Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager.It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services.Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila.The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it."
New York City is chock full of phenomenal museums - cultural centers that appeal to a variety of interests. For my family, however, it is West 77th Street where we find ourselves returning over and over again. Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society is the oldest American History museum and research library in New York City. Its holdings include paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts as well as three million books and pamphlets. Of particular note among their art holdings is the John James Audubon collection of Birds of America watercolors and their Hudson River School paintings.The Dimenna Children’s History Museum is a treasure not to be missed. It is a wonderful way to engage children in the history of both New York and the rest of the country. During the holiday season, the amazing train exhibit is a must-see for children of all ages.As a biographer/historian of American history for young adults, my mom has been attending their Tuesday evening programs for as long as I can remember. She has had the pleasure of meeting and listening to speakers such as Joseph Ellis, Richard Brookhiser, Stacy Schiff, and Harold Holzer, among others. The Patricia Klingenstein Research Library, in which she has done extensive research on Abigail Adams, is particularly important to her. She has remarked on many occasions that, for those who frequented the old facility, it is remarkable how superior it is to what it was some twenty years ago.With Caffe Storico attached for a spectacular dining experience, The New York Historical Society continues to be a favorite place that we recommend to everyone from individuals to families, New Yorkers to tourists, and historians to art lovers.
Through the double glass doors connecting Caffe Storico to the New York Historical Society, I pointed out the Holiday Express trains, circling round and round to Olivia and Tom. I had been a frequent guest in both the museum and the restaurant for several years, but was eager for these two members of the Manhattan Sideways team to have an equally special experience. In keeping with its name (translated from Italian, Storico means "historic"), the decor is chock full of towering shelves stacked with antique china plates. Standing in awe, Tom and Olivia noticed the other touches, including the chandeliers hanging from the incredibly high ceiling.Despite the fact that the restaurant is operated separately from the museum, they have a mutually beneficial relationship. Manager Edward Krebser and Gabriel, the assistant manager, told us that the nineteenth century plate ware behind glass is from the museum's collection, and that every other element of the design was carefully chosen. The wood floors, marble tabletops, and Italian pipe chairs were all specifically selected to form a cohesive whole. The restaurant space used to be the Lawrence and Eris Field Gallery, and so the room is accustomed to displaying works of art.Caffe Storico’s interior design is not the only work of art – the food is beautifully and deliciously crafted. The three of us were treated to a sampling of dishes. Tom and Olivia tasted the pork belly, while I had one of my favorite dishes, a Burrata with fall vegetables. When Caffe Storico first opened, it had a more northern Italian style. Now, the menu has swayed in a more local, sustainable direction. Ed Crochet, who worked at Craft before going in search of an opportunity to cook Italian food, is now the chef. With a specialty in handmade pastas, Ed told us that he is "trying as best as possible to be seasonal.” He focuses not so much on what is Italian as what is available locally and tastes the best. “I’m not using the old recipes as gospel and I’m trying to be creative with what the notion of Italian food is.” I must confess that one of the most amazing dishes that I have tried on my journey walking the side streets has to be the spinach and ricotta strozzapreti. These small balls filled with goodness have a soft texture and buttery flavor like nothing I have eaten before. They were so incredible that only a few days later, I made a reservation to dine at Storico with my husband and friends. I needed others to experience this remarkable creation. When Chef Crochet realized that I was a vegetarian, he presented us with several other noteworthy plates of food: The mushroom triangole with swiss chard was delectable, as was the squash with pear puree and pumpkin seeds, presented like a little fairy feast gathered around the roots of a tree.Gabriel sat down and chatted with us while we were consuming our spectacular meal and shared that after opening in 2009, there are still people in the neighborhood who wander by, suddenly see the tops of liquor bottles from the bar through the window, and wonder what is inside. Locals are still discovering the restaurant each day. As Edward phrased it, “They live three doors down, but they didn’t know we were here for years." He added, “I just want people to know about the restaurant.” And so do I, because it is what I would describe as an Upper West Side hidden gem.