Partners Roberto Caporuscio and Antonio Starita have stellar reputations in the world of pizza. Antonio's family has owned a well-loved pizzeria in Naples since 1901 and it was in this restaurant that Sophia Loren filmed a scene in Vittorio De Sica's 1954 movie, L'Oro di Napoli. Having studied the art of pizza making in Italy, including under the watchful eye of Antonio, Roberto came to the US to open his own restaurants - in New York, Keste's on Bleecker Street has been serving some of the city's best-rated pizza since 2009 and then with his friend, Antonio, the two opened Don Antonio by Starita in 2012.
The Manhattan Sideways team had a seat at the bar one afternoon and after finishing every bite of our perfectly prepared pizza, we agreed that the Burrata Roberto was superb. The thin crust was slightly charred, the way we love it, and topped with fresh burrata cheese, grape tomatoes, basil and olive oil - simple yet scrumptious.
Not only does Barbetta profess to be the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row, it is also one of the oldest Italian restaurants in New York. Opening its doors in 1906, in four adjoining townhouses built in the late 1800s by the Astor family, Sebastiano Maioglio began his long restaurant career. The emphasis has always been on Italian dishes and wine from the Piemontese region, where he was from. Sebastiano’s daughter, Laura, took over in 1962, and immediately began to remodel the restaurant in the style of 18th C. E. Piemonte. With her passion for collecting art, great sense of personal style, frequent visits in Piemonte, and an art history degree from Bryn Mawr College, it is no wonder that Barbetta’s exquisite interior has become as highly regarded as its food. The dining room demonstrates its old-world opulence, with ornate chandeliers, chairs, and tables meant to evoke a palazzo of the eighteenth century, during Piemonte’s cultural height. The baroque interior serves as more than just a reference to its heritage; it is a part of it. The great chandelier in the main dining room initially came from a palazzo in Torino, where it belonged to the royal family. Laura negotiated to obtain this 18th C. E. chandelier for two years. Other highlights of Barbetta’s extensive collection include the harpsichord in the foyer - crafted in 1631, as well as hanging wall prints from Piemonte - part of a distinguished set crafted in 1682. Items that could not be authentic, such as the numerous chairs and barstools, are reproductions of museum pieces that were specifically chosen by Laura to be reproduced in Italy. The garden, available for dining in the summer, holds trees dating back over a century ago, and, in line with the interior, holds the atmosphere of refined European aristocracy. Barbetta, while serving as a cultural landmark, remains focused on the excellence of its ever-changing list of dishes while serving classics such as risotto and polenta since its founding. Every dish on its menu since 1962 has been approved by Laura, and celebrating its long history and heritage, each menu item is marked with the year it began to be served, while dishes from Piemonte are in red print. Although esteemed for its dishes, Barbetta is also famed for its 72-page wine list, which has won numerous awards. Barbetta has also transformed the Italian dining scene through its numerous examples of “being the first”- from its conception to the present day. A few highlights include its beginning as the first Piemontese restaurant in New York, its status as New York’s first elegant Italian restaurant after its 1962 transformation, as well as its usage of numerous ingredients that at the time, were not commercially available in America and which had to be specifically imported by them from Italy. A particular example of one of these imported ingredients is white truffles. Years ago, Barbetta’s own truffle-hunting dogs became so well known that they were asked to perform a demonstration at Carnegie Hall in 1992. Barbetta is also unique in its emphasis on low sugar and low salt dishes - Laura even decided that Barbetta would smoke its own salmon to ensure it would not be too salty. Laura described Barbetta as “an institution, much more than a restaurant, ” due to the extensive culture that has been built around it and that it has created. The description as “much more than a restaurant” struck us as particularly apt, due to Barbetta’s long list of famous regulars - from The Rolling Stones to Jacklyn Kennedy - its exceptionally elegant and unusually spacious interior, variety of phenomenal food, and historical significance.
Patsy’s Italian Restaurant is truly a family affair. It only took a few moments before we were greeted by the many generations of the Scognamillo family: Joe - whose father started Patsy’s in 1944 - stood alongside his wife, and their grandson, Joe Jr. Shortly after, an uncle emerged from upstairs, and then we were joined by Sal, Joe senior's son, and the chef and current face of the legendary Patsy’s. The family-oriented nature of Patsy’s is only part of what makes the restaurant feel like a flashback to a much earlier time. It was noon when we arrived, but the lights were low, and patrons were dressed formally, the atmosphere was hushed with soft conversation happening, glasses clinking lightly and classical music playing in the background. At the front of the restaurant, a bartender in a bow tie polished glasses. Scattered throughout the two floors of the space, the restaurant proudly boasts photographs of an extensive celebrity clientele beginning with Frank Sinatra to Frankie Valli and Michael Buble. For us, the scene was set. How incredibly special it was when Sal invited myself and the members of the Manhattan Sideways team to sit down at a table with him - not only while he shared the fascinating stories of his family's legendary restaurant, but to taste some of the classic Patsy dishes. He was friendly, garrulous, and bursting with quips and anecdotes. Patsy’s celebrates its seventieth anniversary in 2014. An astonishing feat made only more so by the fact that its founder - Sal’s grandfather Pasquale, renamed “Patsy” at Ellis Island - came to the U. S. from Naples in 1928 and spent his first few years driving a Macy’s truck. Later, he became a busboy and eventually was able to open his own restaurant, Sorrento, in 1942. Although short-lived, two years later, he established Patsy’s. By the mid-50s, it was thriving, enabling him to purchase the entire building, doubling the size of his restaurant. In the last seven decades, Patsy’s has borne witness to the multitude of changes that the city has undergone. While we ate, Sal called his dad over to tell us about 56th Street’s ongoing transformation. “Everything’s changed, everything, ” Joe told us, showing us a photo of the block in the 1940s, when the building that now houses Patsy’s belonged to Atlantic Records. "Eighth Avenue was the end of the earth back then, ” he recalled. The street was largely populated by car dealerships, and there was a gas station on the corner of the block. Joe went on to tell us that after its early commercialism, the street became dangerous for a while in the 1980s. Throughout, Patsy’s has endured - a constant in a sea of change. Sal was proud to report that he maintains professional relationships with several of its original vendors, including purchasing its cheese for most of their seventy years, from fellow New York institution, Di Palo. He went on to say that they have employed many of the same workers for generations citing the restaurant’s night porter, an eighty-plus-year-old Argentine man who lives upstairs, as a perfect example. “If you become our friend you’re in trouble, because you’re our friend for the rest of your life! ” Sal said cheerfully. Though it has retained its old-world charm and hospitality, the restaurant has adapted extremely well to the demands of the twenty-first century. Sal maintains an active presence on Facebook and other social networking sites, and frequently appears on cooking shows (to date, he told us that he has been on The Today Show some twenty-five times). In honor of their fiftieth anniversary, they created their own pasta sauce line, and published their first cookbook in 2002. Scheduled for release in 2015, is their second, which features a forward by Ben Stiller. At one point during lunch, Sal hit on the essence of his family’s restaurant, “I attribute our success to the three F’s, ” he said. “Food, family, and Frank Sinatra. ” The first two F’s may seem obvious; the third requires a bit of backstory. According to Sal, Tommy Dorsey brought Sinatra into Patsy Scognamillo’s first restaurant sometime in the early 1940’s, reportedly telling Patsy: “I’ve got this skinny kid from Hoboken you’ve gotta fatten up. ” Patsy’s would become a favorite of Sinatra’s; Sal distinctly remembers bringing the singer in through the restaurant’s hidden side entrance in 1975, when Sal was just thirteen. Today, a statue at the bar memorializes Sinatra, and Joe wears a pin in his lapel that Nancy Sinatra gave him after Frank’s death. At least in part because of Sinatra, the restaurant garnered a bit of a reputation as a gathering spot for old-time mobsters. Mario Puzo reportedly drew his inspiration for The Godfather’s Don Corleone from a series of people he encountered at Patsy’s. When the second Godfather movie was being filmed, director Francis Ford Coppola wanted to shoot a scene where a man is stabbed and then choked to death at Patsy’s front bar. Joe respectfully declined - “You think people want to think about that guy dying at the bar while they’re eating their spaghetti? ”For us, no such images disturbed our meal, as Sal presented us with Veal Milanese (Sinatra’s favorite), Eggplant Parmesan, Spirali Al Filetto di Pomodoro, Artichoke with a garlic and anchovy sauce and a classic plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs. The menu, like everything else at Patsy’s, is old-world Italian, featuring many of the same recipes that the family has been preparing since day one. An extra treat was getting to spend time with Joe Jr. before he headed off to begin his college career. He spoke of his younger brother, Peter, who loves to cook and often helps Sal come up with menus. Joe Jr., however, said that he isn’t interested in cooking, “it is too hot in the kitchen. " He went on to say, however, that he looks forward to managing the business side of the restaurant when he graduates. Sal proudly told us that his boys began working at Patsy’s at eleven, the same age his grandfather before him began. Though he has worked his way up over the course of his seven years at Patsy’s, Joe Jr. says that he still answers to his grandfather - “but that’s because he’s my grandfather, not my boss. ” And then proudly stated, "I wrote my college essay on Patsy’s. "
Husband-and-wife duo Roberto and Tanya Passon's symbiotic relationship is evident at their Hell's Kitchen wine bar, Briciola, where Roberto runs the kitchen and Tanya is responsible for the wine. The evolution of their professional and personal relationships has always been a parallel journey. Both long-time restaurateurs, the couple met while Roberto was running his now-defunct eponymous restaurant and Tanya was managing wine bar Xai Xai, just across the street from Briciola. They married several years later, and Briciola opened just as the couple was expecting their first child in 2011. Three years on, the Italian wine bar has gained a following throughout Hell's Kitchen and beyond on the strength of its intimate atmosphere, excellent cuisine, and top-notch imported wine. Even after expanding into the storefront next door, which doubled Briciola's square footage, the restaurant is tiny, but the close quarters only add to the ambience. This is not the place to go if one does not want to interact with fellow diners: the seating is communal, with high counters made of subway tile for a clean, polished look. The design is simple, befitting the restaurant's tight quarters. Low-hanging light fixtures and candles on each of the tables give the restaurant a cozy feeling, and the walls function as an aesthetically fitting storage space, with hundreds of wine bottles set side by side in wine racks. Rather than competing for attention, Briciola's food and wine complement each other perfectly, thanks to Roberto and Tanya's ability to work together. Marina, a server, explained to us that Tanya is largely responsible for the elegant layout of the restaurant; she added her "feminine touch" with everything from the candles at each setting to miniature chalkboards detailing the day's wine specials. The kitchen, Roberto's domain, is miniscule, folded into the back of one half of the restaurant; because there is absolutely no storage space, all of the ingredients arrive fresh daily. Briciola serves mainly ciccheti (small plates) of charcuterie, salads, oysters, and every type of pasta imaginable. There is also a dessert menu; a gentleman sitting at the bar told us that the tiramisu is especially incredible. Particularly clever is the menu where the prices are all the same in each category. Roberto explained that he did not want the dollar amount to influence someone's choices. After having enjoyed a pleasant conversation with Roberto one afternoon when riding by on my bike, as I was leaving, he called out to me, "Finally someone appreciates the side streets. " I rode off smiling.
This three-tiered observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center offers an unobstructed 360-degree panoramic view of New York and beyond. Its view is somewhat different from that of the Empire State Building as one is at eye-level with surrounding skyscrapers, rather than gazing down upon them. Opened in 1933, it was designed to resemble the upper decks of a 1930s ocean liner. When Top of the Rock reopened in 2005 – after having been closed since 1986 – my family was one of the first to ascend to the 70th floor, as it held special memories for my parents when they were dating back in the 1940s. It has since become a favorite tourist stop for me when out-of-town guests are visiting. With its mezzanine photo exhibit and other items of interest on the way to the top, what a phenomenal place to wow people of any age and to begin their journey through the side streets of Manhattan.
Toloache, a bustling Mexican bistro on 50th street, shares its name with the legendary Toloache flower. According to a myth in Mexican culture, the flower can be brewed into a love potion - if someone tastes the drink once, he or she will always return for another sip. The restaurant’s food and drinks have the same effect: Many people who eat there once return time and time again. General Manager Jorge shared a story about his friend from Japan who visited Toloache on the first night of a weeklong vacation in Manhattan. He ended up returning every day that week and then again every year during his annual visit to the city. Toloache on 50th is the first of many restaurants opened in New York by chef-owner Julian Medina. Chef Julian grew up in Mexico City, where he was inspired by the home cooking of his father and grandfather. He was originally brought to New York by Chef Richard Sandoval, who appointed him as Chef de Cuisine at Sandoval’s Maya. He went on to gain experience at distinguished restaurants and graduated from the French Culinary Institute with recognition. Today, Chef Julian owns seven of his own restaurants in the city and has been featured in several publications, including Men’s Journal, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He has appeared on shows such as "Iron Chef" and "Beat Bobby Flay. " His impressive background is reflected in the success and distinctive menu of his “first child, ” Toloache. Julian designed Toloache’s extraordinary menu to have something for everyone – the wide range of dishes include both vegetarian and gluten free options. He prides himself on using only the freshest of ingredients, whether it is white truffles or chapulines (dried grasshoppers imported from Oaxaca). These crunchy critters have gained quite a bit of media attention, including a feature on "The Today Show. " The kitchen brought out the Tacos Chapulines for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph, and we had to admit that the insects were made to look very appetizing. We were also presented with the diverse Trio de Guacamoles, which allowed us to sample three varieties of the dip: the familiar traditional guacamole; the Frutas Guacamole, which incorporates fruit instead of typical ingredients (pomegranate, mango, and apple instead of tomato and Thai Basil instead of cilantro); and the Rojo guacamole, made with chipotle. Several of us went on to sample the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche y Trufas (made with fresh truffles), The Baja Tilapia Pescado, and the braised short rib, served with quinoa and carrots. Each dish exemplified Chef Julian’s inventiveness and ability to put small, flavor-enhancing twists on typical Mexican cuisine. The drinks were equally impressive, including Julian’s favorite “Chef’s Selection Margarita, ” made with his hand-picked bottle of Herradura Tequila. The bartender mixed a few cocktails for us to photograph and taste, including the refreshing “De la Calle, ” made with cucumber and jalapeno; the spicy “Mezcalita de Pina”; and the signature “Toloache, ” made with hibiscus and blueberries. The food is amazing and the drinks are fantastic, but what really keeps so many guests coming back is Toloache’s dedication to quality service. As Jorge informed us, “Our goal is to make every guest feel at home. They are our friends. ” Each of the servers have their own style, creating unique, yet equally enjoyable dining experiences. Guests are able to experience Toloache in a completely new light from one day to the next just by sitting at a different server’s table. It was event manager Temple who summed the restaurant up perfectly: "Toloache feels like a family – like you’re walking into Little Mexico. ”