Fabio Hakill, the eponymous chef and owner of Fabio Cucina, moved from Rome to New York in the mid 1990s where he quickly made a name for himself as an accomplished chef. After eighteen years as a co-owner at Piccolo Fiore on East 44th Street, Fabio decided to go it alone early in 2014. At his new Italian restaurant, Fabio is enjoying experimenting with a varied menu. His specialties include the Fettuccini al Fabio - made with veal, mushrooms and truffles, and an array of risottos. He told me, however, that he is willing to prepare virtually any dish that a customer requests. After stopping by during their busy lunch hour one day, Fabio invited us back in the evening to sample some of his signature dishes. As we walked across 52nd Street to the west side, we were dreaming about the Italian food that awaited us when we would circle back to the east side later in the evening. Weary from our long day, we eagerly took a seat near the wide windows to observe others walking by, while we indulged in the fresh bread basket, chilled white wine, some outstanding appetizers, a seafood risotto and a pasta dish. It was an ideal end to a very long day on 52nd.
When we visited the new Bistango at the end of the summer of 2014, located in The Kimberly Hotel, Chef Blessings Strange and staff member William Turbert were testing out a dish to add to their menu - grilled watermelon with snippets of mint and deep fried fennel, topped with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction. They put out three additional small plates at the bar, encouraging us to taste and weigh in. It was a refreshing pick-me-up for each of us, but little did we realize that there would be several more dishes headed our way. While Chef Blessings began food prep, we had the pleasure of meeting both Anthony Avellino, the manager - part of the Bistango family for twenty-two years - and Marc Mirbod, one of the owners, who first chimed in describing Anthony as being "the real salt of the earth kind of guy." and then went on to give us some insight into this recently established location.Fred Manocherian, owner of The Kimberly Hotel, was intrigued by the eleven-year-old gluten-free program at Bistango on 29th and Third Avenue and invited the team to open a restaurant on 50th. According to Marc and Anthony, the concept behind the Bistango restaurants is "very straightforward." They want to offer a moderately priced seasonal Italian menu with uncomplicated, locally sourced food. When they joined forces with Mr. Manocherian, the goal was to "bring what was successful on 29th to their new location." They have adopted a system where there is absolutely no cross-contamination between gluten and gluten-free meals. Chef Blessings told us that perhaps the most rewarding aspect of working in the restaurant is to watch the pleasure on people's faces when they are enjoying a bowl of pasta or a pizza for the first time in years, having never been anywhere before that can serve them a great Italian gluten-free meal. Once again Marc weighed in praising Chef Blessings, "He is the brains and heart behind the menu."While chatting, Chef Blessings continued to dish out amazing food for us to sample: A simple salad with romaine lettuce was perfectly dressed and topped with marcona almonds; an adventurous Linguine Deniro - squid ink pasta mixed with swordfish, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and a light sauce of white wine and olive oil; and perhaps the best burrata I had tried all summer long. Blessings told us it is delivered fresh from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont. Served at room temperature, the cream oozed out from the center and onto a bed of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, toasted pumpkin seeds, white pepper, and balsamic vinegar powder. Needless to say, we devoured everything.It was then that Mr. Personality, William Turbert, fired up the pizza oven, eager for us to taste the gluten-free pizza dough his teammate Jeff Walawski has spent years perfecting. William described himself as "an Italian boy from Brooklyn with the accent and personality to prove it." As he entertained and utterly charmed us, he was simultaneously making two pizzas for tasting: a margarita with buffalo mozzarella and heirloom baby tomatoes, and another made with La Quercia prosciutto and their homemade ricotta. Until William reminded us, we forgot that we were eating a gluten-free dough. That's how good it was.The simple burgundy and dark wood decor, the dozens of antique model planes from Mr. Manocherian's personal collection hanging from the ceiling, the intimate size of the dining room, the open view into the kitchen and of course the impeccable food made for an outstanding experience. The Manhattan Sideways team had an unexpected and heavenly meal, but equal to the food was the attention that we received from all the players at Bistango.
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Lyn Trotman describes Quest as “a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of midtown.” President of the New York Theosophical Society, which studies the wisdom behind various world religions, Lyn also operates the Society’s book shop, Quest. The store is a pleasantly-scented oasis, with a section devoted to incense, candles, and gemstones. People interested in esoteric studies and rituals can browse through books on every conceivable spiritual tradition, from Kabbalah, to Sufism, to Buddhism, and all things in between. “A lot of other metaphysical bookstores are gone. We are the oldest one left.”