The front windows of Italienne welcomed in the warm afternoon light reaching across 24th street to bathe the rustic wood floors and metal countertops of the trattoria’s front room. Once the door had closed behind us, we felt like we could have been up in the hills of a French Provençal town overlooking the Mediterranean - except as we turned to look back out the window, a telltale New York water tower looked right back at us. The juxtaposition of place, between the smells and materials inside and the cityscape beyond the glass, was beautiful: enough to make us catch our breath, and certainly enough to draw us farther into to comforting space of the dining room, where General Manager and owner James King was ready to welcome the Manhattan Sideways team and share with us the story of Italienne.
Both King and partner, Chef Jared Sippel, spent a significant amount of time traveling and living abroad before coming together to work on Italienne. They shared with us that they had learned much about their craft from those they lived and worked with outside of the United States. Unsurprisingly, along with time spent in the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and Asia, both Sippel and King lived for a long while in France and Italy, before both, eventually, moved to San Francisco to join the team at Fresca Peruvian Kitchen.
When asked what lessons they had brought from their travels to the tables of Italienne, King emphasized the quality of product and use of local produce and proteins whenever possible - just as would be true of the Michelin-starred country restaurants similar to those on the farms King worked for while traveling. While many of the products used in the restaurant are indeed local, many of them are also carefully sourced from small family farms across Southern Europe. The anchovies, for example, come from Spain, the spices from North Africa, and the prosciutto from Italy. And, of course, the curated selection of wines that fills the cellar perfectly matches the flavor profile of the regional cuisine and the local produce.
The team at Italienne strives to create intimate relationships with all of their sellers, no matter where they are based, and make routine trips to visit the families they support, whether they are in upstate New York or Southern France. The European sellers even make it over to New York once in a while, where they join the team at Italienne for family dinners.
Since its opening in 2016, Italienne has evolved quickly: 24th Street has seen a flurry of new businesses and a consequent change in character, and Italienne has had those environmental changes to respond to, as well as two years of loyal customers to learn from. Aiming to create the best experience possible for their visitors, Sippel and King reevaluated their original organization of the trattoria into a front and back dining room (taverna-style dining), and decided to create a single, unified menu for the whole space. King explained, “We’re still true to ourselves, but we’ve evolved into something where we don’t come with an explanation. If you want to take it there, if you want to geek out on any of our liquors or food products or vendors, we’ll go [there], we can do it - you want to do a tasting menu? We have that . . . But if you want to come in and have a plate of prosciutto, have a glass of wine and catch up with some friends when you made a left instead of a right, and you ended up at the door, you can enjoy yourself.”
Meanwhile, a small but telling change can be noted in King’s transition from suit-and-tie-wearing Maître-D to spiffy host in a button-down and slick leather shoes - a nod to the urban world that lies beyond the doors of Italienne, and to the wish for the customers to feel welcomed and at home in the space.
The changes have been rewarded: May 2018 was the busiest month of the year so far. Many things have not changed, however. The story, vision and inspiration behind the restaurant remain the same. As Sippel said, he is “not just making up dishes,” but is sharing the story behind the products and recipes he uses.
Italienne is a learning environment - a bedtime story with a deeply rooted history, but the narrative is not dished out on an obvious silver platter. There is no map on the table in front of you to remind you of the shared borders and tangled characters between France and Italy, but if one is paying attention, they will see, feel, and taste it everywhere - not just in the decoration or the food, but also in the manner of the staff, many of whom have been working for Italienne since its opening.
This sense of togetherness and loyalty was reaffirmed by the family-style meal that was being spread across the bar as the Manhattan Sideways team made its way out of the restaurant. King, glowing with humble pride, said of Italienne, “There’s not a ton of restaurants you can walk into every night and see the owners there working the floor, cooking in the kitchen, greeting you at the door with a smile, seating you . . . it’s the same faces behind the bar and at the tables. A trattoria is a family restaurant. When we added Trattoria to the name ‘Italienne’ we very much embraced that aspect of us.”
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Fabio Camardi - the charming owner both of this restaurant and Mercato on West 39th Street - announced as we walked inside his brand new restaurant that it had taken two years to complete his renovation. He went on to say that he had chosen the location because he is fond of the architecture in the NoMad neighborhood – “architecture is my hobby, ” he told me. “I built this place myself, ” he went on to say, showing me how he had added the beams in the ceiling and created the new floor made of reclaimed red and white oak. When I commented on the furniture filling the restaurant, including tables from a library upstate and an old butcher’s block, Fabio informed me that he has been collecting antiques for years. While continuing to chat about the renovation, Fabio explained that it was slow going due to the fact that the building dates back to 1865 and has achieved landmark status. Therefore, he had to wait for official permits to do any work. When the restaurant opened in April 2016, Fabio was delighted by how friendly the neighborhood was. “They were immediately nice, ” he said. The highlight of visiting Ulivo, aside from Fabio, was seeing the “Pasta Lab. ” Unlike its sister restaurant, Ulivo focuses on pasta, with fifteen different dishes on the menu. Thirteen of those are made with help from an enormous machine that sits in the basement. “It’s the most advanced machine we have in Italy, ” Fabio proudly told me. He turned the machine on and I was able to watch as it created large tubes of rigatoni and then long strings of spaghetti, using a different setting. “The more pasta you make, the better it gets, ” Fabio informed me. Beyond the pasta lab, there was an event space that seats forty, complete with a full bar and a Faema espresso machine from 1949. At the end of the room, I spotted a special door with a porthole that opens onto the beer cooler, and, in the very back, built out of the old coal shaft, I discovered a cave where the liquor is kept. Upstairs, there is a wine cellar encased in glass with a wooden ladder next to the kitchen. I was intrigued by the row of twenty different olive oils sitting on the counter in easy reach of the chefs. Fabio makes sure that each brand is made and bottled in Italy. When I asked which olive oil was the best, he said he could not answer the question. “It’s based on your taste, like wine. ” In the kitchen itself, different meats were hanging across from a wood fire oven on the opposite wall. Along with pasta, Emanuel “Mano” Concas, partner and the chef (whom Fabio refers to as “The George Clooney of Sardinia), cooks “dal forno a legna” in the wood-fire oven. Each plate is created using a cast iron pan placed directly into the oven. Some of the more popular non-pasta dishes are the tail-in branzino and the dry-aged steak. Being familiar with the themes of good Italian cooking, I was not surprised when Fabio told me, “Everything is fresh. ” This is especially true for the restaurant’s “fritture, ” little dishes. These items include fresh octopus, cold cuts, burrata, and fried meatballs with sea salt, a dish that is particularly popular in Sardinia, where the chef is from. There are also two flatbreads on the menu, but Fabio was adamant that Ulivo is not a pizza restaurant. He simply chose the two that they do "best" at Mercato: The San Daniele with prosciutto and arugula and the Regina Margherita. Fabio shared the myth behind the latter: The story goes that Italian chefs decided to put something special before the Queen. Up until that time, pizzas just had sauce, and so they added buffalo mozzarella to make it royal, hence the “Regina. ”If there is a certain nonchalance about Fabio and his attitude toward owning two restaurants in New York, it is probably because he has a lot of experience in this world – he even went to culinary school, which is rare amongst Italians, who often just rest on the fact that they were born into a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on high-quality food. Fabio shared that he owns four restaurants in Italy, which his forty-four cousins help to run. He went on to tell me that he came to the United States in 2004 because he “didn’t like Berlusconi” (the unpopular former Prime Minister of Italy) and that he began his career in New York as a bartender (the cocktail list at Ulivo is his own creation). In addition, there are four local beers on tap, including Smart Beer, which Fabio says is the "first organic beer made in New York. " There is also a substantial bourbon list – “It’s what people want. ”I particularly loved the story of how he met his wife, who is originally from Korea: they were both attending English school. Several years later, they have two adorable children and “She’s my bookkeeper, ” he said with a smile. His wife is also responsible for the beautiful candles and dried flowers throughout the space. Fabio is playing with the idea of opening an Italian restaurant in Korea. He told me that there is no fresh olive oil available in eastern Asia, but that China had recently planted one million olive trees to try to remedy the situation. Olive oil is absolutely essential to Italian cooking, which is why Fabio named his restaurant “Ulivo. ” He stated, “There is no Italian cuisine without olive oil. ”Fabio’s vision for Ulivo is a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Though he uses traditional Italian culinary methods and pasta recipes, he embraces new technology - such as his pasta machine - and trends. When I asked what was next for Fabio, he responded, “I’m full of ideas – there’s a lot of stuff that I want to try and eat. I love to eat! ”
Although Eataly is right down the street, Mangia has been upholding its fine reputation for terrific Italian antipasto, pasta salads and sandwiches for over thirty years. For a quick and savory lunch without the crowd, Mangia becomes the perfect dining spot. Since opening their first sandwich shop on 56th street in 1981, Mangia has grown into a catering business that services much of the New York area.
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. ”
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.