Some businesses fascinate me because of their history, while others inspire me because of the unique work that they do or the niche they fill in society. Nica Trattoria captured my immediate attention due to the infectious spirit and big personality of Giuseppe Nicolosi. He wears many hats at Nica Trattoria as he is the owner, chef, waiter, and host extraordinaire. Though the restaurant is named after his partner, Dominique "Nica" Liana Russo, whom he met while she was studying at Columbia University and he was working on the Upper West Side, it is Giuseppe who greets every guest who walks through the restaurant's door. Along with referencing his partner, "Nica" means "small" in the Sicilian dialect, a perfect descriptor for a trattoria that seats about thirty guests. Giuseppe says that the name has allowed them to "with one stone, kill two pigeons. "Though Giuseppe is Sicilian, he designed the menu to be a "big hug to all of Italy. " This was not difficult, since Sicilian cuisine combines many different flavors, thanks to its diverse past. Giuseppe explained that before "Sicily annexed Italy" in 1896, it was home to a variety of cultures, causing there to be eleven distinct styles of cooking on the small island, including French, Moroccan, and Spanish. Giuseppe is proud of the number of Sicilian dishes on the menu, calling the culturally diverse taste combinations "an explosion on your palate. "Our conversation was interrupted when two families walked in to be seated for dinner. Giuseppe sprang into action, hugging the family that he knew well, clapping his hands, and addressing the entire room as "belli, " "bella, " and "bello. " One diner, who had clearly eaten at Nica Trattoria many times before, took out pictures of her children to show Giuseppe. He then proceeded to lower the lights for them and put on some light Italian classical music. He addressed both families at the same time by clinking a glass with a knife and opening the menu with a flourish and a whistle. It was like watching a thespian at work: Giuseppe creatively described the specials that included cauliflower tortino, French mussels, and fresh fava beans sauteed with sausage, while draping himself on people's shoulders and engaging in amusing conversation. The specialty of the house is the "Clouds from the sky. " When Giuseppe asked his audience if anyone knew what "Clouds from the sky" were, a well-seasoned young boy yelled out, "Gnocchi! " Giuseppe beamed and nodded, adding, "We need to put a seatbelt on you; they are so white and fluffy! " Giuseppe continued describing other dishes (like his grandma's style lasagna and buchetini with pine nuts and raisins) while waltzing around his personal stage. He then took everyone's order, his energy remaining at 100% through the entire interaction. He treated people like family, jokingly scolding them for changing their minds and declaring, "I'm coming for your order in one minute! Start to count! 60... 59... 58... "When Giuseppe returned from the kitchen, we spoke about his history. He would not reveal to Olivia, one of the Manhattan Sideways writers, exactly when he moved to New York, saying, "You wasn't born! " He preferred to focus on his mother (who taught him to cook) and the fact that he managed many restaurants in New York before opening Nica Trattoria in 2006. Giuseppe has refused to ever stop learning. He has taken countless online courses, and the wall next to the bar is riddled with his graduation certificates. He is now certified in nutrition, wine, molecular engineering, and other varied subjects. He admitted that when I walked into the restaurant, he had been taking a practice test for his newest endeavor. He confessed that he is always thinking, "How can I improve myself? "Giuseppe is extremely pleased with the reception that Nica Trattoria has received. He has many regular customers that consistently come from places outside of the city, as well as from around the world. He joked, "When an airplane lands, at least one person is thinking of Nica. " At this point, Angelo DiGangi, founder of the Community Advocacy Center and a regular at Nica, walked in and sat at his usual table. He turned to Giuseppe, not knowing I was there, and said, "This is the best spot in New York. " After I introduced myself, he said, "It's really a little bit of Sicily. " Giuseppe beamed at the compliment and moved behind the bar, agreeing that he likes to promote the Sicilian way of life, especially when it comes to the wine. He stocks a lot of Sicilian wine and is very interested in food pairings. He then pointed out that since Italy has 4, 000 years of history and the United States only 400, America has not quite had the time to figure out wine pairings. Italy is different: "Food and wine. That is Sicily. "I continued speaking with Angelo, who gushed about Giuseppe. "He does it with love, " he said, referring to both the food and the service. We had already witnessed the service, but it was clear that Giuseppe also gives his all when it comes to the food. Everything is purchased fresh each day. Angelo said that he started coming to Nica Trattoria after work for an espresso. "I fell in love with the man, " he smiled. And as Manhattan Sideways witnessed, it was hard not to fall in love with Giuseppe. Everyone gets the personal attention of a family member. As Tom, our photographer, put it dreamily, "I feel like I'm at home. "
Paul Floess grew up in the northern part of Italy, on the Austrian border. "I only knew about heavy foods - food that kept us warm in the wintertime, " he recalled. But then he began to travel, and he educated himself on the different ingredients and the recipes in the various regions throughout Italy. To this day, in 2017, Paul continues to look forward to spending a few weeks in Italy every summer, discovering something new and refreshing to bring back to his charming Upper East Side restaurant. Opened in 2011, Paul was able to make his dream come true after spending some twenty years cooking in other restaurants nearby. After all this time, Paul was ready to venture out on his own. "I knew exactly what people liked to eat and what they expected from a good restaurant. " He was proud to tell me that everyone leaves happy, and they continue to return. It is primarily neighborhood denizens who come in - always bringing new friends or family members. Grateful, he commented, "We are doing well, we always have a full house on the weekends, " but Paul is constantly amused by those who step inside and tell him that they never noticed his space. Luna Rossa is what we at Manhattan Sideways like to refer to as a true hidden gem – intimate, with fantastic food and a welcoming staff. I never tire of hearing the stories of chefs who grew up watching their mom in the kitchen and were inspired from a young age to want to learn to cook. For Paul, it was slightly different in that his mom was the chef at his aunt's nearby hotel. As a young boy, he would go there after school and wash dishes, and for seven years he worked there in the summers. He learned all of the recipes, and to this day, still prepares many of them in his own restaurant. Paul emphasized, however, that he will continue to return to his homeland where he will find inspiration and eagerly come back to Manhattan so that he can share it with his loyal customers.
When I peeked my head inside the space under construction next door, I did not get much past "hello" before Joe invited me into Salvo's and insisted that I have something to eat. It was here, while devouring my amazing slice of pizza with warm creamy ricotta and spinach, that I was introduced to the three Inzerillo brothers. I asked them to join me at the table and encouraged them to share their story. There is always one to tell whenever members of a family are in business together. The brothers' parents are from Sicily, but came to New York decades ago and owned several restaurants and pizza places before returning to Italy in 2004. Growing up, Joe, Sal and Rosario always helped in their father's businesses, never believing that they, too, would be running an Italian restaurant one day. Although none of them are "real" cooks, they grew up memorizing both their mother and grandmother's recipes - and it is from these special dishes that the menu for Salvo's was created. Once out of school, the boys began their separate careers, but one by one they found themselves on York Avenue running a pizza shop that has been on this corner for some forty years. Sal told me that he was the last to join his brothers in 2012 when they took over the lease. "I waited until they had it up and running, " he admitted. Today, they each have their own responsibilities and strengths - Joe said that he is the "people person, " therefore he "runs the operations, " and is the "hospitality" guy. His brother Sal is in charge of marketing and Rosario is the in-house manager. Together they "pride themselves on being a warm and friendly family business. "While sitting at Salvo's around three o'clock on a weekday, I witnessed the entire restaurant fill up with enthusiastic little ones eager for their afternoon pizza fix. Within minutes, every table was spoken for as parents and nannies sat down with children who had recently gotten out of school. It was at this point that Joe spoke up and declared, "We love what we do, but wouldn't if it wasn't in this neighborhood. " The brothers truly believe that the Upper East Side is the best place to live and work. As proof, two of them reside above the restaurant. While out walking with my husband one beautiful weekend afternoon, I suggested stopping by Salvo's. It had been a very long time since I sat down with him to have a traditional slice of pizza straight from the oven. It conjured up an overdose of childhood memories from when we were growing up together on Long Island. We reminisced about how frequently we visited the local pizza parlor and recalled that a slice had been just 25 cents. The only difference that we found in 2015 on the corner of 78th Street and York Avenue was the price. The slices that we ate were made with old-fashioned tomato sauce, gooey cheese and a crust that was as perfect as we remembered. Needless to say, we were a very happy couple to have relived this treat together.
All parents throughout New York, locals and tourists alike, should know about the educational and transformative experience of the Children's Museum of Manhattan. The 83rd Street institution, although it opened in 1973, has been at its current location since 1989. It is an extraordinary (not to mention really fun! ) resource for both kids and adults. I happened to visit during the week that constitutes winter break for New York schools, and so I witnessed an incredible amount of excitement and enthusiasm on each of the floors. Children as young as a few weeks old were in their mother's arms or being pushed in a stroller while their siblings were running around, checking out the interactive exhibits. Almost every aspect of the museum had something to push, touch, or listen to, giving children a tactile way of learning and remembering. I received an eye-opening tour from David Rios, the Director of Public Programs, who guided me from the fifth floor back to ground level. An exhibit called Playworks, designed for early learning, is located upstairs. For more than ten years, the museum's team worked side by side with child development experts to create a space where little ones can enhance their motor skills and problem-solving abilities. I enjoyed standing on the sidelines and observing children climbing in and out of a large wooden FDNY truck, a NYC bus, and a deli with plastic foods. As David explained, "Some museums have a supermarket, but we're in New York, so we have a deli. "I was amazed by how often the museum catered to varying age levels within the same space. For example, in the Movers and Shakers section, older children could learn math and physics by building mini roller coasters while younger siblings could crawl through tunnels and slide down slides. I was delighted to see parents participating with their children: this is definitely a museum where entire families can enjoy themselves, and children's learning is enhanced by parental guidance. Though there are plenty of buttons that encourage children to learn on their own, there is also signage so that parents can provide a further explanation to their kids. The museum is designed so that parents and older children do not feel intimidated or shy about trying out the different exhibits. As David stated so nicely, "This is a fun, non-judgmental environment for all ages to learn. "Continuing on, I entered The Lab, where children can read stories, sing songs, and learn more about art and science. All of the writing and sound bites are bilingual, since Spanish-speaking families make up such a significant portion of New York City's population. David told me that The Lab sometimes holds special events, such as a visit from members of Alvin Ailey, who danced with the children in an effort to teach them about movement. The next room took Peek-a-Boo to a whole new level with a digital version of the game and in the following room, I had to laugh out loud as I explored the digestive system, complete with a talking toilet. The grand finale of the tour was the America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far special exhibit that is running from February 2016 - February 2017. The visually compelling exhibit is a multimedia exploration of the diversity of Muslim cultures within the United States and abroad. It is a collaboration between the museum's staff and members of the Muslim community and is an ingenious way of introducing children to topical cultural differences in an age-appropriate way. For example, there is a section where kids can press buttons to smell a variety of fruits and spices, as well as a collection of "Objects and Stories from American Muslim Homes. " Some other highlights included a life-size camel, musical instruments, and a virtual reality room that allows visitors to explore the architectural styles of different mosques. I was pleased to find out Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the exhibit. He has stated, "With America to Zanzibar, children will have the chance to learn about Muslim cultures in an engaging and thoughtful way. We only grow stronger when we embrace and celebrate the multitude of cultural backgrounds that make up New York. "
The Metropolitan Republican’s Club began its life in 1902 as the Republican Club of the 29th District. It originally met on Madison Avenue before moving to the Croyden Hotel in 1929. The current clubhouse was built in 1930. Past and present members include Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, and Rudolph Giuliani.
Taka Tokuyama came to the US from Tokyo in 2004. He began his career in New York working not only in salons, but also as a hair stylist for fashion shows and some leading magazines. In 2011, he decided that it was time to launch his own brand. The first business that he opened was on 83rd Street. He immediately drew customers from the neighborhood, and he is proud to say that many of the celebrities he worked with over the years also frequent the salon. In 2013, he opened another space in the East Village, followed more recently in 2016, with one in Tribeca. Each week, Taka divides his time as evenly as possible, accommodating his clients at all three of his salons.
When I knocked on the door to Engine Company 74, two firemen sprinted to the door and opened it with big grins on their faces. It was quite a welcome, and another example of how New York's firemen are consistently friendly and kind. The disposition of the two men clashed with the ominous dinosaur skull that marks their doors, but I soon learned the reason for the design: the doors to the firehouse used to be painted black, and so other firemen would often accidentally miss the building while looking for it, earning the company the nickname "The Lost World. " It also helps that the Museum of Natural History, home to a vast collection of dinosaur bones, is a few blocks away. The company started on 77th Street, with Hook and Ladder 25. Engine Company 56 occupied the 83rd Street building, which had been donated to the FDNY by Harry M. Archer, doctor and Deputy Chief of the fire department. His donation, however, came with a special stipulation: the building had to always house a fire truck, or else the property would revert back to his family. Engine Company 56 was disbanded in 1960 and replaced, in the same firehouse, with Squad Company 6. According to James Riordan, a former member of Squad Company 6, their initial apparatus was a hose wagon, then a van, and eventually a pumper before they, too, were disbanded in 1972. The Squad 6 firefighters were assigned to the then newly formed Ladder 59 in the Bronx, and Engine 74 moved in. In addition to its interesting origin story, Engine Company 74 has another element that makes it stand out from other companies: A Dalmatian. We met Yogi, the twelve year old dog who is the firehouse's mascot. He has also become a neighborhood icon, to the extent that when Yogi got sick, the community raised $7, 000 for his medical bills. I learned that Dalmatians are associated with fire departments because back when there were horses and buggies, rather than fire trucks, Dalmatians were discovered to be the best at keeping the horses on course. Sadly, not many firehouses still have Dalmatians, which is all the more reason why Engine Company 74 shows Yogi so much love. They raised him from a pup, and the fireman admitted that the canine has spent more time in the house on 83rd Street than any of men. As I said my goodbyes to the firemen, I mentioned that firemen were consistently the friendliest, most optimistic people on the side streets. One of the firemen nodded, "Of course – it's the best job in the world. You get to help people. "