"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.
I walked into Avant Garden and had the pleasure of sitting down with the owner himself, Ravi DeRossi. His name might seem familiar as he has become synonymous with trendy New York bars including Death and Co. and Amor Y Armargo on 6th Street. Avant Garden, a vegan restaurant that features only vegetables, is a jewel that he has added to his lengthy list of other establishments. Upon entering, the design was what captured my attention first. Every aspect is painstakingly selected by Ravi himself and this is hardly surprising given his background as a painter. He told me that he studied under his friend and mentor Igor Gorsky, an influential Greek painter in the abstract expressionist movement. Now, Ravi says, “opening bars and restaurants is my canvas. ”When I asked what was the recipe for his success, he said it was a lot of “dumb luck” and that he is “naturally suited to working a lot. ” In fact, he quoted Thomas Edison saying that it is “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration, ” and that his hard work has certainly gone a long way. Ravi opened his first business, Bourgeois Pig on East 7th Street (now on Macdougal), out of necessity. He was not making enough money as a painter to support himself. “I didn’t know how to do anything but paint and write, ” he said, and he loved to drink, so opening a wine bar seemed like a perfect plan. His idea was to use money from Bourgeois Pig to live off of and to paint in his free time. However, he found that it was “so much fun” running a wine bar that he kept on going. As for his other restaurants and bars, he told me, "I’ll be sleeping and something will come to my mind. ” These late-night inspirations have resulted in fifteen different places throughout New York and Brooklyn, as well as plans to open an Avant Garden in Los Angeles. The idea for a vegan restaurant has long been in the back of Ravi’s mind, inspired by a trip to a Buddhist Temple in India and his own on and off vegan lifestyle. In addition to opening Avant Garden, Ravi, a self-described “big animal rights guy, ” has jointly launched a non-profit called BEAST, which stands for Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today. Ravi only does things that he wants to do. His passion shines through every single detail of his restaurant, and he even went as far as saying that this is the place of which he is most proud. He is pleased with the fact that it is 100% cruelty free, “except to these guys, ” he said gesturing to the staff busily preparing the restaurant for that evening's diners. They all laughed. This is a place of great camaraderie, where there are none of the fake meats that are found at most vegan food spots, and the atmosphere is chic and warmly lit. When I was there, in the fall of 2015, the restaurant had only been open for about a month, and already Avant Garden had a crew of loyal followers, a testament to the menu. Its menu was created by Andrew D’Ambrosi, who moved to France after being Avant Garden's head chef during the restaurant's first few years. Ravi explained that he had originally found Andrew on Craigslist and hired him to work at his restaurant, Cienfuegos. When the itch came to open up a new place, Bergen Hill, in Brooklyn, Ravi began the search for a head chef. They used Andrew’s kitchen at Cienfuegos to test out the world-renowned chefs who wished to head the restaurant. Ravi shared with me that Andrew came to him and requested, "'Before you hire [anyone] let me make a tasting for you'... He blew thirty chefs out of the water. ” Andrew spent two years making vegan dishes at Bergen Hill and testing them as specials. "Each of his dishes is great, " Ravi proclaimed, adding "When I am at home, I dream of the Tomato Jam Toast. "
Richard Ho is Californian at-heart. He is from San Gabriel Valley, where he grew up eating his mother’s Taiwanese food. Ho Foods seeks the excellence of the home-cooked Taiwanese meals he experienced as a child, including his well-known beef noodle dish. Beef noodle shops, Richard explained to the Manhattan Sideways team, are like pizza shops in Taiwan, but they were not necessarily always popular. In fact, beef noodles were originally soldier food that ultimately became a large part of the Taiwanese diet. Growing up in the LA-area, Richard never felt that he experienced any Americanized version of culture or food, but rather was able to be immersed in pockets of culture hard to find elsewhere. When he first moved to New York in 2007, he worked as a manager at Blue Ribbon Sushi, but found while living here that no one made Taiwanese food like his mother did. So, Ho Foods was born in January 2018, with a curated menu that feels like his home. The idea? Take simple, classic comfort food from his youth and translate it into a restaurant setting. The staff works like a home as well - everyone cooks, everyone cleans, everyone serves. Each member has “kind of been a friend” - they met through mutual connections or college. Richard has been surprised by the passion they have taken to learning about Taiwanese culture, whether that be cooking techniques or even the language. Christian, a member of the staff at Ho Foods, is so confident in his pronunciation of dishes that people often assume he fluently speaks Mandarin. When we asked Richard about why he chose 7th Street and how it has been working out, he told us that he feels connected to the building. A friend previously lived there and even wrote their name in the cement before he came, so it felt a little like he had been there before. He enjoys his location in the East Village, calling it "not-so-obvious. " In addition, he has found that there is a loyal Taiwanese community wanting to support each other, and in search of places that celebrate and capture their culture;. And, through this endeavor, he has realized the extensive, and sometimes unlikely, connections people have to Taiwan. Laughing, Richard went on to say that he has encountered a number of Polish customers who claim the Taiwanese beer he serves reminds them of one from Poland. Richard’s perspective on the business is in many ways simple. A focus on comfort, taste, and family-like service is always a safe bet. His philosophy comes from an opinion that "Life is just better when there’s food between two people. "
For Mimi Lau, her work is an exercise in sharing a bit of herself with her customer. “When you buy food, you’re not just paying for the food; you’re paying to learn where that food came from. It’s a culture. Even this mochi, it’s so clear that it’s from a different generation. It’s not your really traditional mochi because there’s something inside. It reflects my generation, and that’s my culture. I put Oreos and Froot Loops in there, goddammit! ”Brooklyn-native Mimi Lau opened Mochii, an adorable artisanal dessert shop on East 7th Street, in April 2018 at the ripe old age of twenty-five. Like the desserts served there, the shop is sweet, small, and soft: bean bag chairs line the walls and each mint green cup is decorated withMochii’s bunny logo. The highlight, though, are the treats themselves. Mimi’s mochi are works of art, entirely hand-crafted from the delicate rice wrapper to the varied fillings. A batch of ice cream mochi alone can take up to nine hours to make, but for Mimi the effort is entirely worth it. “Working with this type of dough for so long and making this type of sweet, it’s just something that should be made by hand. It’s so delicate. ” Every aspect of the mochi is thought through, down to the way they are consumed. Mimi recommends eating by hand, so the heat from one’s fingers warms and softens the outside of the mochi - and the mess is, of course, part of the fun. The mochi come in a wide assortment of flavors, and each one holds a special treat inside - anything from a slice of fruit to the aforementioned Oreo. “Like me, they each have a little bit of happiness inside, ” Mimi sweetly stated. A smile lights up her face as she describes her customers’ reactions to seeing the mochi sliced open and the treat inside revealed. “It’s really joyful. It makes me feel like a kid again. ”Sweets have always been a passion of Mimi’s, but she noticed that the market, especially in New York, was trending towards ever more sugary, over-the-top desserts. In a world of jumbo shakes and cronuts, mochi stand out for their small size, subdued sweetness, and relative simplicity - a sustainable dessert, if you will. As for the shop itself, Mimi knew from a young age that she wanted to have her own store. She worked for several years managing two restaurants to gain experience before taking the plunge herself. “I pretty much gave up everything to do what I wanted, ” she admitted. “It was really hard to leave, but if not now, then when? ”
When life brought Chef Ali Sahin from Turkey to the USA, his first American address was in the East Village. Though he studied economics back home, in New York City he worked in restaurants, first as a bus boy and eventually as a cook. When he decided food was something he might want to turn into a career, he went to culinary school to learn essential techniques, such as how to prepare the perfect egg, something Ali told me chefs love to talk about but few dare to actually serve in their restaurants. C& B (“Coffee and Breakfast”) Café serves eggs all day long - really good eggs - along with other brunch plates. The chef uses his small kitchen to its fullest potential, even going so far as to make sausages in house, and hopefully one day his own cheese. On the afternoon that the Manhattan Sideways team visited, Ali arranged a beautiful bowl of chicken and eggs, one of the café’s top selections. The slow-poached eggs, each cooked for over an hour, and the flavorful shredded chicken with potatoes and toast perfectly captured the café’s fine dining approach. They enjoyed each bite of the colorful dish while Mr. Brown, “The Espresso King, ” crafted beautiful lattes, teas, and pour-over coffees for customers working at the communal table in the back of the shop. Ali told us that all thirteen of the C& B menu items are created using only seasonal, local ingredients, which is why he never serves avocados. To Ali, sourcing is the most important part of cooking. He explained that while growing up in Turkey, all his food came from provincial farmer’s markets, as there were no supermarkets in the region. With that in mind, he modeled his café after one of his old East Village haunts and one of his favorite cafes in LA that serves solely organic fare. East Village dwellers appreciate Ali’s vision: the café opened in January 2015 but already boasts a large number of repeat customers. Ali takes the time to get to know the regulars and has really helped C& B to take root in the neighborhood. The walls of the café are adorned with paintings from community artists and even some of the cafe’s staff. Ali drew the café’s logo himself to reflect the leaves of the American Elm Trees growing across the street in Tompkins Square Park. Serving the most important meal of the day all day, while emphasizing healthy, wholesome ingredients, C& B Café is gearing up to become a new neighborhood favorite.
Abraco Espresso started in a little nook on the other side of the street before it moved to its current larger space in 2016. The shop invites coffee lovers to stop by and enjoy a fresh brewed cup - according to many it might be one of the best you will ever experience. The space is perfect for those who wish to gather round and chat or just to savor their sweet homemade treats along with the exceptional coffee.
Le Petit Parisien alludes to a nineteenth-century French newspaper. Started by Jean Dupuy in 1884, the paper achieved the largest media circulation of its time before retiring in 1944. The sandwich shop under the same name, which opened in 2015, is owned by Jean’s great-great-grandson, also named Jean Dupuy, in partnership with his nephew, Paul. Its narrow storefront is outfitted in copies of its namesake paper, and the menu offers a total of nine entrée sandwiches, including the deliciously simple "Parisien" - a ham and cheese sandwich. Others are named for historical French figures. The Brigitte Bardot contains artichoke, goat cheese, kale, and tomatoes atop a French baguette from Orwashers, while the Louis XIV, befitting the royal name, gets foie gras and fig confit. Other menu members include the Gainsbourg, the Charle de Gaulle, and the Marie Antoinette, which contains decadent, sixteen-month cured ham.