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.
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean," Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community," Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave."Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave.The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy," "integrity," "perseverance," "self-control," and "indomitable spirit." These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them," Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster."Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place," she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day." She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo," Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration.Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years," Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you!" When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me," she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong."