Pino Luongo sat down at the table to join us. "Did you enjoy the pasta?" he began. Our immediate response was, "Absolutely." The kitchen had prepared a few of Morso's staple dishes for members of the Manhattan Sideways team: the Pollo Martini, the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, the Carciofi, and the Carciofi Fritti. Pino pointed between the latter two, explaining how, in focusing on using fresh, seasonal ingredients, he is constantly inspired to build several dishes around a single ingredient. In this case, both salads featured artichokes, though one dish was prepared with them raw, circled by orange slices, while the other offered crispy artichokes decorated by olives, pickled fennel and a citrus dressing.
Our bucatini was prepared before our very eyes in the kitchen, where the sous-chef spoke of a camaraderie driven by ideals set with Pino's presence. It is no anomaly to find Pino in the kitchen most nights, getting his hands dirty and making sure each dish comes out the best it can be - which, we learned, of course means "always cooking the pasta in with the sauce." The restaurant's manager, Irene, added, "He takes great pride in his food. Each dish he prepares is like he is cooking for his own family."
Our conversation with Pino lasted through a clear, winter afternoon, with the sunshine slowly reaching across our dining table. His comfortable cadence matched the overall ambiance of the restaurant: casual but bright, embellished by modest, decorations, including antique rolling pins and pop art prints. Pino shared stories of growing up in Tuscany, and arriving in Manhattan to open his first restaurant in the 1980s. Reflecting on the past decades, Pino spoke despondently on how the character of Manhattan has been slowly edged out by ever-growing real estate rents, and how many stores and restaurants that have been home for generations of families now have to shutter. "Soon," he stated, "we are not going to have anything worthwhile left." Pino segued back thirty years, reminiscing about the restaurant scene being built. "I was a part of the old guard," and he is quite proud to have remained friends with some of the great restaurateurs, most notably Jean Georges and Keith McNally, of whom he has only admiration and kind words.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.