Friday, November 14, 2008


Aquavit, located in New York City's lap of luxury, is within walking distance of the St. Regis Hotel, Trump Tower, Tiffany's, Cartier, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman.
Aquavit opened in 1987 on West 54th Street in a Rockefeller family townhouse. Twenty years later it remains one of the city's premiere restaurants due to the brilliance of chef/co-owner Marcus Samuelsson's cuisine.
Born in Ethiopia, orphaned at three, adopted by a Swedish couple, Samuelsson grew up in Gotesborg, Sweden where his grandmother taught him about food. He studied at the Culinary Institute there. In 1991, at 21, Samuelsson apprenticed at Aquavit and before working at Georges Blanc, a three-star Michelin restaurant, near Lyon, France. Four years later he became Aquavit's executive chef. He scored three-stars from The New York Times in 1995 and 2001 and has received the James Beard Foundation award - “Best Chef in New York City.”

Samuelsson serves innovative yet traditional Scandinavian cuisine. He layers flavors and textures creatively which enhances but does not overwhelm the meal. His wild-striped bass with chorizo, langoustine, Napa sauerkraut, potato aioli sauce and broccoli puree and the spice smoked salmon plate with espresso sauce and goat cheese ice cream bursts with flavor. The beer-braised short ribs with celeriac puree, asparation and hop sauce proved mouth-watering.
Aquavit gets ninety percent of its fish from the North Atlantic and Scandinavian waters. Samuelsson understands sustenance. As a boy he hunted for mushrooms and fished. “It's important to stay aware of sustainability issues, know what's being over fished and buy accordingly,” he told The Good Life magazine.

Presentation is important. The Arctic Circle dessert presented with a white colored cylinder of frozen goat cheese and lemongrass parfait with blueberry sorbet filled and a bright yellow colored curd is a work of art.
Traditional favorites, Salmon Gratin, Swedish meatballs and lax pudding are served in the sun-lit café. The Inca grey-slate bar/lounge features Jacobsen's Egg and Swan chairs and hand-blown glass jars filled with assorted flavors of homemade Aquavit. The staff is professional and very knowledgeable.

Aquavit moved to East 55th Street, near Park Avenue, two years ago. The warm, elegant dining room has three large circular-shaped skylights, soothing green leather/fabric banquettes against stained oak walls, and walnut floors.
Samuelsson serves on the board of Careers through Culinary Arts Program. It prepares inner-city students for restaurant careers with scholarships, training and placement. He is the spokesman for the UNICEF's U.S. Fund, which supports tuberculosis programs in developing countries.
He has hosted the Discovery Channel's show “Inner Chef” and has authored several books including “Aquavit: And The New Scandinavian Cuisine,” and The Soul of a New Cuisine,

Aquavit at 65 East 55th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues New York, is located next door to the famed Friars Club...Hours: Sun-Thu 12pm-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm, Fri 12pm-2:15pm, 5:30pm-10:45pm, Sat 5pm-10:45pm; 212 593-0287.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


James Columbus Hicks, known to hundreds of people he greeted everyday as the mayor of Ninth Avenue, died on May 12, at 81.
Mr. Hicks died in front of his home, The Whitby,
on West 45th Street. The cause of death was a heart attack.

A fixture on Ninth Avenue for years, his domain stretched from 42nd to 45th streets. From six a.m. to early evening Mr. Hicks frequented the 44th Street Newsstand, Westway diner, Bread Factory and his favorite place, Thrift and New Shoppe on 43rd where he chatted with friends, strangers and tourists.

Many people are given labels such as mayor or chairman of the board but Mr. Hicks earned his distinction. Kind, gracious, with a warm and generous personality that engulfed all who knew him, Mr. Hicks had the ability of changing one's nightmarish day into one filled with seashells and balloons. He had a brilliant smile and a hearty, infectious laugh.

Furaha Moye, a niece, described Mr. Hicks as generous, dependable, trustworthy, loving and witty. "He was always ready to help a friend," she said.

You chuckled whenever you heard Mr. Hicks call out to a fifty plus year-old man "Hey kid! Have a good day" followed with a handshake or fist tap with the person he greeted. Spry, charming, and a true gentleman Mr. Hicks was popular with the ladies. He would eagerly hug an octogenarian as he would a twenty-something and greet all with "Who is this beautiful gal."

A world War II veteran and a member of the Service Employees International Union. Mr. Hicks called Clinton/Hell's Kitchen home for the past 40 years.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, the youngest of five children, Mr. Hicks, a lifelong bachelor, had no children but was a godfather to several.

At his funeral service at Holy Cross Church, his goddaughter Christiana, battling back tears, spoke eloquently about how much he meant to her.

"He was like a father. He was always there for me," she said. Christiana recounted how Mr. Hick's would wait with her for the school bus every morning. "If I was running late James would make the bus driver wait. He never let the bus leave without me."

Minas Demetri, owner of the Thrift and New Shoppe, knew Mr. Hicks for over 20 years. "He was very upbeat and full of energy. One day he walked into my shop and he never left. From that day on we became great friends. He was well liked by everyone. He had a wonderful personality," Mr. Demetri said.

"He did so many things for me. He went to the bank, he swept the sidewalk but more importantly he kept me company. He was like family."

Mr. Hicks wore straw hats or fedoras. He enjoyed wearing dressy tropical shirts with bright floral patterns. He had style and class. At his funeral at Holy Cross Church,
Metropolitan Opera star Aprile Millo sang the Ava Maria and The Lord's Prayer.

He was an avid collector of art deco vases, African figurines and elephants. "He loved elephants," Mr. Minas said. He had elephants made of gold, ceramic, wood, some were small, others two feet high.

In the early 1990's, after he collected his 500th elephant Mr. Hicks threw a caviar and Moet Chandon party in his apartment. "We had a fun time," Mr. Demetri said. "He threw another party after he collected his 1000th elephant. He probably had over 1600, all with the trunk up. Just like the life he led, always looking up, always looking at the brighter side."

Besides his niece Furaha Moye, Mr. Hicks is survived by his sister, Ernestine Moye, both of Rochester, NY; and nieces Jeanine Taylor of Brodentown NJ, and Paula Taylor of Baltimore; nephews Sylvester and Blair Taylor, of Baltimore, and Paul Hicks of Washington, DC.