Expect an absolutely old-world Spanish experience when dining in this restaurant that has been in the same spot since 1966 with some of the original staff still serving many of their first customers. Traditional dishes from all regions of Spain are prepared by the chef who has been cooking here for over thirty years and was trained by the owner, Julio Diaz, who was aged 82 when I visited in 2013 and can still be found at the restaurant almost everyday. A favorite for many is to come by and take a seat at the bar where a variety of tapas are brought out after ordering a drink, including Tortilla Espanola (a Spanish omelet), patatas (potatoes), sherry wine meatballs and spicy garlic vinaigrette chicken wings. It wasn't until we had spent a bit of time chatting with one of the friendly gentlemen at the bar that we realized he is the son of the owner. He has grown up in the restaurant and has worked here for many decades.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.
Boqueria has three locations in New York and six total between NYC and Washington D. C, with a seventh in Chicago on the way in 2019. As a social media friendly and chic iteration of Barcelona’s most trafficked and well-known market, El Mercat de la Boqueria - a tourist destination known for its tapas bars and various food stands - Boqueria has staked its place as one of the most recognizable Spanish restaurants on the East Coast. Boqueria’s modern vibe is not only curated by its interior design and culinary aesthetics, but also by its music, a smooth combination of European house and dance music a la Ibiza. Boqueria prides itself on its upbeat, vibrant atmosphere that replicates the communal spirit of Spanish and Catalan tapas restaurants. Boqueria was founded in 2006 by Yann de Rochefort at its flagship location in the Flatiron district. Its success in the competitive industry of Spanish cuisine in Manhattan is remarkable. Marc Vidal, the current head chef, got his start in the Catalan Pyrenees and on the Canary Islands, eventually landing at the Michelin starred Gaig in Barcelona. He has learned from some of high cooking’s finest to create and execute the intricate dishes of Boqueria. The restaurant strives to be a tapas bar with “no compromises” - a consistent restaurant made for anybody who is looking to share tapas in a warm and exciting environment. With a bilingual serving staff, Boqueria’s commitment to authenticity is not feigned. Their menu directly seeks to offer the local flavors of Catalonia. Among the dishes sampled by Manhattan Sideways was the Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp with garlic), Espinacas a la Catalana (catalan spinach), and Paella de Mariscos (seafood paella). Their menu is “market-driven” and characterized by a number of seasonal selections in both food and beverages. Kieran Chavez is the head of the beverage program, which has created a menu that embraces and salutes Spanish alcohol of all persuasions. The Spanish wine list celebrates the country’s internal diversity in both culture and climate, and there is a vermouth-based build-your-own-cocktail option, the classic Barcelona pilsner Estrella Damm, and a rotating selection of seasonal cocktails. Boqueria is rapidly expanding into one of the most stable and dynamic “institutions” of Spanish cuisine in the US. Creating bridges between Barcelona and New York is something that members of the Manhattan Sideways team take dearly to heart, as the two are some of their favorite cities in the world - as distinct, but comparable melting pots that are effortlessly conducive to cultural culinary exchange. Boqueria has not only retained the original authenticity of its original mission and location, but has expanded it even as its popularity has grown.
Our senses all perked up as we experienced the exotic scents in this Mediterranean café where the Arabic name translates to welcome and peace. Bassam Omary came to New York thirty-five years ago as a student and worked at his cousin’s Greenwich Avenue Syrian restaurant. With his wife Joan, he bought and moved the restaurant to 13th street, where they have been cooking traditional Middle Eastern dishes and satisfying culinary cravings for fifteen years. The food is superb. After a long day of interviews, we stopped back at Salam for a late lunch. We were served a platter with an array of food: hummus with a lemon flair, babaganouj with fresh pita, grape leaves stuffed with cheese, crispy falafel, a filo dough spinach pie, and a cup of sweet Arabic coffee to perk us up. Bassam, Joan explained, has a stake in the restaurant both as owner and chef. He is constantly experimenting, returning to the traditional dishes his mother taught him how to cook, and using the freedom he has as owner to explore the spices, ingredients, and flavors he is passionate about. Thank you, Joan and Bassam, for genuinely welcoming us into this lovely restaurant.
When we first visited the Walker Hotel, it was known as the Jade. The 1920's speakeasy theme became obvious to us immediately as we entered the hotel and walked through the lobby, but it was quite fun to see that it was carried through to the guest rooms with their antique-looking rotary telephones by the side of the bed. The comment from the young people with me that day was that it immediately reminded them of "Boardwalk Empire. " This pleased the woman showing us around tremendously. Built from the ground up - the land was a vacant lot when Gemini Hospitality bought it in the early 2010s - the goal for the hotel is for guests to feel welcomed from the moment they step inside. There is a warm and embracing atmosphere with a fireplace and library as the focal points. We appreciated that the collection of books on the shelves will be by well-known favorite authors who once lived in the vicinity. This boutique hotel has 113 rooms on eighteen floors. We had the pleasure of previewing some of them all the way up. Besides the standard queen being perfectly lovely with all of the amenities one would need, it also sports an amazing view - with no obstructions. From the north, we could see the Empire State Building, and from the South we looked downtown to the Freedom Towers. Just spectacular. We certainly applaud the concept of the hotel, which is to introduce guests to the wonderful places, people and atmosphere that surrounds 13th Street. Rather than encouraging visitors to leave the area to explore the popular tourist spots around the city, they are providing guests with lists of things to do right in Greenwich Village and Union Square. A philosophy that matches ours completely. In 2016, the Jade became the Walker Hotel Greenwich Village. We were happy to hear that it is still spearheaded by the same management.
Originally, an offshoot of David Chang’s award-winning restaurant group Momofuku, 13th is one of the fortunate streets to have one of his well-loved milk bars open. Today, acclaimed pastry chef Christina Tosi takes the combination of baked goods and milk to a whole new level at each of her locations – yes, I have had many a treat. Soft serve “cereal milk” or jugs of this tasty milk to go, the infamous crack pie, cornflake or compost cookies... and then there are the packages of cake truffles – these are slices of cake that are condensed into supremely dense balls of sugary goodness. Definitely worth a bite or two... or three. Milk Bar also donates a portion of every dairy sale to various independent and family dairy farmers in need. All in all, Milk Bar is a dessert lover’s heaven.
Peridance Capezio Center is a mecca for dance in NYC, fostering the arts in the local and international dance communities, for over 30 years. Peridance offers multiple platforms for dancers and non-dancers alike, including more than 250 weekly open classes, a Professional Training Programs, an F-1 Visa Program for International Students, and The School at Peridance - a comprehensive children and teen program. Their adult open classes are offered in all styles and levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Peridance Capezio Center is also home to the professional dance company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and its affiliated Peridance Youth Ensemble. In conjunction with their renowned faculty and partners (Capezio, Djoniba Dance Centre, Limón Dance Company, Baila Society, and Dance Informa), Peridance has gained an international reputation for the programs it offers. The Center is housed in a beautiful landmark building featuring six spacious studios, The Salvatore Capezio Theater, the Peridance Coffee Shop, and the Capezio dance-wear Boutique. One afternoon, I had the privilege of stopping by the Peridance Capezio Center to observe their students training. I witnessed the explosive athleticism and technical discipline at play in Shannon Gillen’s Advanced Contemporary class, as students tested the strength of their bodies in an array of conditioning and floor exercises. Later, in the large upstairs Studio 1, bathed in the sun’s rays from the skylights above, I watched as dancers chasséd and pirouetted across the room in Breton Tyner-Bryan’s Advanced-Intermediate Ballet class. I would not be surprised to find any one of these talented performers on stage someday.