Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was up to 33rd Street, she reacted immediately, "You know that this is the street that Wolfgang's is on, don't you? " I loved the description that she and her husband shared with me. "It is an old world man-cave that has incredible charm and certainly appeals to the serious eater. " Situated in the former historic Vanderbilt Hotel with magnificently tiled low vaulted ceilings, my husband and I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine. Wolfgang's, located in the sleek New York Times building on West 41st Street, is equally pleasant, but offers an entirely different ambiance. During the daytime, the sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing the steaks to glisten even more as they are being brought to the tables. The businessmen in their suits still dominate during the lunch hour; however, theatergoers and tourists fill the restaurant in the evening. Wolfgang Zwiener spent some forty years digesting the world of steak by working in the iconic restaurant, Peter Luger's. Think of it this way, Wolfgang received a veritable master's degree in meats in Brooklyn, and now has earned his doctorate in his own restaurant, where he has written a top-notch thesis. When others might have chosen to slow down a bit or even to retire, he began opening his own restaurants. Over the years, I have been to the four in Manhattan, with the 33rd Street flagship location being the one where we have chosen to celebrate many special occasions. As noted, it is a favorite of friends of ours, and when I asked them to speak to me further about Wolfgang's, the immediate response was, "Personally, of all the steak houses in New York, this is the one to go to. " They went on to describe the menu as not only having excellent steaks, but they also always look forward to ordering seafood, and then brace themselves as the kitchen presents them with a seafood platter appetizer that is "utterly outrageous. " There are jumbo shrimp (my number one oxymoron) and lobster with huge pieces to devour, and thrown in for good measure, some oysters and clams. "Even if you leave the steak out of the equation, it makes for an incredible meal. " But, who can leave the steak out? According to my husband, a man who is passionate about his meat, Wolfgang gets it right every time whether he decides on a filet or a porterhouse. And I, of course, am all about the side dishes and salads, which Wolfgang continues to deliver.
45th Street was the original location for Frankie & Johnnie's, before it moved to 46th Street in 2015, and the site of a former speakeasy from the days of Prohibition. Legend has it that in order to gain access, one had to knock on an unmarked door and use the password "Frankie" when a small peephole was opened. A reply of "Johnnie" would come from the other side of the door and admittance was granted. Over the decades, Frankie & Johnnie's gained a remarkable reputation for its steaks and chops. The Panopoulos family - three siblings, along with their father, uncle and cousins run F& J Ventures. The daughter, Jennifer, is stationed in Rye, NY. While raising my children in Westchester, we celebrated many memorable occasions in this Frankie & Johnnie's, and can attest to the stellar meals that they prepared. The sons, Ross and Gus – one a former attorney and the other from Wall Street – are splitting their time between the two Manhattan restaurants. The children's dad, Van, began working at the Hideaway on 37th Street many years ago. In 2002, when he decided to purchase the home that was once John Barrymore's, he completely renovated the space and added another Frankie & Johnnie's to their repertoire of steak houses. Though the restaurant has been a popular post-show dinner location for the Broadway community for generations, it was forced to move in 2015. After being at the site for almost 100 years, Frankie & Johnnie's felt the weight of New York's increasing real estate market. The family shared with us that the entire structure was supposed to come down in 2008 after the owners of the building planned to sell it to developers. It was only because of the financial crisis that the deal fell through and Frankie & Johnnie's remained so long. They assured us that they are dedicated to upholding Frankie & Johnnie's most sacred tradition in the new location for as long as they are able: good quality steak and chops.