Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
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.
Manhattan has dozens of superb steak houses and Nick & Stef's certainly ranks up there with some of the better ones. Although I have not dined at this location, I recently had an excellent meal at their L. A. restaurant. Beginning with a great salad, as usual, I shared in the sides that everyone chose. I loved the cream spinach (sans bacon breadcrumbs), and I indulged in the numerous potato dishes. My husband was a happy guy having been served a perfectly prepared filet mignon, cooked exactly the way he likes it - charred on the outside and medium on the inside.
Middle Branch rebranded itself as LB33 in 2022. The concept behind Middle Branch is simply explained by manager, Lucinda Sterling. "It stems from drinks created before Prohibition while also utilizing the new ingredients on the market, " but Lucinda emphasized that they adhere to the classics as much as possible. Equally intriguing to me was Lucinda's own story and how she came to run this bar. Eight years ago, she set out on a whimsical cross-country road trip, looking for a "bigger destiny. " Stopping in Manhattan, and having a drink at the bar, Milk & Honey, she struck up a conversation with owner, Sasha Petraske. And as she says, "I never finished that road trip. " She went on to tell me how many inspiring people she has met on this journey and how she has learned to love and appreciate the craft of a good cocktail. "There is so much integrity in what we do here. " So when Sasha decided to open yet another bar, Lucinda was eager to stand behind him. Dimly lit, brooding, and brimming with mystery, Middle Branch is a sophisticated milieu to take a cocktail seriously, impress a date, or even to have a peaceful, uninterrupted evening with friends of all ages. Pineapple lights hang from the ceiling and cast their warm glow over the proceedings, while plush leather seats upstairs let customers sip in languorous comfort. Downstairs, where jazz is played on Tuesdays and bluegrass Wednesdays, standing tables encourage a more active approach to imbibing. We would not have been surprised to run into Voltaire and Montesquieu clinking glasses. But it is hardly all style, the substance is substantial. In addition to classic cocktails, a “bartender’s choice” option lets drinkers tell bartenders (do not make the mistake of calling them “mixologists”) what flavors they like, and then letting the pros perform their magic. Really, it is more poetry than prose. A “something new” section on the menu showcases recent drinks the bartenders have been working on... with wonderful results. There were quite a few of us drinking one Friday night, and we were appreciative of each of the recommendations. Did we like spicy, sweet, ginger, coconut??? Lots of questions until our waitress smiled and quietly walked away. Each time she came back with something unique and splendid. Some favorites were the Chin Chin (made with bourbon, apple cider and fresh ginger), the Cobble Hill (a cheeky spinoff of a Manhattan) and a drink that was yet to come out officially, the Pear Necessities. We were also pleased to have a constant bowl of handmade pretzels set before us as this along with mixed nuts are the only food options... and soon to be introduced, their secret blend of popcorn. Across the bottom of the menu, they score bonus points with pithy quotes from historical bon vivants. From Mark Twain: “never refuse to do a kindness unless the act would work great injury to yourself, and never refuse to take a drink - under any circumstances. ” If all of our drinks were created at Middle Branch, I am quite sure that none of us would.
New York City means a lot of things to a lot of people. For many members of the Sideways team, it means nothing if not basketball. But while the game historically flourished in and even helped define life in (parts of) the City, it is nowhere near its historical apex these days. Perhaps the playground ‘ball is as lively as it ever was. But the New York Knicks, the currently flawed tenants of Madison Square Garden, have not won an NBA championship in thirty years. Once beloved for its prowess, the team now seems more beloved for its power to inspire griping and grumbling among its loyal fans. Throughout it all, though, the Garden has remained a hallowed basketball ground, a place that has inspired basketball luminaries to some of their most electrifying performances. It is, perhaps, basketball’s most storied arena. The Garden wears many hats. The New York Rangers, the City’s NHL team, also calls this arena home. Musicians and stage performers come through here on tour (with Billy Joel recently being named the Garden’s first entertainment franchise, essentially a musician-in-residence), college basketball tournaments (and Saint John’s home games) are played, even wrestling events. Underneath, meanwhile, lies the transportation hub that is Pennsylvania Station. Once upon a time, this station was a beautifully built, high-ceilinged architectural masterpiece, an elegant way to arrive into Manhattan. It was torn down, however, in 1963, replaced by a much less grand iteration. (This loss of a great landmark was perhaps inspirational in the movement to preserve the beautiful Grand Central Terminal. ) Now, the future of the entire complex is up in the air as many are pushing for a new Penn Station. The Garden, meanwhile, has a ten-year operating permit, at the end of which, it may be forced to move.
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.
Since August 2010, Le Parisien has specialized in exactly those dishes the French specialize in, while adding its own je ne sais quoi. Escargot. Onion soup. Steak frites. Duck Confit. Oui, monsieur. Locals aplenty turn Francophile to flock to this eatery, cozily tucked into a tight space but overflowing with personality-per-square–foot. In place of the usual butter and flour-heavy culinary techniques, the menu focuses on reductions to keep patrons a bit healthier. Merci, monsieur. In addition to having what they assured us is the best chicken in the neighborhood, the mussels are prominently featured on the menu, as they are "wildly popular. " Wine from France and the monde over complements the cuisine nicely. Whether looking for a lovely spot for an indulgent lunch or an amorous rendezvous, we found Le Parisien to be tres magnifique.
The blending of Cuban and Chinese culture at Calle Dao is evident from the moment one steps into the restaurant in which Cuban cigar boxes and fresco walls neighbor Chinese vases and figurines. When we stopped by, we had the chance to sit down to chat with owner Marco Britti, who is also responsible for the innovative interior decoration. He told us that the décor is meant to “transport you back to Havana. ” With meticulous attention to each detail including a gate patterned exactly like a traditional style of door in Havana, and intricately distressed wooden chairs, the space is remarkably cohesive. Marco’s own life has been somewhat of a fusion as well. Originally from Naples, Italy, he moved to New York in 1996. He told us, “as an immigrant I left Italy to go to New York. So I know what it is like to leave everything behind, try something out and make a business out of it. ” While pursuing a music career – Marco plays the drums – he also worked part time in restaurants. In 1999 he took a trip to Cuba, and ended up living in the Chinatown of Havana for nine months. While there, he learned about the wave of Cuban-Chinese restaurants and was struck by the Chinese influence on the cooking culture. Upon returning to New York, he found that there had not been much development of Cuban-Chinese fusion in the city, which furthered his interest in the restaurant industry. He went on to open his first restaurant, Cubana Café, and later Favela Cubana, both of which presented dishes from different cultures side-by-side. The complete fusion was only realized when he went on to open Calle Dão in the late summer of 2014, partnering with executive chef Humberto Guallpa. Marco said that his situation now is not something he would have ever predicted, and remarks that “it’s interesting to see how you can cross paths in life like that. All of a sudden you are doing something else. ”
Former bankers, husband and wife team Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang, certainly have found a successful niche on 37th Street. If we had not already read that the interior of Cafe China was decorated to resemble Shanghai during the 1930s, we might have guessed that we were having lunch in a 1950s American diner replete with red vinyl chairs and a vintage mint colored mini fridge next to the bar. Once we sat down at our table, however, and had an opportunity to further explore the restaurant, the classy 1930s Shanghai elements became clear. There is a beautiful chandelier twinkling in the back room, blue velvet covering the quaint booths on one side of the restaurant, and Chinese characters decorating some of the prints that hang on the walls. Once past the intriguing decor, we began to concentrate on the menu. The Sideways team ordered some of our favorite staples including wonton soup, vegetable pot stickers, cold sesame noodles and pork dumplings - all perfectly prepared. But it was the Ma Po Tofu dish that stole the show. Having recently learned of this delectable dish, I was eager to try it, and what better place than at a Michelin star restaurant. I was promised it would not be made too spicy for me. It certainly had a kick, but I was able to appreciate the various flavors of the dish and loved it.