When I asked Alessandro Peluso, the owner of Bocca, if he had gone to culinary school or had a passion for cooking as a young man, he laughed and told me that he had initially studied accounting and then moved to London in 1997. He began working in restaurants then, but never envisioned himself owning one until he came to New York in 2000. His first place, Cacio E Pepe, opened in 2004 in the East Village, and then a year later he launched Spiga on the Upper West Side, and then sold it. In 2007, Bocca came to be - and it is here that chef and partner, Salvatore Corea, prepares traditional Roman cuisine. Esteban and I came in one afternoon for some photos and a bit of lunch and left an hour later totally satiated. We thought we would order a light meal that we could share, beginning with a roasted pepper and fennel soup, followed by the cow's milk mozzarella (made in-house) with fire-roasted marinated peppers, capers, and balsamic reduction, followed by a roasted vegetable panini with goat cheese. Little did we realize that next would arrive a large wheel of pecorino romano hollowed out and filled with house-made pasta and served tableside on warm plates with cheese, melted butter, and crushed black pepper. Perhaps it sounds simple, but the flavors of Bocca's signature dish, Tonnarelli Cacio E Pepe, were intense, incredible, and unforgettable. Thank you, Alessandro.
Pepi Di Giacomo and Luca Di Pietry, veterans of the hospitality industry and wine and espresso intenditori, have taken a slice of the Abruzzo province and established it across Manhattan in their cafes. 18th Street, however, is where their Italian cuisine is most pronounced. It is as much about local produce and a dynamic menu as it is about traditional dishes. Depending on the time of day, there is espresso, a selection of pastries, an extensive wine list and a full Italian menu. An added surprise in the warmer months is their gelato booth, stationed right outside the restaurant. Perfect for us on the first day the temperature reached 80 degrees.
The Azzollini family has been at the heart of Paul & Jimmy’s since Cosmo Azzollini waited tables at its 1950 incarnation on Irving Place. Back in 1968, when Cosmo purchased the restaurant, the Azzollini’s made it their own slice of southern Italy. Even today, Louis and his son, Greg, keep the focus on home: homemade cuisine, a home-style atmosphere, and the homey touches of Italian hospitality. Paul & Jimmy’s is truly a family-run, neighborhood business. Louise and Greg emphasized that “one of us is always here - we are the only ones with the keys. We open and close every night.” Greg has worked in the restaurant since 2005, and - after culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education, working at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria in Manhattan, and furthering his culinary studies in Italy - is currently the head chef. Linda, Louis’s wife, is in charge of the accounting. Together, the whole Azzollini family works hard to ensure that everyone who walks through their doors feels like part of the family. They are proud that the majority of their customers are local, and are particularly pleased that they have “a lot of customers who have been coming forty, fifty, sixty years, and also a lot that come three, four, five times a week.” As for Paul & Jimmy’s younger clientele, they are often surprised when Louise is able to tell them what their parents or grandparents used to eat. Their secret is that their “food is phenomenal… we have great waitstaff, we have reasonable prices, a cozy atmosphere, and are extremely accommodating.” They try their best to fulfill non-menu food requests or change the dish to suit their customers’ needs, which is generally “very easy” since “everything is cooked to order.” Louise told us it does not surprise him that many of their customers come so often, since they have “fifty or sixty different dishes on their menu - not including specials.” With an emphasis on freshness, they are proud that they source their fish, produce, and meat from well-established New York businesses. Gregg makes their own mozzarella fresh every day, as well as many of their pastas, and Paul & Jimmy's offers their own line of sauces, both in the restaurant and at a few local shops in the city.
Although Eataly is right down the street, Mangia has been upholding its fine reputation for terrific Italian antipasto, pasta salads and sandwiches for over thirty years. For a quick and savory lunch without the crowd, Mangia becomes the perfect dining spot. Since opening their first sandwich shop on 56th street in 1981, Mangia has grown into a catering business that services much of the New York area.
Arthur Avenue in the Bronx had become a monthly excursion for me and friends while I lived in Westchester. We would shop for pasta, bread, mozzarella and olive oil and then wander over to Roberto Paciullo's' restaurant for lunch. In 2008, we changed our routine up a bit in order to try out his new restaurant, Zero Otto Nove. Needless to say, we were overjoyed with the atmosphere and, of course, the incredible food. Shortly after I moved back into the city, I read that Roberto had made the decision to open a restaurant in Manhattan. My husband and I were one of his first customers on 21st Street, and we have been coming back on a regular basis. In a simple statement, the food is excellent. The intensively hot brick oven cooks their thin crust pizzas to perfection. I adore the stacked eggplant and zucchini parmesan, the guileless arugula salad, any number of their pasta dishes, and I always order a side of the cauliflower with breadcrumbs. Combining the star attractions on each menu from his two successful restaurants in the Bronx, and designing an inviting space has made dining here a pleasure.
The moment I walked into Burger and Lobster, I knew that it was not a typical seafood restaurant. Huge lobsters swam in tanks by the door, and a whimsical chalkboard announced the restaurant’s grand total of three menu items: the burger, the lobster, and the lobster roll. When Burger and Lobster opened in January of 2015, no one knew whether its limited menu would appeal to New Yorkers. Vanessa, the general manager, was especially skeptical. “But after just a few weeks,” she told me, “the restaurant was a huge success! I couldn’t believe it.” Since then, Burger and Lobster’s reputation has continued to grow, and the wait on weekends can be up to an hour. When I stopped by on a sweltering July afternoon, I could see why the restaurant has become so popular. Housed in a former tae kwon do studio, Burger and Lobster feels both casual and upscale, with high ceilings and simple décor (I especially liked the lobster trap light fixtures). With seating for up to 300 people at a time, the restaurant can easily accommodate large groups, and the downstairs space is available for private events. Even better, every item on the menu is $20 and comes with generous portions of salad and fries. Burger and Lobster has a distinctively American feel, so I was surprised to learn that the company is based in the UK. According to Vanessa, it all started out with four friends who had known each other since high school. They already owned several high-end London restaurants, and when they decided to do something fun and different, Burger and Lobster was born. The first restaurant was so successful that the business multiplied, and now has eight locations in London and several others in Manchester, Wales, and Dubai. All of Burger and Lobster’s locations have the same laid-back atmosphere, but Vanessa told me that the New York restaurant is the most fun. “A lot of our servers are actors and actresses,” she explained, “and they’re always having a good time. Last week, two of them performed a scene from Dirty Dancing, and everyone loved it!”In spite of its relaxed environment, Burger and Lobster is very serious about the quality of its food. Vanessa explained that they buy all of their lobsters from the same group of lobstermen in Nova Scotia, while their beef comes from carefully selected Nebraskan ranchers. “We work really closely with them to make sure all of our food is of the highest possible quality,” Vanessa added.We had the opportunity to try the food for ourselves just a few minutes later, when the server presented us with all three of Burger and Lobster’s menu items. The lobster paired perfectly with the lemon garlic butter (as did the fries), and once we managed to bite into the towering ten-ounce burger, we found that it was juicy and filling. The Manhattan Sideways team especially enjoyed the creamy lobster roll on soft butter brioche, a choice that felt refreshing and summery. Though we did not sample the drink menu, Vanessa told us about the signature cocktails and wines that Burger and Lobster has on tap, as well as its many beer options.When we had eaten as much burger and lobster as we could—the portions were quite large—Vanessa took us on a tour of the restaurant’s lobster lab. This area, which was designed by a marine biologist and is regulated by a complex computer system, can hold up to 4000 pounds of lobster at any given time. “We go through a lot of lobster,” Vanessa told us. “On weekends, sometimes we use as many as a thousand per day.” While the smaller lobsters are kept downstairs in the lab, the “big boys,” as they’re affectionately known, are kept on the main floor for customers to admire. Between six and eighteen pounds, some of these lobsters are estimated to be eighty or ninety years old, and they are quite an impressive sight. We even got a chance to hold one of the big boys, a six-pounder who remained surprisingly calm as we lifted him by the claws. Burger and Lobster’s Manhattan location has received rave reviews, and Vanessa told us that the company will soon bring its high-quality food and impressive service to other locations in New York and the United States. But until then, anyone hoping to experience Burger and Lobster will have to make their way to this cool, casual spot on West 19th Street.
Many bars and restaurants are open every day of the week, but how many are open every single day of the year? McManus was founded in 1911 and moved to this location in 1936, and four generations of the family have operated this warm and welcoming Irish tavern since. Today it is Peter McManus’s grandson and great-grandson who stand side by side serving beer. The bar has a real neighborhood feel, with regulars stopping in at all hours to watch sports on one of the several TVs, listen to music on the jukebox, or play video games. A room with shiny vinyl booths and red and white checked table cloths is available for anyone who would like to grab a bite from McManus’ simple American menu. We were taken with the original features of the building, especially the Tiffany stained glass windows and the two classic wooden telephone booths.
Tom Geniesse is in love with the Flatiron District and he believes he has chosen the perfect location to house his cleverly laid out wine shop. As he explained, there are two ways to shop for wine - first - the old fashioned way with the wines alphabetized by country. Thus, along the walls at the front of the store, multiple wine regions from around the world are represented alphabetically, beginning with Argentina. It is down the center of the shop, however, that Tom'sother idea for displaying wines comes to fruition: The same wines that line the sides are now separated by category - Meat, Seafood, Take-out, Treats, Gifts, Value, Events. Get the idea? The fun doesn't stop here, though, for next to each bottle Tom has a "resume" of each wine, providing tools to make wise choices. Collectors with deep pockets can find a fine selection as can university students who prefer not to spend a great deal. Bottlerocket is designed to build a bridge for consumers to make the right decision. When asked what drew him into the wine business, Tom said that he was a "crazy entrepreneur" who had lots of different jobs but continuously found himself disappointed in wine shops. "I always wanted to know more, and this is a result of that effort."