February 23, 2010

Zampa on West 13th: Graphics and grub make the grade

Lunch at Zampa Wine Bar + Kitchen, in the West Village is a well-designed affair. The restaurant’s 306 West 13th Street storefront is decorated with frosted-glass graphic illustrations of wine bottles, hanging cheeses, smoked pig parts, and a butcher’s map of a hog. It looks like an architect’s rendering of a pork-loving eater’s mind, and in fact it is, sort of. The mastermind behind both this inspired front and the interior of Zampa is West Village resident, architect and designer Hassan Abouseda. His fingerprints are all over Zampa, accounting for the urban cool (Eames chairs, a zig-zag walnut bar) that was soothing and revivifying on the snowy day that we visited. The menu and Italian wine list are reasonably priced and highly appealing, and hold up the food drink end of the experience nicely.

As I was dining with yet another newly unemployed journalist friend, instead of a menu-sweeping tour, we opted for a light lunch of bruschetta, egg salad sandwich with cornichons, dill and greens; panini with grilled shiitake mushrooms, Taleggio, truffle oil and baby arugula. The tomatoes in the bruschetta were surprising fresh-tasting, given the season, aided by a good kick of garlic and salt, and the panini was just fine: earthy, creamy and a little bit bitter.

Day manager Alex Silva says the most popular dishes are the beef and pork lasagna with b├ęchamel sauce and porcini ($14 for lunch) and the Panini ($7.5 to $8.5 for lunch). Chef Alessandro (Sandro) Prosperi grew up near Florence and learned to cook with his mother and sisters. He and partner Daniel Emerman (the design eye of the team) first made their name with the TriBeCa restaurant Barroco and also run Bottino at W. 23rd and 10th Streets in Chelsea. Prosperi and Emerman have their finger on the pulse of the times; like Corsino, their prices are affordable, and they deliver the kind of well-made, simple comfort foods that the West Village seems to want now.

February 2, 2010

WestView loses its managing editor, wins a public victory

I was saddened to hear that the managing editor of WestView, The West Village, NYC community newspaper to which I occasionally contribute, recently parted ways with the paper's publisher. I mention this not to get into details, but to note that frequent staff comings and goings are just one of the many difficulties involved in keeping small papers like WestView afloat these days. A cadre of dedicated people, many of them unpaid, toil long hours to put out what is a continually improving product.

Feedback that I get tells me that West Villagers appreciate what WV does in covering the struggles of small retailers, as well as development and preservation issues. Readers want us to continue doing what we do. The paper is hyper local and staffed by citizen journalists, two of the features that media experts tell us are at the vanguard of post-crash, post-layoff, post-grab-the-package-while-it-lasts journalism. Unlike some new Web-only news sites, though, WV is not a non-profit fed by grants and corporate donations; it stays afloat on a pancake-flat cushion of ad revenue and subscription fees.

This post from John Temple, former editor, president and publisher of the late Rocky Mountain News, What local newspapers should do to survive and thrive in these challenging times, offers a 10-point roadmap for community papers like WestView to follow in this new age. Number one is "Start with the customers," meaning both readers and advertisers. What do customers want, and how can the paper provide that? Among other things, Temple urges local papers to give readers a public voice, and to establish a clear role as watchdog for the community over elected officials, city government agencies, and anyone else who bears watching.

Temple's advice seemed especially relevant today because WV publisher George Capsis had an important piece of good news amid the staffing turmoil. Thanks to an online and print survey that the paper conducted in December asking what the community most wanted in a re-development of  Pier 40, the Hudson River Park Trust has scheduled an open forum to discuss the possibility of a green market on the pier. This was the top choice of readers who took the survey. To the WV staff, and especially its publisher, it was validation of the paper's work at a particularly low point. Congratulations, George!

I should also says that in addition to George, one of the architects of the suvey was John Tebbel, our departed ME. Your hard work was not in vain, John.