Souvlaki GR provides diners with a small slice of Greek heaven. Amid the decorations, music, and food, visitors can feel as though they have been whisked away to a cozy taverna on the beautiful island of Mykonos. This authenticity is not without reason: Tina Plagos, a first-generation Greek-American who owns Souvlaki GR with her husband, cherishes her heritage. Every summer, Tina and her family return to Greece, where they continue to be inspired with new ideas for their Manhattan eatery. People who visit the restaurant today might be surprised to learn that Souvlaki GR was, initially, a food truck, started by Tina's brother-in-law. Due to its quality and popularity, he promptly won a Vendy Award, which honors the best in street food. Motivated by his success, Tina’s husband opened Souvlaki GR’s first brick-and-mortar location on the Lower East Side. Five years later, in October of 2015, Tina and her husband added the midtown location. The Greek atmosphere begins with the restaurant’s exterior, which is draped with bright pink bougainvillea flowers and tastefully painted in the colors of the Greek flag – Aegean blue and white. Like the traditional tavernas of Greece, the restaurant offers outdoor seating in the warmer months. Inside, the blue and white color theme continues, enhanced by the framed displays, many of which come straight from Greece: One contains several pairs of trendy sunglasses from two fashion-blogger Greek sisters, while another consists of stunning blue evil-eye jewelry that is popular in the Mediterranean, and the third display has worry beads, which are commonly displayed and worn in Greece. In addition to the decorations, the restaurant incorporates Greek design in its layout; there is a small private nook. This is separated from the rest of the dining area by partial walls, giving diners a chance to have an even more peaceful experience in the restaurant’s already-relaxing ambience. The authentic Greek experience begins from the moment one arrives at the restaurant, and continues throughout the meal, as many of the recipes are passed down from family members including the Greek chef’s grandmother. Both locations currently serve souvlaki - small pieces of meat or vegetables grilled on a skewer - in pita wraps. Tina proudly told us that Souvlaki GR receives fresh deliveries of meat and produce every day. Tina went on to say that many of the ingredients are imported straight from Greece - including the wine, beer and spices, and, of course, the extra virgin olive oil, which is from Kalamata. Even the salt on the table, Kalas Classic, is a product of Greece. Tina and her husband's efforts to create a quality cultural experience have not gone unnoticed; Tina has received calls from Chicago, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and Denver asking her to open new locations. While Tina is excited about the possibility of future expansion, she wants to add another location in New York first.
Beautifully decorated for the holiday season, Bistro Vendome was still abuzz with chatter when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped by at the tail end of lunch hour to meet with the delightful owner, Virginie Petiteau. Although she and her husband Pascal, who is the executive chef, hail from Brittany, France, they met in New York, where they both worked at Jubilee, a French restaurant on First Avenue. After fifteen years there, Virginie said they felt ready to open their own place. She told us that it was great to already have a base of customers in the area that knew and supported them when they opened Bistro Vendome in 2010. And she was pleased to tell us that they have maintained a loyal clientele ever since. As Virginie put it: "Some people who come here saw me when I was pregnant, and now my daughter is fourteen. "Pascal started working at high-end French restaurants in France at an early age. After coming to New York, he decided to focus on more casual French food. In 2014, he was inducted as Master Chef in Mątres Cuisiniers de France, a prestigious organization aiming "to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development. " An unusual occurrence continued to happen as we resumed our walking on 58th, as so many other businesses told us that they eat at Bistro Vendome on a regular basis because the food was as traditionally French as one could hope for in Manhattan.
Trendy, immense, packed at any hour and serving intriguing Pan-Asian food, Tao has been a sensation on 58th since opening its doors in 2000. Stepping inside, one cannot help but immediately feel transported to a different world. The interior design is exceptionally meticulous with beautiful calligraphy scrolls adorning the high ceilings, and a sixteen foot massive Buddha sculpture taking center stage down below. Despite the frenetic atmosphere, I have found Tao to be a fun restaurant to dine with friends and to enjoy an excellent meal.