On a street of upscale restaurants and expensive stores, Teodora is a welcome breath of fresh air. The cozy two-story restaurant serves dishes from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy and has maintained the same menu as the day it opened some fifteen years ago. Constancy is key at this charming eatery, where a collection of old crockery, tins and jars line the walls. Manuela, the manager, told me that a large group of regulars have been dining at Teodora for years. "I don't even give them the menu anymore, because I already know what they are going to order," she laughed. Similarly, many of the staff has been working in the restaurant "since day one." People go to Teodora for the food you would find in an Italian kitchen – the classic lasagna and bolognese are especially recommended.
Descending down Scalinatella's ("little stairway") steps felt like traveling back in time as we entered a magical, underground grotto. Although it was a late winter afternoon, there was a perfect shaft of light shining down from the street onto the glistening display of luscious-looking grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The sweet scent of the berries was a winning welcome to a stunning discovery below 61st Street. The decor was classic, as we were surrounded by a three dimensional still life that Cezanne would have loved to have painted: baskets of impossibly red tomatoes, bouquets of orchids, pussy willows, and, of course, bottles of wine.The feeling of entering a timeless wine cellar was made easier to comprehend when we learned that the building is 145 years old. Apparently, some twenty years ago when Luigi Ruso was first building his restaurant, he watched as the workers chipped away at the cement and glass walls until they hit the original brick. He knew he had something special and chose to leave the raw beginnings down below in tact. In front of the kitchen, bricks have been removed, putting the chefs partly on display, as if the diners were peeking at them through a secret chink in a wall, while the bar seems to be chiseled out of the side of the cave.The food is as classic as the ambience, with Scalinatella's specialties being pasta and fresh fish. Diego, our server told us that he has been working along side Luigi for decades, as the two met at Il Mulino on West 3rd Street. While preparing and plating the food, he told us that he cooks much of his pasta dishes right in front of diners. "We do everything – any pasta you want." Some of us sampled a soft and buttery dish of amorini pasta blackened with squid ink and liberally decorated with shrimp and lobster. Diego also paraded a feast of fish past us, including Branzino, Dover Sole, and more lobster. While listening to stories from several members of the restaurant's team, we learned that every night the dining room is filled with clientele that have been frequenting this hidden romantic gem for years and years.
It is always refreshing to find an oasis among midtown's concrete jungle. Enclosed within an atrium, with soaring glass ceilings and scattered seating throughout, the Sculpture Garden has allowed New Yorkers to feel separate from both the offices attached to it and the street outside. The roof of the atrium functions as a giant skylight, filtering sunbeams down onto the imposing bamboo trees planted at various intervals and the impressive artwork that rotates on a regular basis. A favorite stopping point for me, since they opened in 2010, has been Obikà, a small cafe that specializes in phenomenal fresh mozzarella flown in from Italy.
The legendary Neary’s has been a staple of New York City dining since its opening on St. Patrick’s Day in 1967. Its founder, Jim Neary, continues to grace his customers with the same, unique dining experience - in 2019 - that they have enjoyed since the beginning.The classy dress code, classic red booth seats, walls filled with an assortment of beautiful and often historically significant pictures, and knickknacks around the restaurant such as two Super Bowl rings, are only a small part of why Neary’s is so special. Neary’s is embodied and defined by its founder, Jimmy Neary, whose compassion and famous “Jimmy Neary smile” has made Neary’s the kind of place where there are “no strangers... no matter if it’s their first time walking in, everyone talks to everyone.”Jimmy was born on a farm in Ireland, and his first job coming into America was at a swimming pool. He eventually moved on to become a bar tender at P.J. Moriarity’s, another Irish-American restaurant, where he met his eventual business partner Brian Mulligan. When Jimmy found his 57th street location - 57th street being the two-way street in the city that runs river to river - he “knew it was the place for him and never looked back.” Over the years he has slowly added to the décor, and stated that “every picture has a story behind it.” With the care that Jimmy has put into every aspect of Neary’s - along with the presence of Jimmy himself - he has managed to make his restaurant an important fixture in the lives of many for generations. Offered the opportunity to expand over the years, it is no surprise that Jimmy has refused, for in his words “it would never be the same.”Jimmy considers Neary’s a family-oriented place, with many of his staff having worked with him for over forty years. Essentially, they have all grown up together. His daughter Una, who works on Wall Street during the day, has worked at Neary’s part time for close to forty years and ascertained that “the food is wonderful, the staff is amazing, but people come for my father.”Jimmy works seven days a week, and in Una’s words, “to get him to take a day off is a major, major feat.” While every day at Neary’s is a special day, its devoted following especially looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day, which for fifty plus years was counted down to by a special clock, and the celebration of Jimmy’s annual surprise birthday party. As a place where everyone is not just welcomed, but also family, it is no surprise that when asked what he liked to do to relax, Jimmy responded that he is “relaxed right here. I come through the door and I’m at home and I walk out happy.”
There are many reasons to dine at BLT Steak, tucked discreetly between The Dorchester and an antique jeweler. Having dined here on varied occasions over the years, I knew visiting with Manhattan Sideways, that we were headed towards something special. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the affable staff and took a seat at one of the dark wood tables. We spoke with John, the Venezuelan maître d', who told us about BLT's secrets for success. "The company feels like family," he said by way of opening, "I've been here for nine years, which is an eternity in the restaurant business." BLT has built a following of regulars who come back repeatedly because they are "infallibly made to feel like they're the only ones in the restaurant." In addition to this impeccable service, the food at BLT is consistently top notch. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand why people keep returning for more. While chatting, the chef prepared a succulent variety of meats, perhaps most famously the enormous Porterhouse steak – a dry-aged masterpiece served with maître d'hOtel butter and a side of roasted garlic. Although meat certainly takes center stage, the restaurant also offers a "sublime" Dover Sole and a Tuna Tartar that, according to John, is the best in the city; "I dare someone to find me a better one," he said. My favorite moment, however, was when the chef presented Yelena, from our team, her first popover. Hailing from Swaziland, she had never encountered this doughy puff of goodness before. I, on the other hand, have had popovers on the top of my list of favorites since I first tried them as a little girl on Long Island. And I can attest to the fact that the ones served at BLT are perfectly prepared.
Drawn in by the video art wall visible through the enormous glass windows, I strolled into The Quin. Previously known as the Buckingham, the hotel reopened its doors in November, 2013. In a city filled with luxury hotels, The Quin stands out thanks to its unique arts program. Building on its legacy as the hotel of choice for painters, musicians, and writers, Quin Arts offers a rotating series of exhibitions, films, and lectures.