “at one point we were voted the #1 Chicken Parm on Yelp” Frank told us, he added that the biggest change he’s seen in business is a post-COVID slowdown of daytime visitors to the block. “The area is quieter, ” said Frank, noting that they still maintain a set of loyal regulars. “We’re still here! ”