By Danielle Page
It’s no new news that New York City is known for its incredible eats. Manhattan’s restaurant scene is a constantly evolving mix of avant garde concept restaurants, storied and respected, high-caliber eateries and hidden, hole-in-the-wall gems. And while each borough offers up something unique, every few years or so a new section of the city experiences a fresh wave of restaurants, bringing a resurgence of inventive new fare to the area.
New York City’s latest restaurant hotspot? The East Village. No longer are the village’s best eats limited to the quick, cheap grub on St. Mark’s Place. With restaurants opening by seasoned and up-and-coming chefs alike, getting a reservation in the East Village is quickly becoming a challenge.
Not surprisingly, many chefs and owners behind the latest and greatest East Village openings got their start at ICE. Here are just a few ICE graduates who are at the helm of these noteworthy eateries in the neighborhood.
Little Tong Noodle Shop, Simone Tong’s first restaurant, opened in the East Village this March. “After traveling to source international inspiration from countries like Moscow, Copenhagen, Brussels, Shanghai and Taipei, it really hit me that Chinese culinary stories and cuisines still remain largely underrepresented in the western world,” she says. Tong embarked on a three-month long culinary research trip through the Yunnan Province, which is the cuisine Tong’s restaurant is devoted to — specifically Mixian, a type of rice noodle.
“I spend my days mostly in the kitchen and dining room – preparing dishes, coming up with new dishes, getting to know our customers and interacting with them,” says Tong. “I am always thinking about ways to offer special new dishes and make seasonal updates to each of the Mixian noodle bowls, which pay homage to the beautiful Chinese province of Yunnan.”
Why the East Village for her first venture? “The East Village is a fun, vibrant neighborhood with an inimitable energy and bustling restaurant scene,” says Tong. “There is a younger demographic here full of students, artists, musicians, young professionals, young families and foodies – which Little Tong Noodle Shop really resonates with. Like Little Tong Noodle Shop, the East Village has a humbleness and authenticity to it that we appreciate.”
As for her advice to ICE grads looking to open up shop in the East Village, Tong says to seize the opportunity this neighborhood has to offer. “ICE grads considering locations in the East Village shouldn’t be afraid to look outside of their day-to-day cuisines and at dishes that aren’t often seen in the city and find ways to approachably introduce them to a willing East Village audience,” she says.
Guy Vaknin, executive chef and owner at Beyond Sushi
Culinary Arts ’07
Being a resident of the East Village prior to opening his restaurant made this location an obvious choice for Guy Vaknin. “I lived in the area for seven years prior to opening and was always drawn to the neighborhood and its community,” he says. “I opened the first location of Beyond Sushi five years ago on East 14th street.”
Vaknin’s day-to-day duties include creating menus, running the operations of the company, overseeing food quality and managing the chefs. “Our specialty is vegan sushi,” he says. “It’s also a fast-casual concept that focuses on clean eating, using fruits and vegetables as star ingredients.”
Why does Vaknin think the East Village has become the new restaurant hotspot? “The East Village is a dynamic place to be,” he says, “[with] diverse residents, and it’s always changing.”
Catherine Manning, owner of Villanelle
Restaurant & Culinary Management ’15
Manning opened her artisanal New American restaurant, Villanelle, in the East Village this past March – which had many advantages for this ICE alum. “First, it was important to me that my restaurant be near my home so I could always be available on short notice,” she says. “East 12th Street is situated in a busy commercial, educational and residential corridor with plenty of foot traffic, which was very appealing. We are a vegetable-forward establishment using local and ethically sourced ingredients, so having the Union Square Greenmarket in our backyard has been a fantastic resource for us as well. The multiple subway lines coming into Union Square make it very convenient for our guests and staff to reach us.”
Manning oversees all operations of the restaurant. “The beauty of this business is that there are infinite opportunities to innovate and create and push the envelope with the reward being smiling guests who return regularly,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to work with the team we have who share this same goal. We live and work for those smiles.”
While you’d think that having many businesses competing in one space wouldn’t be the recipe for supportive neighbors, Manning says the East Village has been very welcoming. “It’s a very nice community to work in,” she says. “We know our neighbors by name and we help each other out. I think there are unique opportunities to grow and learn and participate in building something that comes with the types of establishments, like ours, that proliferate here.”
Miguel Trinidad grew up in the East Village, which he says made it a logical location to open his restaurant. “I opened the restaurant with my partners eight years ago,” he says. “The East Village has always been a mixture of great food. It is the perfect place to showcase a new cuisine.” While there are plenty of diverse restaurant offerings in the area, Trinidad says the fact that there aren’t many Filipino options in the East Village also gave this location appeal.
Trinidad’s daily duties include everything from menu development to kitchen management and administrative tasks. One piece of advice he has for ICE alums interested in opening up shop here? Get used to tight quarters. “Make sure your skills are honed as you will be working in small kitchens,” he says. Despite the minimal work space, there is still plenty of room for opportunity in this lively NYC neighborhood.
Ready to carve out your space in today’s vibrant culinary scene? Learn more about ICE’s culinary and hospitality career programs.