Born and raised in Tokyo, Takashi Ikezawa grew up beneath the looming shadow of beautiful Mount Fuji, but was never very interested in spending time outdoors. As a teenager, however, when he decided it was time to try something new, he did not have to look very far for inspiration: he became intent on climbing the mountain. After six years of frequent hikes on Mount Fuji, Ikezawa was offered a position as an official mountain guide. Ultimately, it was through these four years of experience as a guide that Ikezawa developed a particularly profound love and pride for Japanese culture.
A man of many interests, Ikezawa was also fascinated by the Stock Exchange, and after graduation he moved to New York to follow this passion. While working as an analyst on Wall Street, he told members of the Manhattan Sideways team that his goal was to open his own business. He found himself constantly watching the markets while meeting other highly motivated people - he was waiting for the perfect moment to jump in and embrace his entrepreneurial spirit. In the end, though, the momentum to start a business did not come from Wall Street, but rather from Japan: In 2011, when the Tsunami caused a crisis in his home-country, Ikezawa began to ask himself what he could contribute to those in need. He watched as people in New York took to the streets to raise money for Japan, but felt - alongside immense appreciation - that he was not needed for this task. During the coverage of the Tsunami and following support efforts, Ikezawa began to notice a general unfamiliarity with Japanese culture, and it was in this knowledge-gap that he discovered his place: Having grown up in an artistic family studying violin since age four, Ikezawa felt at this point in his life that the best contribution he could make was to increase awareness and dialogue about Japanese arts and tradition. Later that same year, Resobox was born.
Resobox, which now has multiple locations across the city, aims not just to create a better understanding of Japanese arts as they have existed in the past, but also to contribute to the development of their future. While the central focus of Resobox is on artists working within Japanese traditions, Ikezawa believes that in our globalized world every culture can benefit from collaboration, and he hopes that anyone who participates in the work of Resobox will bring his or her personal background to the table - whatever it may be. By learning from one another, he says, we can watch the future of our cultures develop before our very eyes.
Each week, Resobox hosts a variety of different workshops, spanning crafts to dance to painting to the cultural traditions surrounding Sake. There are also additional spaces available at Resobox that can be used for larger events or parties. If one is not looking to participate or happen to have just a few minutes between meetings and responsibilities, they are invited to stop by to have a coffee or tea in the cafe at the front of the Chelsea location and check out the monthly exhibition.
Sushi Seki, the popular Upper East Side restaurant, has opened a Chelsea location on 23rd street, allowing downtowners to get their sushi fix right in the neighborhood. Guests may choose from three distinctly different dining experiences. They may sit at a stand-alone table, or they can get up-close-and-personal at the sushi bar, where the expertise of Seki and his team are in full view. For a unique experience, guests may reserve one of the traditional dining rooms, where they are invited to remove their shoes and take a seat at the sunken table. The space truly belongs to Chef Seki, whose family name means “stone. ” The décor features various types of stone material, giving the room both a personal touch and a very earthy vibe. Above the host stand hangs a beautiful wooden plaque with the names of fish vendors, an exact replica of the original, which hangs in the other restaurant. The food is even more stunning than the décor. Chef Seki prepared us a gorgeous sashimi platter with items ranging from salmon stuffed with finely minced onion to a poached oyster topped with a sliver of myoga ginger. Seki improvises quite a bit behind the sushi bar, and the results could not be more delicious. Pair his food with a selection from the bar’s collection of over 80 different sakes.
Although Go Go Curry is located next to Go Go Thai, the friendly staff assures us that there is no relation - "just a fun coincidence. " Still, this quirky fast food spot certainly holds up on its own. While a popular chain in Japan, Go Go Curry has only been in the United States for five years, opening up in different locations around town, yet still feeling much like a small, welcoming restaurant. The dining experience is personal and comfortable, and the final tab is very reasonable. Most of us associate curry not with Japan but with India or Thailand, however, this type is considered a common comfort food in Japan. Those with me ordered Katsu Curry, and it was miles away from any kind of curry they had eaten before. Not spicy in the least. It can be ordered with either fried pork or chicken, served over rice in a warm and tasty gravy. (This is not a place for vegetarians) Go-Go is gaining a reputation for the entertaining events that they host - a popular one is the massive curry-eating contest.
Renowned Alsatian Chef Antoine Westermann opened his first restaurant, Le Buerehiesel, at twenty-three years old. For several years, the self-taught chef continued to prepare memorable cuisine, earning the restaurant an illustrious three Michelin stars. In 2006, he had those stars recalled in order to escape the creative constriction that accompanied them, and in 2007, he ceded the restaurant to his son. Chef Westermann’s more recent restaurant endeavors offer sophisticated cuisine sans pomp. In Paris, he is the proud chef and owner of four such restaurants - Mon Vieil Ami, The Durant, La Dégustation, and Le Coq Rico. Translating to “Rico the Chicken, ” the first Le Coq Rico opened in 2011 as a restaurant entirely devoted to poultry. After all, the refined chef’s cuisine of choice is fried chicken and French fries. Before bringing Le Coq Rico to Manhattan in 2016, Westermann spent a couple of months sourcing poultry and establishing connections with farmers across the US that adhered to his standards of quality as part of his exploration of “American terroir. ” Unbeknownst to the chef at the time, the space he chose in Gramercy resides next to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which houses a collection of taxidermy birds. “This one just felt right, ” the staff joked. As to be expected from a chef of Westermann’s caliber, the menu at Le Coq Rico in New York is anything but ordinary. The minimum slaughtering age of the specialty whole birds served is ninety days, more than double the forty-day standard, and Catskill Gunea Fowl are given one-hundred and thirty days. “After that they become a rooster, ” I was informed. Another specialty dish, the “baeckeoffe, ” originates from an Alsatian laundry day tradition. When the women were busy with laundry and did not have the time to cook, they would drop off a marinade of potatoes, beef and sauces to a baker, who would seal the casserole dish with dough and let it cook slowly. Westermann’s version employs chicken, truffles, and white wine. Watching some of the other dishes come out, I would have never guessed that they were all the same species. The playful giblets platter veiled the bird’s offal with elegant skewers, spiced croquettes, glossy wings, and horseradish toast. A foamy butter bath with micro greens overlay the slow-cooked guinea fowl egg, and I was relieved to find out that the tomato and poultry tartare was not raw, but instead similar to an elevated chicken salad encircled by caper sauce. Birds play a role in other parts of the restaurant, too. In addition to French and American wines displayed in a pristine wine cave, the bar offers a bird-themed cocktail program. One of the most popular, The Elvis in the Sky, is an alcoholic take on the singer’s famed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The “Duck Fitch, ” a mix of gin, turmeric, ginger, and mint, is named for the celebrated polymath artist, Doug Fitch. Having lived with a bird for a month after a live performance piece, Doug was deemed the perfect candidate to design the cheerful rooster that has become Le Coq Rico’s emblem. His backlit, blue-and-white painting is on view for guests seated in the main dining area or at the bar that faces the open kitchen. Serving simple food expertly prepared, Chef Westermann is not only a master in the kitchen, but an excellent mentor as well. Floor Manager and Sommelier Adrien Boulouque could not be more thankful for his fifteen years of experience working with the humble and soft spoken chef. “I met him in Washington D. C. and now I am here, ” he mused. “It is all about sharing and respect. ” This respect is geared towards the staff, the guests, and, of course, the birds.
Nemo Tile’s beginnings date back to 1921 in Jamaica, Queens. Nemo Tile is responsible for lining and decorating many of New York’s most famed and frequently traveled spaces and landmarks: The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the original World Trade Center, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the W Hotels, and “countless residences, ” according to their staff, all bear their unique tiles. The company specializes in usable, heavily trafficked tiles, of all colors, shapes, materials, and sizes, but Nemo also works on smaller, more decorative or intimate architectural and interior projects. I spoke to Charlotte Barnard, the head of marketing, who told me a bit about the the company’s history and the changes that Nemo has undergone since its inception. Jerry Karlin partnered with, and subsequently took over from, the original owner in the 1950s and since then, the company has been in the hands of three generations of this family run business. I think what struck me most, though, was when I put the pieces together and realized that I grew up in the same town as the Karlin's. One of their daughters was a childhood friend, and our parents were also very close. I even have fond memories of a trip that I took with the Karlins to Florida when I was about fifteen. All of a sudden, Nemo Tiles took on a whole new meaning for me. As I continued my conversation with Charlotte, she informed me that many things have not changed since 1921 - the original location is still operating in Queens and the Karlin family is still involved with MTA projects, including the new Fulton Street station, which features Nemo glass tiles. There have, however, been revolutionary inventions in the tile industry, especially thanks to advances in technology. 3D printing has made it possible to make porcelain look like stone, wood, and even metal. Charlotte proudly stated that Nemo Tile sees some of the most traffic of surrounding showrooms. She pointed out that they have a great location, and that similar companies have followed their lead in moving to the Gramercy area. The company finds most of their products at two major tile shows in Bologna and Florida, but they have wares from all over the world, from China to North America. They have an especially large Italian selection, and Charlotte told us that Nemo had been named “Distributor of the Year” by Confindustria Ceramica, the trade organization for Italian tile. I was deeply impressed with the showroom itself and the constant flow of people stopping by to browse and make purchases: the floor was a clever patchwork of different styles of tile, sliding pull-out displays were tucked into the walls, allowing the space to remain uncluttered, and props like shower heads and mirrors decorated the walls. Charlotte explained, “We are more than a typical tile store. We show tiles within the context of lifestyle. It is a new way to see space, and we are constantly updating the displays. ”
The massive, open interior, high ceilings, white columns, and rows of long, pillow-strewn banquettes at this corner Mediterranean restaurant pay extensive, dramatic homage to what is really a tiny, unremarkable fish found in Greece. Since the restaurant opened in 2005, the barbounia has been elevated to what is most likely unprecedented fame. The sardine, for example, has yet to be honored with a white-feathered chandelier and twenty-foot long, soft cream-colored curtains. The airy space, which also comprises a large, inviting bar, semi-outdoor seating on 20th Street, and an open kitchen, is consistently packed and filled with raucous, lively conversation. Barbounia is certainly a scene worth partaking in, both socially and with its mostly Greek cuisine, especially the fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood. They also offer amazing bread and small pizzas and pasta.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”