In a city with a cutthroat restaurant industry, Gabriel’s, located in the Columbus Circle neighborhood, has accomplished a most remarkable feat: It has thrived for the past 25 years.
Since the restaurant opened in 1991, many celebrities and world leaders have passed through its doors. Oprah, Martin Scorsese, Harrison Ford, George W. Bush, and Boris Yeltsin are just some of those who have patronized the restaurant, knowing that a friendly face would care for them and assure them precious privacy.
But it’s not just celebrities and big names who feel at home here. Local regulars, too, have made Gabriel’s their refuge because of its incredible hospitality to all diners—famous or not.
That renowned hospitality has been life’s calling of owner Gabriel Aiello, who revels in tending to his guests’ needs.
He recalls the first time he became enchanted with the restaurant world. At age 12, he went with his parents to see “The Jungle Book” at Radio City Music Hall, and afterwards they ventured to The Plaza for dinner. “More than the food, the atmosphere there seduced me,” he said.
Since then, Aiello developed a passion for serving people. “Making people happy is very generous. Caring about strangers is very generous,” he said. “I was taught this by my parents, and it stuck with me. I love doing it.”
He compares his work to that of a comedian trying to make an audience laugh. “I have to pull together a crowd and make them content, happy, and impressed,” he said.
At Gabriel’s, the staff addresses regulars by their names, asks about their latest goings on, and attends to every request with care and attention. Aiello recalls a time when a guest ordered a dish that had run out; right away, the staff went out to buy the ingredients.
When he opened Gabriel’s, Aiello envisioned the restaurant to be “understated, low-key, not flashy”; as a result, it exudes a gentle warmth. Jazzy tunes hum above the din of conversation. A florist is in charge of changing the floral arrangements regularly, while Aiello rotates the painting collection on the walls. With its high ceilings, open layout, and glistening mirrors, Gabriel’s has an easy, comfortable elegance.
It’s a restaurant that’s equally suited to playing host to high-powered meetings as it is to romantic rendez-vous. Aiello can count a dozen or so couples who had their first dates at the restaurant and later got engaged there, where they first met.
It is no wonder, then, that Valentine’s Day is quite the occasion at the restaurant, when the dining room dons a romantic mantle for the holiday—the tables festooned with heart-shaped candy and balloons, lending a festive atmosphere. Even the bread service gets the romantic treatment, with heart-shaped breads.
The Valentine’s Day menu follows suit with decadent offerings and plenty of dishes for two, including lobster with truffle butter sauce; yellowfin tuna tartare with tonnato sauce and homemade crostini; and blueberry risotto. The latter, lavishly purple in color, is an embodiment of comfort. The dish, more savory than sweet, has an edge of tartness from the berries. It combines Parmesan, shallots, olive oil, vegetable broth, and blueberries three ways (fresh, dried, and juiced) to create a plate of creamy delight.
To cap off dinner, freshly made desserts abound, perfect for sharing: cherry crostata with espresso gelato, rose sorbet, and cherry-pistachio gelato, to name a few of the options, all made in-house.
The menu changes by season, but some signature dishes are ever present. Spicy Grilled Calamari, for example, is a stimulating combination of smoky-charred from the calamari, tangy-sweet from the reduced 10-year balsamic vinegar, and piquant from the black olives and capers, all on a bed of baby arugula ($18).
The pastas are made in-house and perfectly paired with scrumptious sauces. The Penne Bolognese is hearty but not heavy, with herbs, bits of celery, and minced beef clinging to the al dente pasta ($32).
The Scottish Salmon is winningly paired with a lightly tart Marsala-mustard sauce, as well as butter beans and rainbow kale ($37).
The pudding-like Espresso Panna Cotta always makes a lovely ending to a meal, with its light taste of coffee ($14). Cappuccino whipped cream and housemade chocolate-covered espresso beans add extra layers of texture.
25th Anniversary Wine Specials
To celebrate the restaurant’s 25th anniversary, special wines are available—ones that were poured when Gabriel’s first opened, including a Fontodi Chianti Classico from Tuscany and a Livio Felluga pinot grigio. Gabriel’s extensive wine list—which won an award for excellence from Wine Spectator magazine—spans many regions of Italy and beyond.
The bar also makes classic cocktails, including a famously generous martini, at 10.5 ounces.
Aiello is looking forward to a year of celebrating with customers. He will soon be launching a line of red and yellow tomato sauces. But you’ll find him at his happiest when he’s at the restaurant, greeting his guests, waiting to make their day special.
Gabriel’s Bar and Restaurant
11 W. 60th St. (between Broadway and Columbus Avenue)
5 p.m.–11 p.m.
Friday & Saturday
NYC Restaurant Week Prix Fixe
Jan. 23–Feb. 10
3 Courses | $29 Lunch | $42 Dinner
Gabriel’s has participated in NYC Restaurant Week since the event first started in 1992. For the special prix fixe menu, Gabriel’s will serve dishes including burrata with vidalia onion jam, marinated tomato, and basil oil; red endive salad with baby arugula, Gorgonzola, and pecans; braised short rib with soft polenta and shaved red cabbage; and anisette cookies with whipped cream.