I had been told about Salon Riz by several people who live on the Upper West Side. They raved about Mike Riz’s space and told me that it cultivated a comfortable, relaxing environment unlike any other - "a visceral experience" is how Lisa, at the nearby women's boutique, Pachute, describes her time spent here. Still, I was surprised by the warm, rustic salon that greeted me when I came through the door. It felt more like a garden patio with its little mossy birdhouses and strings of postcards decorated with grasses. Flowers and botanicals met my eye wherever I looked and a central table was filled with treats including fresh brewed tea with honey, cookies, crackers, and pretzels. Examining the offerings more closely, I spotted a bottle of Disarono and removed the lid of a plate holding healthy, gluten-free “Aussie bites. ”Mike’s story of immigration to Manhattan is fascinating (and an example of why I so love to walk and meet the people on the side streets). Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, he originally wanted to be a jewelry designer, but did not have enough money for materials. Instead, he turned to hairstyling. He swept the floors in a Beirut hair salon for the equivalent of $3 per week and miraculously managed to save enough money to pay half the tuition to go to beauty school. The school wanted to refuse him admittance because of his lack of funds, but Mike persuaded them to let him work as a janitor at night in order to pay off the rest. He graduated and started making a name for himself as a hair stylist, catching the attention of Lebanese celebrities. He moved to New York in 2004, but is still sought out by old Lebanese clients traveling in the area. Mike worked on the Upper West Side for ten years before realizing his dream. Today, he has some college age clients who have been coming to him since they were children. I, too, have become an immediate fan. I walked out of the salon after my first visit knowing that I would not be going anywhere else again. In addition to brightening up my color and giving me an outstanding haircut, I was totally taken by the ease with which Mike and his team work and the speed that he gets his clients in and out without making them feel rushed. I loved the intimacy of Salon Riz best of all. Katherine is the manager of the salon and her loyalty to Mike was apparent from our first conversation. She met him while they were both working at Extreme Color and then followed him when he opened on the West Side. In speaking about the decor, she commented, “Even the tiniest detail Mike picked out. " She pointed to a picture frame, showing that the angle at which it hung, forming an asymmetrical diamond, was specifically chosen by Mike. He is constantly adding to his cozy home and changing it for the seasons. “Every time I come, something is different or added, ” Katherine said. When I visited, it was late January, and some small flowers had already been hung from the lights in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Katherine shared that on February 14th, everyone who walks into the salon leaves with a rose. Katherine went on to say that in the springtime, Mike hangs butterflies on the ceiling, giving clients something pretty to look up at while getting their hair washed. Mike told me that the space used to be the rubbish room for the building. He picked up the little sign ("RUBBISH") that he had saved and decorated as a remembrance. The renovation understandably took a long time, and when he opened in June of 2014, he had only just finished construction. He is now very pleased with the place he has carved out for himself a year and a half later, calling it “rustic chic. ” “This is a space for the community, ” he told me. He hosts various events in his salon, including a comedy show featuring Danny Cohen of Comedy Central along with five other comics and a holiday bazaar through the month of December. Mike either shares the space for special events, as was the case when shop owners took over the treats table during the winter holidays, or he completely reconfigures the interior for shows, using salon chairs as additional seating. Sometimes the events are directly tied to enhancing the experience of his customers, such as when he brought live music into the salon during New Year’s Eve to entertain the clients having their hair done. Katherine shared some of the other unique concepts that Mike has instituted to enhance everyone's experience. For his frequent customers, he has special alerts next to their name in the computer system, such as, “This customer likes Tina Turner and white wine. ” Because of the personal attention and the warm relationship that Mike has developed with customers, they often wander in just to say “hi” and to grab a cup of coffee. “I always encourage people to come in and say hello, even if they’re not getting their haircut, ” Mike said. Though he gets a lot of people who live and work in the neighborhood, he is also sought out by many men and women throughout the city. On the day that we stopped in to take some photos, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, shyly asked if Mike might have a second to trim her bangs. She was so pleased to be attended to by this gifted artist and loved the way that he styled her beautiful long head of red hair. She paid particular attention to the product that he used - Mike told us that Label M, designed by hair stylists, was a London Fashion Show sponsor. He went on to say that he always tries to stay on top of the newest and best hair products. Cost is not an issue; quality is what matters to him. I believe that Mike has gained not only me as a new customer, but Olivia as well. Upon leaving Salon Riz, Olivia declared that the journey from Brooklyn will certainly be worth the trek.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”
Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager. It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services. Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila. The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it. "