Italian restaurateur Massimo Bottura, chef patron of Modena’s Osteria Francescana, which boasts three Michelin stars, tells of his favourite haunts in the Big Apple
met my wife in New York in 1993 when we were both working at a small cafe in Soho, so the Big Apple is close to my heart. Since then the city has become a second home, with my in-laws living on the Upper East Side, just behind the Guggenheim Museum. We’ve spent nearly every summer there, our children visiting art galleries and museums, or climbing the rocks in Central Park, and taking trains to Coney Island or Long Island beaches for the day.
What I love is wandering the city from north to south without a plan. It’s like meditation and serendipitous things happen—i’ll bump into an old friend, find a vinyl record shop I hadn’t heard of before, or stumble on a small Japanese restaurant. I try to erase my mind of any agenda or obligations so I can explore in a pure and untainted way.
I’ll select one destination and as I head towards it, I stop at a deli for salmon, cream cheese and a toasted bagel. That’s my breakfast routine; I repeat it every day until I leave. Then I head to a museum or gallery to see something I’m curious about. One of my favourite museums is MOMA PS1 in Long Island City. The former elementary school has installations on every floor and a great courtyard. In the late afternoon I like to find a park or take a long walk on the waterfront. There’s nothing like a sunset walk in Battery Park.
The Friday Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times always has a good list of must-see exhibitions. Sometimes I fit in five or six galleries a day and a couple of museums. I’m a culture junkie and these are great spots not only to see art, but to buy books, meet friends and escape a downpour or a muggy summer day.
The Union Square Greenmarket is a priority destination, especially if I’m in the city to cook. You can find the most amazing produce at this farmers market. About 15 minutes away downtown is my favourite record store, Other Music. I always stop by James Perse for their soft cashmere hoodies. I like to wander the Bowery, Lafayette and the Lower East Side for young designers, accessories and vinyl. Barneys on Madison is always a must, if only to check out the new designer collections.
I eat a lot when I’m in New York. My breakfast can happen anywhere that serves a fresh bagel, cream cheese and cured salmon. Lunch is usually unplanned and often ethnic or improvised, like a spicy hot dog on the street. For dinner I try to visit my chef friends: Daniel Humm at Nomad or 11 Madison Park; Dave Chang at Momofuku Ko; Mario Batali at Otto or Del Posto; Enrique Olvera at Cosme; or Carlo Mirarchi at Roberta’s in Brooklyn. When your friends are chefs, you never go hungry.
Music is a passion of mine. There is nothing better than sitting in on a jazz session, and there are always some amazing musician playing in the city, uptown or downtown. What I love most about live music is how the room fills up with energy, and I’ve never been to a city that’s offered more kinds of music than New York.
I hit the streets again after dinner. I often walk home— even if I’m in Brooklyn and it takes me two hours. In New York, the journey is as important as the destination.
Massimo’s book, Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, is out this month via Phaidon Press.
When in New York, Massimo loves shopping for ingredients at Union Square Greenmarket; “beautiful, psychedelic, spin-painted veal” (below) is one of Osteria Francescana’s signature dishes