Like many surgeons, when Dr. Thomas Romo III graduated medical school, he hopped on a plane to India and Vietnam in order to fix cleft lips. "We felt like we had time and a reason to give back, " he said of himself and his peers who choose to travel the world doing medical procedures before settling down and developing a practice. Though Dr. Romo operated on numerous lips, he realized after a while that the program he was traveling with was only fixing a quarter of the problem. After the lip healed, the palate still did not close correctly and teeth did not grow straight. Patients would experience chronic Eustachian tube problems, resulting in earaches. Dr. Romo wanted to fix the rest of the palate, but the mission that he was with focused solely on lips. "I wanted to change the paradigm, " Dr. Romo declared. Back in New York, he began developing a plan to help children with facial birth defects through all operation stages, not just cosmetic. Dr. Romo admitted that he did not have any experience putting together a foundation, "I did not go to business school, " he pointed out, and therefore it was challenging for him to lay the groundwork of his new venture. He decided to accept only newborns through age twenty-one who were on Medicaid or required other financial assistance, with emphasis on those from the United States. As he phrased it, "Little Baby Face Foundation helps "children from Harlem to Ethiopia. "With his mission in place, Dr. Romo then recruited thirty doctors, including pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and various specialists. This impressive brain trust assembles each month to discuss fifteen to twenty children whose financial statements have been checked. They ask, "Who does this child need to see? " If they are not sure, they bring them in for a "look-see" with each of the doctors. He then went on to say that when these children come in to meet this large group of doctors, they are experiencing something unique - this number of medical professionals is rarely seen in one room. For the entire stay, including during the operation and recovery time, the child and his or her family are taken care of every step of the way: their flights are paid for, "Mario picks them up in a car service, " and they are welcomed with open arms at the Ronald McDonald House. What most impressed me about the Little Baby Face Foundation is that every doctor volunteers his or her time. It has been worked out so that no one needs to perform more than a handful of procedures each month. Occasionally, when Dr. Romo is met with slight reluctance from one of the doctors, he often responds with a poignant, yet witty response: "How much fat do you want to suck and how many boobs do you want to do? Or do you want to change a child's life? "Dr. Romo performs a significant number of the operations. He sometimes ends up doing as many as ten during the winter holidays. Speaking with him is an enlightening experience, as he is so full of energy, compassion, and joviality. He shared a few stories of patients who had touched his heart. He told me about operations that involved a Texan child with nerve paralysis and another from Harlem who was born deaf and missing an ear on one side. On the latter, Dr. Romo performed a cochlear implant and that the child "heard his name said at graduation. "Speaking about a few other patients from abroad, Dr. Romo continued to touch my own heart as he spoke of a child who came from farther afield - in Ethiopia. The girl had a large mass on her neck that no other doctor would touch. Dr. Romo said, "We had to fly her from a small village to Addis Ababa to Dubai to New York. " Not only did the girl have the mass removed, but she also got to have a New York adventure. As he continued on, I learned about a couple from England who came with their eighteen-month old son, who had a tumor falling over his eye. The parents, who were only nineteen and twenty-one, themselves, were given the opportunity to spend several weeks in Manhattan while their child was having his life changed. Dr. Romo is proud of how far the foundation has come since it began in 1990. He recently experienced a year in which he raised enough money in order to pay a small staff. One of the members of his team is his own wife, Diane Romo, who is the surgical coordinator. She deals directly with the children and has the extreme pleasure of contacting families to tell them, "We're going to bring you to New York. "Now that he has a model and a brand, Dr. Romo hopes to expand. "We can helicopter to Chicago, LA, or San Francisco, " he told me excitedly. But he is also devoted to New York, and emphasizes the concept of "New Yorkers helping New Yorkers. " He wishes that more people knew that the Little Baby Face Foundation existed. He said that a lot of hospitals are in the red, which should not be the case, since there are so many doctors willing to occasionally work for free for the sake of the greater good. His need to give to the community in any way he can is inspiring. As he perfectly phrased it for me, "I'm a surgeon. This is the only way I know how to give back. "
After visiting many century-old synagogues, it was a refreshing change of pace to tour the modern facilities of Temple Israel of the City of New York. Sun shone through the colorful stained glass throughout the 1960s building and a winding spiral staircase occupied the front hall. The Manhattan Sideways team and I were met by Michele Amaro, the Communications Manager, who took the time to guide us through the eight floors. She led us into the sanctuary, which, as she explained, has “that mod curvy look like the Metropolitan Opera. ” The space is enormous, seating 330 people on the first floor and 500 more in the balcony. The congregation was started in Harlem in 1870 and has since been providing a place of worship for many. Today, on East 75th, it is Rabbi David Gelfand - who joined in 2006 - who continues to keep the traditions alive. According to Michelle, it is he who has helped to revitalize the Temple. Cantor Irena Altshul, Rabbi Melissa Buyer, and Rabbi Jim Stoloff round out the clergy team. Michele mentioned some of the more modern programs that Temple Israel offers, including a “Rockin’ Shabbat” (an interactive worship using modern methodologies and technologies) with Sheldon Low, artist-in-residence, , and a Lunch & Learn talk on “kosher-style sex” by Logan Levkoff, a sex therapist and clergy. on Fridays, which uses multimedia screens in worship, and a talk on “kosher-style sex” by Logan Levkoff, a sex therapist. “This is an extremely, extremely active synagogue. We have things going on all the time. ”Michele continued showing us around, taking us by multiple display cases full of Judaica, including an exquisite menorah donated by Herbert G. Lane, who was one of the chairman of the board of directors for the temple. We also passed multiple pieces of art, photos of smiling congregants, and teaching tools. On one wall, there is a Visual Torah with cartoon-like drawings so that children can better understand the stories. Michele emphasized that education is deeply important to the Temple before taking us to see the religious school, run by Rabbi Melissa Buyer. I was most impressed by the amount of space dedicated to teaching children, including a lounge for the older ones, and “Mitzvah Gardens” where students can plant food that will later be donated to those in need. The preschool rooms, which are color coded, also sport two terraces with playgrounds. We were impressed by their use of the latest technology complete with Macs and smart boards. Though the school plays a significant role in preparing children for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah, Michele stressed that the school is K-12 and covers every stage of religious instruction, creating a foundation of lifelong Jewish learning. Located underneath the sanctuary, we were amazed by the ballroom, an enormous space, that is in continuous use for various celebrations, including Hanukkah concerts, and Passover seders. When we visited, we observed an early childhood program, headed by director Lisa Samick. The space was filled with toys, and very young children were being rocked to sleep by mothers and nannies in an adjoining room. When I commented to Michele that there was no doubt this is a warm and welcoming community, she beamed, and let me know how proud she was to be a part of Temple Israel.
I thought that perhaps I was immune to the glorious interiors of New York City churches after exploring seventy-five streets, but St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church proved me wrong. The sanctuary is absolutely exquisite, with shimmering stained glass, towering columns, and majestic balconies. I met with Barbara O’Dwyer Lopez, the President of the Parish Council, and Father John Kamas who together wrote a beautiful book about the history of St. Jean, making them the perfect people from whom to receive a tour of the building. St. Jean Baptiste has been serving the community for a long time. The church has existed since 1882, though it moved from just down the street to its current corner location in 1912. Barbara pointed at the stained glass, mentioning that it came from pre-World War I France. She also informed me that the church and school are still associated with the same sisterhood of nuns, the Congregation of Notre Dame, as they were at the start. “Teeming with history, this place, ” she said with a smile. Numerous choirs are associated with the church. “Music has always been a very fine tradition with us, ” Barbara explained before listing the parish choir, children’s choir, and professional singers whose voices have echoed off the church’s walls. Orchestras come from all around to perform in St. Jean’s impressive sanctuary and, of course, the choir from the St. Jean Baptiste High School also calls the church home. I inquired about the congregation and discovered that it has been steadily growing in recent years. St. Jean is emphasizing more attendance with children, as the neighborhood has become populated with young families. Many members of the congregation come from the busy hospital communities nearby where the church also sends chaplains. In addition to the constant flow of people who stop in to pray in the main sanctuary, Barbara mentioned that the church grounds are always buzzing with activity. “We have a very busy campus here, ” Barbara said, and led me through the church to another part of the building. The girls’ school was our next stop. Like the church, it is over one hundred years old. Barbara informed me that the students come from each of the five boroughs, with many from ethnic minorities. Barbara was proud to tell me that there is a 100% college acceptance rate at graduation. Via the large auditorium, Barbara took me through the school courtyard to show me the theater whereupon I was introduced to Tony, the manager of the community center. In the same complex as the theater, there is a dance studio where different groups, from adult ballroom dancing to children’s hiphop, rehearse. We also passed a meeting room occupied by a toddler playgroup and saw signs for Applause, an educational Broadway music program based at St. Jean’s. I continued to be impressed by the diversity of groups that were welcomed into St. Jean’s facilities, how each space appeared to be used to its full potential, and the lovely people involved throughout. As Barbara added jovially, “There’s hardly an empty minute! ”The theater itself is no exception – The Hewitt School rents out the theater, as well as small theater groups like the Blue Hill Troupe, which produces a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. While observing the Hewitt girls rehearsing the production of Le Malade Imaginaire by Moliere, Barbara directed my gaze to the floor that opens up to reveal an orchestra pit. Not only does the church provide a wonderful resource to performance groups around the city, but the revenue from the theater helps support the church’s upkeep and other activities. It is a beautifully symbiotic relationship: “The theater provides stability for the church. ”When we returned to the church proper, I had the pleasure of meeting Father Kamas. In his warm, gentle manner he spoke of how his relationship with the church goes back many years. He once attended the grammar school that was affiliated with St. Jean Baptiste, and the nun who used to be his eighth grade teacher now lives in the rectory with him. “I feel very at home here, ” he emphasized. The church has changed since he was young, but for the better. “When I was a kid, it was very dark, ” John said, but then the church underwent a twelve year renovation beginning in 1988. During this time the interior was redone and the roof was patched. The church is, unsurprisingly, a landmark building; therefore, everything had to be replaced using the same materials. It was then that the theater and community center were built.
Ed and his wife Heidi know that being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Their reputation has been growing, which is wonderful, but on many evenings this can also mean up to an hour wait for people hoping to get into the tiny restaurant. Based on its popularity, there is no doubt that the cozy eatery has filled a void uptown. Unlike the East Village, for instance, where every nook and cranny is filled with enticing bars and restaurants, Heidi’s House is the only one of its kind in the immediate area. Ed emphasized that he would not want it any other way - he loves being “part of the fabric of the neighborhood” and interacting with the steady, loyal crowd. Ed and Heidi are both former teachers. The full name of the restaurant is “Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road, ” a reference to a poem of the same name by Sam Walter Foss. While Heidi is presently studying for a masters degree, Ed has been taking on more of the responsibilities in running the restaurant, though Heidi is still the master of the wine list, which has a wide, interesting selection and rotates with the seasons. Ed is the beer man and has steered away from draught, preferring craft and bottled beers. He is also in charge of the space. He put his skills as a former carpenter to use in building the restaurant, finding salvaged wood from the building itself, some of which is over 100 years old. Ed brought out a couple signature dishes for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph. Cipriano and his sous-chef Heleo Aviles whipped up a plate of bruschetta as well as the seared sirloin steak special, served with fingerling potatoes, red pepper puree, and fresh horseradish sauce. Though it was early, the small space was already bustling, and bartender Rosendo Hernandez had his work cut out for him. When Ed and Heidi first began planning their restaurant, they wanted to create a place where they, themselves, would like to go. They designed an intimate, TV-free zone with great jazz and good food where customers could meet and enjoy a conversation while dining on an eclectic mix of comfort food. For the latter, they found Cipriano Pita, who has been with Heidi and Ed since they first opened Heidi’s House in 2010. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, he is a “natural born cook, ” smart and intuitive. Because of the limited space in Cipriano's "workshop, " Ed said that the produce, meat, and fish are delivered daily. "We have nowhere to store it, so it has to be fresh. " Everything is hands-on, without any corporate elements. The atmosphere is similarly guided by what Ed and Heidi want to see in their space. They brought decorations from home, including framed post cards, quirky sculptures, and a Nepalese window frame. There are board games at the front of the restaurant including checkers, chess, Scrabble, dominoes, and Trivial Pursuit. I was struck by a poem on the wall behind the bar written by a child who came to dine with her family, detailing her experience at Heidi’s. “Everyone wants to be around things that they like, ” Ed pointed out. It was refreshing to experience a place where every detail is decided by what the owners like, not what they assume the customers prefers - in the end, it appears that they are one in the same.
Pil Pil, named for a specific kind of sauce originating in the Basque region of Spain, fills an important role on the Upper East Side. It is a neighborhood watering hole, upscale and with enough ambience for a perfect date or friendly hangout, but still casual enough to lure locals back multiple times each week. I spoke with Nikola Romic, the owner and general manager, who explained that this is exactly the environment he wanted to create when he opened Pil Pil in 2010: a “homey atmosphere” where locals could have good food and wine. Nikola, originally from Serbia, spent a lot of time in Spain. He gained a true appreciation for the cuisine there and now owns vineyards in the Spanish countryside. Most of the wines at Pil Pil come from either his own grapes or family-owned vineyards. Nik told me that he personally travels to each of the vineyards to speak with the vintners and try the wine. Despite being so selective, Pil Pil features wine from over eighty different kinds of grapes. Considering the breadth of his experience, the property he owns, and his education, I was even more impressed with Nik when he revealed his age - when we met in early 2016, he was only twenty-seven! Pil Pil's home on 78th Street had previously been occupied by a sake bar where Nik actually worked. When it became obvious that the space would have to shutter, Nik turned it into a Spanish restaurant, decorating the interior with wine bottles and twining tree branches to make the intimate ambience for which Pil Pil is known. His initial plan was to serve traditional Spanish food, but he has added many American classics with key Spanish ingredients to the menu to appeal to his New York audience. For instance, there is a mac and cheese with chorizo and sliders made with manchego cheese. On the day we visited, Nik was offering a special mulled wine. He handed each member of the Manhattan Sideways team a glass, seasoned with citrus and cloves, which warmed us from the inside out. He showed us to the recently redesigned wine cellar before beckoning us into the kitchen where he casually added shrimp to a pan filled with butter and spices with one hand and stirred the pot of mulling wine with the other. Everything Nik and his sous chef Pedji did seemed effortless, like a well-timed culinary dance. He brought out a few dishes for us to try on the hightop tables, including the shrimp, called gambas al ajillo, which had just the right amount of spice and left enough sauce for the perfect buttery bread dip. We also tried the freshly baked flaky mushroom flatbread, seasoned with truffle oil. The last to arrive were the macaroni and cheese croquettes. These light balls of noodles and cheese, with a dash of paprika, were sensational. Nik is proud of what Pil Pil has become, both in terms of the food and the staff, many of whom speak both Spanish and English. There is no hierarchy of waiters and food runners. Casually dressed, they all work seamlessly together, emphasizing the relaxed atmosphere that Pil Pil has fostered. On Wednesdays, Nik occasionally brings in a Spanish acoustic guitar player from Barcelona…and sometimes Nik himself even plays.
The James B. Duke house is the first building one encounters on a block known as "Millionaire's Row. " It was built for James Buchanan Duke, one of the founders of the American Tobacco Company, in 1912. It is now an academic building used by New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.
Stores like Martine’s Antiques are exactly the kind of businesses I look for on the side streets. Though small, every inch of the shop has some new treasure to discover. There are watches, jewelry, glassware, and various knick knacks decorating the room. Though she has been in New York since 1992, Martine Leventer's lilting French accent added music to her descriptions of each of the pieces that she has hand-selected for her shop. Martine began her career as a journalist in Paris, writing about business and the economy. She occasionally wrote about art, but usually only in terms of auctions and its financial role in society. She told me, however, that she had always had a great love for antiques, “ever since I can remember, in fact. ” She recalled the very first antique she bought as a teenager – a bronze candle holder. Since then, she admits, “I’ve been buying way too much in my life. ” She spent some time between the United States and France, collecting antiques from each location, but when she first went into business in New York, it was as a chocolatier. She had two chocolate shops: one on the Upper East Side, where she lives, and a small shop in Bloomingdale’s. Chocolate, however, was not where her true passion lay: “Having an antique store has been a dream of mine since I was very young, ” she told me. She began selling little pieces at her Bloomingdale’s location, mostly costume jewelry. She then opened an antique store on 82nd Street in 1997, while continuing to operate her chocolate shops. The current location opened in 2012 and she closed her chocolate business a year later. Martine is proud of the fact that her store is a specially curated selection of antiques. “Everyone tells me I have a good eye, ” she said humbly. She does not work in bulk or in estate sales: everything is something that caught her eye. Martine is especially drawn to costume jewelry, old watches - “Old watches have a heart that beats, ” she said poetically - and vintage American glassware. She used to use colorful glass plates and bowls to show off her chocolates. “I look for something that is either beautiful or funny, something that makes my day. It is important to have things in your house that give you happy feelings. ”Though she still has a couple customers who have been with her from the very beginning, many of her original clients have moved away. She has realized that that is a pattern in New York: things are constantly shifting and changing. Though some change may be good, for the most part it means higher rents. “So many small businesses have disappeared. It’s so heartbreaking. ” She elaborated, “Being from France, I don’t like seeing little old buildings being demolished. ” In Martine's view, the city is starting to become too angular, as harsh modern architecture starts to take over from the old world. When she first came to the United States, she was surprised by the variety of antiques. In France, most of the antiques are French, with perhaps a few English or German pieces if you look hard. The United States, on the other hand, is a source of antiques from around the world. Martine had never come in contact with American Vintage before, and immediately took a liking to it. Additionally, costume jewelry was cheaper and more accessible in the U. S. She discovered, however, that New Yorkers were often more interested in European pieces. She explained her frustration to me: In terms of antiques, architecture, and art, Americans will travel hundreds of miles to view masterpieces but will not show any respect towards the beautiful works of art on their own shores. “I hope people wake up soon, ” she said, “and learn to not throw away the beauty of their own heritage. ”
Before he discovered the intriguing land of miniatures, Leslie Edelman practiced as an attorney. This all changed when he befriended a couple that owned a doll house business on Lexington Avenue in the 1980s. “The next thing I knew, I was working with them. ” Leslie would go to shows and spend his spare time doing odd jobs in the shop. When the couple was ready to retire, they asked if he wanted to purchase the shop. Enchanted with the idea of opening a niche business, building tiny furniture, and traveling the world collecting doll house pieces, Leslie said yes. Today, he is also the mastermind behind many of Tiny Doll House’s designs. In the mid-1990s, the store moved to East 78th, where it has seen its clientele change over the decades. Initially, the business attracted people from around the globe who had an interest in the hobby. “They would come to us as we were the tourist center of the world. ” There were also local families interested in building their children a doll house, and then it turned to collectors as later generations became immersed in electronics. “Today, we are seeing more and more young people have a renewed interest in miniatures. ”Who would not be fascinated by the rows of tiny watches, tea sets, board games, bottles of wine, minuscule cakes, and musical instruments? Modern leather couches, mini televisions, and beautifully crafted Lilliputian antiques decorate the various houses that also run the gamut. There are stores, workshops, Tudor cottages, and federal mansions. Leslie even sells the mini people who go inside each model, ranging from a small rendering of the Mad Hatter to a woman in an elaborate sari sitting next to a hookah. A standout moment for Leslie and his partner, Tim Porter, was the day “Joan Rivers flung open the door, threw her shoes to one corner and her fur coat to another, and the next thing we knew we were building a house for her. ” She used it as a prop on QVC to promote her charm bracelets. “She sold a hell of a lot of them! ”