Japanese home cooking restaurant Maison Kintaro on W24th Street has a whimsical, ethereal feel to it. Hanging plants and succulents abound, softly lit by a colorfully illuminated bar stocked with Japanese sodas, with a glowing moon projected on the back wall. Owner Mai Robbamrung warmly greets a patron who wants to know if they’ll be open for dinner the next day. “For two? We’ll be ready for you!” she cheerily replies after the stranger admires the space and vows to come back.
The new Chelsea eatery taking the space of the late El Quinto Pino has quickly established itself as a chic-yet-convivial spot for a seasonally rotating menu of Japanese comfort foods served in a warm, intimate setting. Mai, hailing from California by way of Thailand, explained that the menu is inspired by dishes she enjoyed at a childhood friend’s house. “My best friend at school was the Japanese diplomat’s daughter,” she said. “Every Friday we would hang out at one of our houses, and her mom would make something new.”
For Mai –– whose family split their time between careers in healthcare and hospitality once they landed in California — a career in restaurants wasn’t initially part of the plan. After graduating from UC Irvine, she served as a translator for the Peace Corps in East Asian refugee camps before returning to the States to work as a data analyst for the MTA’s tolling system. When COVID-19 hit, she was introduced to Chef Patcha through mutual friends and they began to dream up the concept for Maison. “Chef Patcha moved two blocks away from me during COVID-19, and we started talking about opening something around the concept of a Japanese household’s weekly menu. There’s a little bit of everything — some things are a lower price point, some with more premium ingredients like fish that represent pay day!” she said.
Chef Patcha also hails from Thailand but learned about Japanese cuisine through a roommate — and he quickly got to work developing the restaurant’s menu, which features everything from Tonkatsu, Ramen and Tuna Salmon Poke Bowls to Gyoza Potstickers and Sashimi-style Yuzu.
Mai’s design inspiration came from her son’s favorite folktale character — the Japanese “Golden Boy”, Kintaro. “He’s a mythical character who lives in the mountain forest outside of a village and was raised by a witch,” explained Mai, gesturing to a subtle forest-themed mural on the dining room’s wall. “When the villagers need help, they call for him and he comes down from the mountain — and in return, the villagers offer him a home-cooked meal. When I was looking for the concept for this restaurant, I was sitting in my son’s room while he slept and I looked at his bookshelf and saw a Kintaro book — and I knew.” She decided to add “Maison” (French for “house”) to conjure the space as a communal, joyful cafe where customers can expect the same level of hospitality and warmth that the fictional villagers gave to Kintaro.
Chelsea locals have already taken to Maison Kintaro, with a loyal following of regulars who come in two to three times a week. “We love the community,” Mai added. “There’s one neighbor that has been coming by to say hi to us since we got the keys to the building. We had another gentleman who came in for lunch and liked it so much that he went away for two hours and came back for dinner with his wife!”
Mai hopes to keep building on local goodwill by partnering with neighborhood organizations and schools. Pointing to the dining room’s large projection wall space, she said, “We’d love to have a school art show and invite their parents to come in.” For now, you can find her busily prepping to open each day and taking in the streetscape by the restaurant’s sidewalk garden, ready to welcome new friends to the house of Kintaro.
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.