One day, Tom, the photographer for Manhattan Sideways, and I stopped by to say hello to Roz, the dear and wonderful man who owns Lou Lou Buttons. After catching up for a few minutes, he insisted that we accompany him across the street to meet his friends, the owners of the Cuban restaurant that would be opening the following day. We were immediately greeted with hugs and handshakes and, of course, some incredible Cuban food.
Roz enthusiastically led me and Tom around the space, including upstairs, proudly pointing out the fantastic artwork displayed on both floors. When we finished our tour, we were introduced to Yussep Garcia, the artist. He told me that he came to this country in 2010 from the Dominican Republic, expecting to be a dishwasher. When he met Abbas, the owner of Havana, he mentioned that he loved to paint. Abbas immediately hired him, not to wash the dishes in his restaurant, but rather to fill his walls with artwork. "He trusted me from day one," Yussep said in disbelief. In September 2016, Havana moved across the street from its original 1991 location, meaning it now has even more space for Yussep's art. Each painting magnificently depicts the colorful and captivating impressions of Cuban life and its culture.
Also gathered in the restaurant the day before the grand opening were Abbas' partners and their chef, Rene Hernandez. After putting on a cooking demonstration for us in the kitchen - during which he prepared a classic chicken dish, pineapple salsa, and other vegetables - Rene sat down to chat. A fascinating man, he informed us that he is originally from Italy, but has cooked in some of the finest restaurants around the world: "I have spent forty-five years in the kitchen with thirty-seven of them being a chef." He has helped people open restaurants as far away as Russia and Spain. "Now I am looking forward to retirement and settling in Puerto Rico," the chef confessed.
Tom and I would have loved to have spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing with this warm and friendly group, but we needed to move on. Before leaving, however, I had one important question. I had been introduced to people from many different countries - the three owners are from Iran, the chef from Italy, the painter from the DR, etc. - so when I asked the crowd of people gathered, who was from Cuba, they laughed and admitted "no one." Apparently, Havana NY was opened by a Cuban in 1991, but Abbas purchased the restaurant in 1993, with the promise to keep the Cuban dining experience authentic.
After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Stout NYC has the magic ability of seeming both like a large fortress and like a cozy cavern. It claims to be New York's largest Irish pub, and yet comfortable seating and cobblestone floors give the bar a warm, friendly atmosphere. With two other locations in the Financial District and near Grand Central, Stout NYC has set itself up as a neighborhood hangout three times over.
A giant rhomboid patterned installation hovers just below the ceiling, slithering enormously down the back wall and giving the impression of being inside a dimly lit, atmospheric basilisk. Browns, oranges, and tans, along with natural greens of bamboo lining the walls, make for an incredibly pleasant dining experience. The sushi and the crispy rice are well-regarded, and deservedly so. The chic restaurant first opened its doors in Los Angeles, and then found its way eastward into the Bryant Park Hotel with its latest location being Abu Dhabi.
Before discussing anything about Arno with the Manhattan Sideways team in the summer of 2017, the manager, Carlos Pereira, spoke like a true local. He lamented the state of New York’s transportation infrastructure, insurance, taxes, and cleanliness, only to then reveal that he commutes each day from his home in New Jersey. After receiving our education on the state of 38th Street, we learned a bit about this extraordinary man's career. Born in Portugal, where he was a bartender at age sixteen, he traveled to New York in 1989. He scored a position at the legendary Le Cirque (in its original location) - ”I received the best culinary education in America by owner Sirio Maccioni" - before becoming the manager of Arno in 2007.Carlos had plenty to share with us about Arno, which he did over meticulously prepared dishes, including a rare treat of risotto with shaved truffles. It was like a bowl of diamonds being set down before us. As we savored every single bite, Carlos gave us a lesson on the world of black and white truffles.The story of Arno traces back to Florence, near the Arno River from which the restaurant draws its name. There, the two founders met and discovered a mutual ambition. Managing partners Milan Licul and Branko Turcinovic emigrated to the U.S. as waiters, but soon opened a restaurant called Morano in 1984. Morano was later renamed Delmonico’s Kitchen, and was followed only a year later by Arno. While Delmonico’s Kitchen specializes in meats and steaks, Arno is known for its old-school, classic Italian cuisine.There were many challenges in the years between 1984 and the present that could not be shrugged off by restaurants in the Garment District. Carlos related that this particular swath of New York has seen countless restaurants come and go, and yet the owners held fast to Arno. Even in the 1980s, when the area was bad enough that Arno often had to close by 7pm, the restaurant remained "a true testament to who they were," Carlos proudly stated. The staff wear the neighborhood as a badge of honor, subtly adorning the restaurant with buttons and thread inset into tables, a wall of colorful fabrics, fashion photos - "This is what keeps us sexy," according to Carlos - and various other garment motifs.So how has Arno endured the trials of time? Carlos believes it is “because we treat clients like family.” This approach certainly cultivates a comfortable atmosphere, as Carlos claimed that ninety percent of their dedicated clientele are regular customers. In addition to the lengthy list of fashion designers and celebrities that Carlos recited, he told us that many come into the city for Knicks games and other events at Madison Square Garden, and stop by Arno for a familiar meal of traditional homemade pastas, eggplant rollatini, grilled zucchini, tomato, mozzarella and peppers, veal parmigiana, numerous seafood options, and, of course, the Delmonico classic steak. Carlos even shared that they have over 150 "house accounts," a rarity in the present day. What struck a particular chord with me was the dessert cart that strolls through the restaurant at every meal, as I have fond memories of this practice from when I dined out as a child. It is filled with some of the best classic desserts prepared by their French pastry chef and, like the restaurant itself, is animated by the spirit of the old country, but seasoned with the flavor of New York.
Having a personal guided tour by sales manager, Jason Sturtevant, made me aware of many details I might otherwise have never learned, as well as making my experience at The Archer a superb one. Since the hotel is located in what was once the thriving, garment district, the interior of the lobby is designed to be reminiscent of the 1940s, with large steel structures stylishly cutting through the room. The entrance features a small bar, Bugatti, named after the brand of restauranteur, David Burke’s beloved car. With a garage-style door that opens to the street in warmer weather, and a bright yellow decor, the atmosphere of the bar is charming and laid back.Viewing several different rooms, Jason explained that each one displays slight variations of beautiful designs and color schemes. Averaging 200 square feet, the rooms, as Jason put it, are “intimate in size, in true New York fashion.” The use of the space has been done in an elegant fashion with the floor-to-ceiling windows working wonders to open up the rooms. Many have hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, creating a tasteful and stylish atmosphere throughout.While guests will not meet the eponymous Archer, who functions as “the personification of gracious hospitality,” they are certain to feel his presence during their stay. Each room is made ready for arrival with a personalized note, bottled New York City water, his and her robes and slippers, and a selection of books, including Archer favorites Gift From The Sea and The Little Prince. There is a well-stocked minibar with one side of the fridge allowing for personal storage, and complimentary espresso and grab-and-go coffee are available in the lobby. Encouraging their guests to work out “with New Yorkers, like New Yorkers,” Archer also offers passes to a nearby gym. Additionally, the Archer is environmentally conscious with sensors and efficient solutions for saving energy implemented throughout the building.The selection of art found in the hotel is remarkable. Curated by art consultant Deborah Davis Goodman, almost every piece on display in the Archer was created by New York artists. This commitment to supporting local artists and businesses is further established in the curated retail section at the front of the hotel where jewelry, trays, sea salt caramels, and pocket squares, all made by New York City artisans, are proudly on display.From the captivating art to the jar of homemade peanut brittle, it is the impressive attention to detail that makes the Archer stand out. The New York City Archer opened at the end of May 2014, and two more hotels are expected to open in Napa, California and Austin, Texas by 2016. Filled with personal touches, the hotel certainly comes across as welcoming, detail-oriented, and cohesively designed. Having gained four diamonds by AAA and in the process of getting its four star rating from TripAdvisor, the Archer seems to have already established itself amongst the favored New York City boutique hotels.
New to 38th Street in 2014, and without much competition surrounding it on the side street, District appears to be off and running. With flat screens in the booths, a mile long list of beers, and an American menu that includes appetizers of lobster sliders, buffalo quail wings and truffled cheese croquettes, people in the area seem to be ecstatic that this tap house has arrived on 38th.
Named after nonviolence, Ahimsa is kosher, vegan, and gluten free. The restaurant, whose first location opened in 2016, fulfils a teenage dream of Frank Shah, who owns Ahimsa along with his wife Maya. Growing up poor in Mumbai, Shah’s family could not even afford a biryani. Now, he serves biryani and more authentic North and South Indian dishes made fresh every day. Delicious Indian street-side dishes from Shah’s childhood like vada pav and bhel puri make Ahimsa unique among other Indian restaurants in the city. Being in New York is an important part of Ahimsa’s mission. Shah hopes to use the restaurant to expand non-Indian New Yorkers’ ideas about what Indian food is and to show non-vegan New Yorkers how many delicious meals can be made without meat or dairy.