As we wrote our list of 99 Essential Restaurants™ in Lower Manhattan, we spoke to many of the chefs, owners, and general managers who run the restaurants. We asked them to tell us about the history of their neighborhoods and eateries, recount good memories, and talk to us about what’s hardest about running a restaurant in New York.
Some of these interviews were too good not to share, like the one that follows, with Aquagrill‘s Jennifer Marshall.
What year did you open?
We opened in 1996.
What philosophy informs the restaurant?
Eat Oysters — love longer, exceed patrons’ expectations by providing the freshest and most diverse fish and seafood. [We also] hand make every food item from pastas and breads to chocolates and desserts, and highlight diverse and value-conscious wines from around the world — all with welcoming and knowledgeable service.
What was your original vision for this restaurant, and how has that evolved over the years?
We intended to have a diverse oyster raw bar, and now we have the widest selection in the city, offering 25 to 35 different varieties every day. We also envisioned offering à la carte, unadulterated entrée options in addition to our chef’s creative preparations; our diners appreciate this, including those with food allergies and dietary restrictions.
What dishes can you never take off the menu?
Oysters! Falafel-crusted salmon! Truffle Casco Bay cod!
Where should we look for bargains on the wine list?
We make it easy: Our best value wines are designated with an arrow.
What are your favorite memories of the restaurant?
Serving our community and patrons during Hurricane Sandy — we got a generator truck and were the only beacon of light in Soho. People came for food, for fun, and many came just for the light and to recharge their electronics! Many of our staff walked to get here from home, because they wanted to stay open and serve those left in the neighborhood with nowhere else to go.
What is your place in the neighborhood dining scene?
We fill a fine-dining niche with a bustling bar scene and outdoor seating, and we serve the city’s best oysters from noon to 11 p.m. every day.
And in the greater NYC dining scene? What distinguishes you from similar restaurants?
We have the best oyster raw bar, the best brunch, great bar dining, outdoor terrace dining….
What do you love about being part of the NYC restaurant industry?
The diverse people that we get to meet, from A-list celebrities to old-time locals and faraway tourists.
What’s the hardest part about having a restaurant in NYC?
Finding new, highly motivated, enthusiastic staff with a love for the industry can be a real challenge.