"When people ask me where I'd like to eat, I find myself thinking about Gabriel's. It's not just that the service is so charming and that the food so appealing but also that in a city filled with impersonal restaurants conceived by corporations and controlled by accounting departments, Gabriel's feels as if it is run by real people". - Ruth Reichl, New York Times
In fairness, Ruth Reichl made the above comment some twelve years ago, and if anything, it's truer today than ever. It's not just restaurants - it's everything. Our banks, our drugstores, our bookstores, and yes, all those sleek chain restaurants run by gigantic corporations pretending to be yet another local favorite. The real restaurant business is run by real people and thankfully, real restaurant aficionados get it. It's what makes Gabriel's so interesting, authentic, and successful. There is indeed a real owner, and chances are he will greet you at the door. He even named his restaurant after himself, which in my mind speaks volumes about his confidence and commitment. Restaurants in New York City don't last for fifteen years without tons of passion and lots of tender loving care and I have learned a very simple lesson in this very complex business - great owners tend to operate superior restaurants. My belief is that a restaurant is a total reflection of the personality and attitude of its owner, and this spot has Gabriel Aiello written all over it.
People who own restaurants are interesting by definition. You have to be partly brilliant and partly nuts to survive in this crazy business. You definitely have to love it because 80-hour weeks don't appeal to everyone. It's certainly a people business and you better be good with people (your employees and the folks who are sitting at those tables). It's competitive beyond belief - there might be 25,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, and the restaurant failure rates can only be characterized as brutal. A very small number are fortunate enough to celebrate a 15th anniversary. Gabriel himself can best be described as affable and "hands on". The affable part resonates throughout this entire restaurant, and while the food is so important, that feeling of friendliness sets an unmistakable good mood in his consistently busy dining room. This place feels good and the owner is the man responsible. Gabriel defines his restaurant as upscale/homey. With the hustle and bustle of a New York City, homey is a good thing. Gabriel's is totally surrounded with big-time, quality restaurants owned by the stars of the American culinary world that include Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, and Masa Takayama (just to name a few). These gentlemen operate truly great restaurants, but none of their establishments in New York would be characterized as "homey". Gabriel's is indeed "homey" and it's clear that this owner wanted it this way. Even being friendly and "hands on" are not guarantees of success in this volatile business. An owner has to be an astute businessman in all aspects of the game. Interestingly enough, Gabriel Aiello probably made his best decision long before he opened his restaurant. He grabbed a spot at West 60th Street and it's difficult to believe there is a better location anywhere on the planet. You have the beauty and serenity of Central Park; the proximity to the popular Lincoln Center; the incredible retail and restaurants of the Time Warner Center; Time Warner World Headquarters (with tons of media folks and celebrities who help fill Gabriel's tables); the new Mandarin Oriental Luxury Hotel; and a neighborhood of local residents occupying a host of high-rise condominiums. For whatever reason, there are a lot of people who appreciate the cozy and homey feeling of the popular Gabriel's. Let's just say that reservations are highly recommended if not absolutely necessary.
I realize that Gabriel probably had little idea that this neighborhood would develop the way it did when he signed that lease, but he would have been successful in spite of all this growth (in point of fact, he was very successful without it). When we met, one of the first things he did was to write his cell phone number on the back of his business card and hand it to me. He was basically saying that he was very busy and this wasn't going to be a long, drawn-out meeting. I completely understood. Spend any amount of time with this owner; you realize why he is so successful. Gabriel's was recently chosen to host the New York Oscar Night, and this media event drew even more attention to this wonderful spot on West 60th Street. Gabriel is proud of his Northern Italian food where everything is made fresh to order, and equally proud of his quality and affordable wine list recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine (Award of Excellence).
In yet another stroke of genius, Gabriel made his talented wife, Christina Keefe, the chief designer. If your wife happens to be an accomplished artist, it might be a good idea to display her paintings in your restaurant. They are there for the world to see, and yet another example of why Gabriel is such an astute owner. He doesn't miss a whole lot.