On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning.
We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house.
Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard.” “He never cuts corners,” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority.
“We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food,” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food.” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you,” Alan said. “It transports you.”
I had been following the developments of Cosme since I first read about the impending restaurant earlier in 2014. As soon as I learned that they were taking reservations for their October opening, I grabbed one for the first week. Spacious, with cement floors and industrial black pipes on the ceiling, I found Cosme to be uncongested. The table arrangement provided far more room in this restaurant than New Yorker's are used to when dining out. I also appreciated the individual spot lighting, allowing for a more private ambiance, and the planted cacti in Mexican pottery outfitting each table.The restaurant's contemporary decor was intriguing, yes, but it was the food that took center stage. Victor, our waiter, was proud to tell my group, that Enrique Olvera's restaurant, Pujol in Mexico City, was "very famous." I knew that the owner and chef of Cosme had a fine international reputation, but enjoyed listening to this delightful man sing his bosses praises. He went on to elaborate on the fresh ingredients and the authenticity of each; "The corn is all grown in my country and used in almost every dish that we serve."While beginning the meal with a few tasty drinks, including the classic Margarita, we polished off a few baskets of the over-sized homemade blue corn chips and spicy dipping sauce until our orders of fried, cheese-filled quesadillas arrived. Unlike the plate of flat, limp triangles often served elsewhere, these quesadillas were crisp, puffy, and oozing with quality cheese.Although we were eager to try Mr. Olvera's take on guacamole, we were disappointed to learn that this was a bar-only item. Next time, we will have to stop at the front of the restaurant first. Moving ahead to an order of Burrata with Weeds - Victor said that "tonight's [Weeds] have a mix of dandelion, arugula and watercress" - we were ecstatic with how creamy and absolutely delicious the large ball of mozzarella was. For the main course, the guys had ordered simply prepared slices of filet that they said were perfection, served with shishito peppers, a bit of sauteed onions and an avocado and tarragon sauce. I tried a vegetarian version of the Barbacoa with small pieces of mushrooms and squash. When I asked about the Chilaquiles, a mélange that starts with fried corn tortilla chips at its core, my twenty-five year old nephew from California replied, "Well, this was the one thing that I recognized on the menu, so I ordered it, but it tastes nothing like what I am use to getting in LA." I smiled, pleased to have introduced to him to the gourmet version of this Mexican classic.
While 24th Street contains several world-renowned galleries, C24 is a less recognizable, but no less amazing art gallery. It was opened in September of 2011 by four partners: Emre and Maide Kurttepeli, Mel Dogan, and Ali Soyak. Though none were working directly in the art industry, all were united by a passion for art. “They thought, ‘Where’s the best place to open a gallery? New York!” explained Michelle Maigret, the director. “’Where’s the best place in New York? Chelsea! Where’s the best street in Chelsea? 24th Street!” In 2015, C24’s building was purchased, so the owners found a new space down the block. This time, however, C24 will not be pushed out. In keeping with a block norm, C24 is the owner of its building, and with the new location came a new vision. “I think we have more of a direction now,” Michelle said. “When we moved out of our old space, we went through the artists and moved out the ones who weren’t going with the direction the directors wanted to take.” It was not just a move, as Meghan Schaetzle, the gallery manager, clarified, but “a rebirth of the gallery.” The new C24 is more spacious than most of the surrounding galleries. There is an atrium as well as a large main room, featuring windows and glass doors, to create a naturally lit and generally welcoming environment. “Often, artists get restricted by gallery space,” explained Amanda Uribe, director of sales. “But here, they’re inspired by the possibilities.” The unique space allows C24 to step outside of what one might typically see on 24th Street - exhibiting all media, from miniature sculptures to monumental paintings to video art - and, recently, they have been moving towards multimedia or, as Michelle put it, “different media” displays. Rather than follow in the footsteps of more established galleries and try to feature the “big hits,” C24 aims to represent contemporary, mid-career artists who are pushing the boundaries of their craft. As Michelle told me, “The big name artists are great and it’s always good to see their shows, but we have something different, fun, and interactive - and people always respond to it. There’s a different attitude, different feel, something fresh here.” In keeping with that theme, C24’s curation attempts to push boundaries with an international focus and is proud to feature a geographically diverse roster of artists. Additionally, C24 brings in an outside curator each year to organize a show in their space. When it comes to the art world, keep an eye on C24: For the young gallery, things are only looking up. “We’ve been applying to some of the more prestigious art fairs and getting wait-listed, rather than flat-out rejected,” Michelle said. “We’re about to hit it.” Meghan concurred: “Stay tuned and see how we grow!”
To his knowledge, David Klass is Manhattan's last sculptor. At least, the last sculptor to have a large private studio in New York’s most expensive borough. His work space is fabulously cluttered with tools, busts, tables, drawers, dust, and splattered plaster. Horses, humans, and Judaica abound. David showed me the brass menorah he was working on, saying, “I’m having trouble with these pits and holes." Rubbing his finger over a pock mark, he continued, “I think I’ll have to do this again.” I was prepared to poke around the studio but David had other plans. He led me around the corner to a large room with couches, book shelves, and an open kitchen. “Welcome to my home.” I discovered over the course of my visit that David Klass is the sort of man who is far more mischievous than he appears. He walks slowly, speaks softly, and gives the impression that he would rather be alone, smoothing the imperfections out of his latest creation, so one would never guess that he has a penchant for fast cars, blow torches, and dissecting human bodies. David’s reputation for crafting objects pertaining to the Jewish faith is well known, and he takes commissions from temples across the country. When I mentioned that he had entered into a long tradition, creating pieces that throughout history have been defaced and destroyed, he replied, “I don’t think too much about that stuff. What’s nice for me is shaping something like an abstract Sanctuary Lamp. That’s when the difference between making ‘things’ and making ‘art,’ or the difference between ‘applied art’ and ‘fine art,’ shrinks.”A moment later, a woman entered the apartment accompanied by three small dogs: Tank, Boo and Nuttley. C.C. the cat also joined us. “I’m Naomi,” the woman smiled, “I’m his third wife.” “C.C. stands for crazy cat,” David said. “No, it does not,” said Naomi, “It stands for Cecile.”Naomi, I learned, was a longtime friend of David’s. “I introduced him to his second wife. When that didn’t work out, well, I stepped in.” With Naomi's entrance, the conversation began to pick up. Naomi proved to be quite practiced at eliciting information from her husband, often prompting him to share interesting tidbits that he had forgotten. “I fell into sculpture because of my love of cars and motorcycles. When I went to college at the Pratt Institute, my father said I should be an architect because I was always building things like treehouses when I was little kid. Art was not on my mind. One semester I took a welding class on a whim, mostly so I could rebuild my Austin-Healey. I found that I loved shaping metal; I loved the heat. I liked it so much I switched to art school.” Klass would go on to apprentice with Theodore Roszak (the artist, not the theorist) before striking out on his own.I referenced the fact that in 1973, David studied anatomy at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. It turns out that this is not strictly true. “My friend Elliott and I wanted to study the human form, as artists, and we knew about the General Studies program at the med school. So we just crashed it. We would walk in, put on lab coats and greet everyone, saying 'Hello doctor, how are you doctor?' Then we would observe dissections, simple as that. After, we sometimes had the bodies to ourselves. They didn’t let us cut,” he assured me, “Just manipulate and probe. You could do those things back then.”Today, David teaches anatomy at the New York Academy of Art. “Tell him about the device you invented,” Naomi prompted. “Well,” David said, “I created this contraption that allows me to affix a head with a pin in each ear. This way the corpse can be hung and stabilized in a vertical manner. It makes for a more effective class demonstration.”In 1980, David moved to his current building. He and Naomi expressed multiple times how sad they were that artists could not afford to live in the neighborhood today: “Tadaaki Kuwayama lives upstairs, but there is hardly anyone left from the old days. Now it is mostly stock brokers and attorneys.” The “old days” refers to a time when the area was populated by war vets on meth. It refers to establishments like Billy’s Topless bar and people with names like “Crazy Norman.” Some of what David was up to during those days is off the record, but what I can say is that he started the Chelsea School of Fine Arts. Twenty-five years later people still gather at his studio to sketch and take lessons in what may be the longest running life-drawing group in the city. I heard about some of David’s apprentices, such as Lee Ranaldo of the band Sonic Youth, as well as “a young man who listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio every day and then just stopped showing up. He disappeared along with several bronzes.” As David eyes retirement, he would like to be “more art-focused versus 'making things'-focused,” but he is always happy to work whether it be a commission for a Synagogue in Texas or a project for someone down the block who needs the expertise of a master welder. As for future projects, David is currently working in pastels. He also has a massive piece of marble covered by a tarp in the back courtyard. “I may decide to chip away at it one day,” he said. When I made my exit, I looked over my shoulder to see David walking back to the solitude of his studio - or he may have been returning to the love and company of his cat, three dogs, and wife.
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center functions as a community center rather than simply a yoga studio, making for a very special experience. It is run entirely by volunteers, some of whom reside upstairs. Aside from regular yoga and meditation classes, there are often workshops, talks, vegetarian cooking classes and group meals. The aim is to teach the ways of yoga as a healthy lifestyle, not just an exercise routine. The followers of Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center live by five simple guidelines: proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, a vegetarian diet, meditation and positive thinking. Sivananda Yoga is a global movement with centers all over the United States and the world. We talked to a woman who had recently completed a certification program in California and returned home to New York to volunteer at the Sivananda Center. She went by the name Jayanti – a name given to her at the yoga school. Jayanti shared the history of the Sivananda Yoga movement, which began in India under Swami (meaning master) Sivananda, who then sent Swami Vishnu-Devananda to the United States to spread the knowledge of Yoga with the words “The West is waiting for us.” The Center has been in New York since 1959, and in this specific location since 1964. Simply listening to Jayanti calmly tell us the story of this community that she felt so attached to, and this way of life that she found so rewarding, we could not help but be drawn in by her air of content. Getting to know a bit about this niche community in Manhattan was certainly a highlight for us while walking 24th Street.
Kadampa is one of the most tranquil indoor spaces that we have encountered. The Center, which is run completely by volunteers, has been housed at various locations through New York for the past twenty years, but moved into its current location in 2012. Just as the volunteers are trusted to run the center, guests are welcomed with a level of trust and openness that feels almost alien. Upon entering we were warmly greeted, and offered the option of sitting in on a free meditation session, or even of availing ourselves of private meditation rooms downstairs. Unsure what to do, we sat in on a pre-recorded meditation. Our host, Margaret, set us up with books, cushions and water. We took off our shoes and read along while the speaker rhythmically took us through the passage. The text was surprisingly smart and proscriptive; it was completely devoid of fluffy affirmations or vague mysticism. Rather Kadampa emphasizes Buddha's teachings, which at this center is done through examining the writings of venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Still the meditations do not dwell on intellectualism, as the central thrust at Kadampa is providing a place of calm in our bustling city. When we were ready to step back into Manhattan, after feeling thoroughly serene, Margaret invited us back, telling us that even if we did not have time to meditate, we were always welcome to stop by to relax.
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
Although small, this family-owned café is inviting. The sandwiches are interesting and tasty, as are the soups and salads…and then there is the cappuccino and sweets. Consistently busy, the staff is always smiling, the food is healthy and hearty, and the vibe is positive, even during rush hours.
Johny Pilatos started his luncheonette when he was only twenty years old. His father, Larry, had a restaurant down the street, and when the space nearby became available, Johny leaped at the chance to open a business of his own.Though Larry stopped in regularly to help Johny manage the lunch rush or cook specials, this bustling spot known for its breakfast and subs is largely Johny’s brainchild. He began with a simple menu consisting of a handful of American dishes. Yet as inspiration for new recipes came to him, he was quick to expand his offerings. “After a long day, I’d put stuff together at home, and if it was good, I’d sell it at the restaurant.” All of his sandwich creations are named after his loved ones and pets; luckily, he has a surplus of names to choose from, as he is the doting father of eight children. Of course, he used his own name for his personal favorite — the Sloppy Johny — though he is pleased to say that visitors latch onto any and all of his inventions with equal eagerness.