Experiencing a meal at Vivolo was very different from visiting Cucina Vivolo next door. Where the Cucina is bright and modern and seemingly more suited to a quick lunch or takeaway, Vivolo restaurant is steeped in old world ambience and tradition. Members of the Manhattan Sideways team and I stopped in for lunch and grabbed a seat by the window. We perused the menu while snacking on a plate of olives and warm bread. I ordered the Burrata, one of my favorite dishes, which came with roasted tomatoes, basil, and a hint of truffle oil, while Olivia and Tom devoured plates of fettuccine with brussel sprouts and a creamy tortellini with mushroom and peas. Frank Sinatra was playing in the background, creating the perfect atmosphere.
Before we left, we chatted with the staff, who proudly told us that the "boss," Angelo Vivolo, cooked for Pope Francis. The restaurant hand delivered a meal to East 72nd Street, where the Pope was residing during his stay in Manhattan in 2015. The men went on to tell us that Angelo had also cooked for Pope Benedict when he visited in 2008. Having been in the restaurant business since the 1970s, he has certainly garnered an excellent reputation.
Over the last several years, while walking on the side streets of Manhattan, I have had the pleasure of finding shops and restaurants fully decorated for each of the seasons and their holidays, from sparkling Christmas lights to red, white, and blue July 4th banners. When I visited Caravaggio in late October 2015, I was surprised by this splendid restaurant's harvest decorations, including some extraordinarily large pumpkins. The Halloween decor blended seamlessly into the modern design. In one nook, it felt more like an art gallery, as there were original Matisse prints on one of the walls. Brothers Giuseppe and Cosimo Bruno from Salerno, Italy claim that there are a few million dollars worth of artwork in their restaurant, which opened in 2009. In addition to the Matisse prints, the back wall is decorated with a mural painted by Donald Baechler, depicting children's expressions at a ballgame.It is appropriate that Caravaggio should be so art-centric both due to its name, an ode to the famous Italian painter, and because of its proximity to Museum Mile. We spoke to the chef, Isauro "Luis" Rosas, who said that while the restaurant does get its fair share of tourists, he feels that Caravaggio is a neighborhood restaurant where the locals dine on a regular basis. Luis is no stranger to cooking for fine dining establishments, having previously worked at Tocqueville. "I'm having a beautiful time here," he said, explaining that he has appreciated how for the past six years, Caravaggio has been able to combine traditional Italian cuisine with a modern, upscale presentation.Luis invited Olivia, Tom and me into the kitchen where he whipped up a Duo Tuna dish with both carpaccio and tartare, as well as a herb-steamed branzino. We watched him garnish a creamy plate of gnocchi before he brought out an elaborate olive oil cake, complete with chocolate mousse and candied chestnuts, for us to photograph. Against the priceless art on the walls, the food holds its own and is just as eye-catching.
Whenever I step inside Via Quadronno, I feel like I have been lifted out of Manhattan and gently dropped onto a pedestrian street in Italy. The walls are lined with wines and jars of honey, jam, and olive oil. On the day when I descended into the warm, rustic dining area, there was the smell of cappuccino wafting through the air that attracted my senses. It was the owner, Paolo Della Puppa, however, as authentically Italian as his restaurant, who captured my heart.Paolo spoke to me about the history of Via Quadronno, which is intertwined with his own story as well as the social history of the world. He began his career publishing music through his own company, Anyway Music. He went on to sell Anyway to Warner Brothers in 1992. In 1983, Paolo moved to New York while continuing to run the business, but when the conversion rate jumped to 2000 lira for every dollar, he realized he needed to find a new job. Friends encouraged Paolo to speak with Hans Pauli, owner of the recently opened Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue.At this point in his story, Paolo took a moment to explain Hans Pauli's background. I had previously heard a bit of this story, as I had visited Sant Ambroeus on West 4th Street when I first began walking the side streets. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to hear Paolo share what he knew about Hans. He told me that Hans had bought Sant Ambroeus, which originally opened in the fashion district in Milan in 1936 and was regarded as one of the nicest cafes in the city. Apparently, when Hans Pauli became the highest bidder to purchase this Italian icon - all in cash - he created quite a stir. Enthusiastically, Paolo went on to tell me that the reason why Hans had the money was because of his success with Bar Quadronno, the hottest paninoteca in Milan. Paolo, who had owned a discoteca from 1972-1974, explained that paninotecas had become popular because of the social revolution of the 60s. As discotecas became the default entertainment for young people - who now could go out and dance without any dress code or elaborate partner rituals - Italians were looking for grab-and-go food that would fit their lifestyle. Bar Quadronno opened in the late 60s and turned the original Panini, which was traditionally just ham and cheese, into a new food sensation with the help of a man named Giuseppe Tusi. Giuseppe Tusi turned a two-ingredient sandwich into a seven-ingredient masterpiece, using tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, boar’s ham, and countless other traditional Italian foods.Returning to his personal story, Paolo went on to tell me that when he inquired about a position at Sant Ambroeus, Hans simply asked him if he could make a good cup of cappuccino. Paolo replied, “Do I need to show a diploma?” Paolo laughed and declared to me, "any true Italian knows how to make a cappuccino." He then added that Martha Stewart has taped a show in Via Quadronno about how to prepare the perfect cup.Paolo worked at Sant Ambroeus for years before opening Via Quadronno with Hans on 9/9/1999 - “My partner is a little superstitious,” he explained with a grin. Taking the story full circle, he ended by telling me that the two men then brought in Giuseppe to train the Panini chefs, allowing Via Quadronno to churn out the exact paninis that made Bar Quadronno an instant hit in Milan over fifty years ago.Ultimately, Paolo began to fly solo, turning his restaurant into an Upper East Side sensation. He continued to join in other successful ventures in New York, as well as opening a second location of Via Quadronno. Paolo proudly said that even after so many years, his first restaurant is “still very much loved” among its neighbors. He even mentioned numerous actors and actresses who are known to stop in for the tiramisu and other classic dishes. Despite the flock of familiar faces to this Upper East Side institution, Paolo assured me that he treats all of his customers the same - from tourists to celebrities. “Everyone is equal - everyone waits for a table." He then went on to say, “We are not pretentious, in fact, we receive compliments on how friendly we are.”Of the many stories that Paolo shared with me, the one that involved a successful businessman was my favorite. Apparently, several years ago, this gentleman requested that Paolo open a bit earlier in the morning to accommodate his schedule. If Paolo complied, and began his day a half an hour sooner, the man would then invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to open a Miami location of Via Quadronno. Check, check. Although the Florida restaurant has since closed, the Manhattan restaurant continues to open its doors every weekday morning at 8:00am. Paolo will never forget this kind man who did not want shares or a percentage in his business, he just wanted breakfast.Paolo said that he returns to Italy multiple times each year, either to visit family or to attend the restaurant show, Host, in Milan. He then grinned and admitted that he loves New York, and has no desire to move away. As he so brilliantly summed it up, “New York is Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, Milano, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in one. And all the best parts of each!”
In Buon Gusto, I met Giovanni, who began working in this neighborhood Italian restaurant three years after it opened in 1989. He has witnessed the restaurant’s growth through the years towards a more upscale eatery with a loyal group of regular customers. “People enjoy the meal, love us, and keep coming back,” Giovanni stated matter-of-factly, adding that many people probably come for the affordable prices, as well. He then mentioned that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, wine is half off.Chef Nando Ghorchian, who started as a simple cook, did not always serve up traditional Italian dishes. Giovanni informed me that he “used to make eggs” and specialized in breakfast foods. “It just happened,” he said of Nando opening Buon Gusto and making the shift to more upscale cuisine. Giovanni brought out a dish for the Manhattan Sideways team to try: a chicken marsala, served with broccoli and a basket of rosemary focaccia bread. As the team tucked in, Giovanni continued to chat with us. “The menu is a winner,” Giovanni exclaimed. Diners can create their own pasta dish, if they so choose. “The main reason people come is for the pasta.” He then told us that employees from other restaurants even come by Buon Gusto before their shifts just to have some spaghetti. He spoke about the generations of people who he has seen come through: customers who dined in Buon Gusto in 1989 and occasionally come with their grandchildren. “Twenty-five years in business means something. We’re doing something right.”
Like many surgeons, when Dr. Thomas Romo III graduated medical school, he hopped on a plane to India and Vietnam in order to fix cleft lips. "We felt like we had time and a reason to give back," he said of himself and his peers who choose to travel the world doing medical procedures before settling down and developing a practice. Though Dr. Romo operated on numerous lips, he realized after a while that the program he was traveling with was only fixing a quarter of the problem. After the lip healed, the palate still did not close correctly and teeth did not grow straight. Patients would experience chronic Eustachian tube problems, resulting in earaches. Dr. Romo wanted to fix the rest of the palate, but the mission that he was with focused solely on lips. "I wanted to change the paradigm," Dr. Romo declared.Back in New York, he began developing a plan to help children with facial birth defects through all operation stages, not just cosmetic. Dr. Romo admitted that he did not have any experience putting together a foundation, "I did not go to business school," he pointed out, and therefore it was challenging for him to lay the groundwork of his new venture. He decided to accept only newborns through age twenty-one who were on Medicaid or required other financial assistance, with emphasis on those from the United States. As he phrased it, "Little Baby Face Foundation helps "children from Harlem to Ethiopia."With his mission in place, Dr. Romo then recruited thirty doctors, including pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and various specialists. This impressive brain trust assembles each month to discuss fifteen to twenty children whose financial statements have been checked. They ask, "Who does this child need to see?" If they are not sure, they bring them in for a "look-see" with each of the doctors. He then went on to say that when these children come in to meet this large group of doctors, they are experiencing something unique - this number of medical professionals is rarely seen in one room. For the entire stay, including during the operation and recovery time, the child and his or her family are taken care of every step of the way: their flights are paid for, "Mario picks them up in a car service," and they are welcomed with open arms at the Ronald McDonald House.What most impressed me about the Little Baby Face Foundation is that every doctor volunteers his or her time. It has been worked out so that no one needs to perform more than a handful of procedures each month. Occasionally, when Dr. Romo is met with slight reluctance from one of the doctors, he often responds with a poignant, yet witty response: "How much fat do you want to suck and how many boobs do you want to do? Or do you want to change a child's life?"Dr. Romo performs a significant number of the operations. He sometimes ends up doing as many as ten during the winter holidays. Speaking with him is an enlightening experience, as he is so full of energy, compassion, and joviality. He shared a few stories of patients who had touched his heart. He told me about operations that involved a Texan child with nerve paralysis and another from Harlem who was born deaf and missing an ear on one side. On the latter, Dr. Romo performed a cochlear implant and that the child "heard his name said at graduation."Speaking about a few other patients from abroad, Dr. Romo continued to touch my own heart as he spoke of a child who came from farther afield - in Ethiopia. The girl had a large mass on her neck that no other doctor would touch. Dr. Romo said, "We had to fly her from a small village to Addis Ababa to Dubai to New York." Not only did the girl have the mass removed, but she also got to have a New York adventure. As he continued on, I learned about a couple from England who came with their eighteen-month old son, who had a tumor falling over his eye. The parents, who were only nineteen and twenty-one, themselves, were given the opportunity to spend several weeks in Manhattan while their child was having his life changed.Dr. Romo is proud of how far the foundation has come since it began in 1990. He recently experienced a year in which he raised enough money in order to pay a small staff. One of the members of his team is his own wife, Diane Romo, who is the surgical coordinator. She deals directly with the children and has the extreme pleasure of contacting families to tell them, "We're going to bring you to New York."Now that he has a model and a brand, Dr. Romo hopes to expand. "We can helicopter to Chicago, LA, or San Francisco," he told me excitedly. But he is also devoted to New York, and emphasizes the concept of "New Yorkers helping New Yorkers." He wishes that more people knew that the Little Baby Face Foundation existed. He said that a lot of hospitals are in the red, which should not be the case, since there are so many doctors willing to occasionally work for free for the sake of the greater good. His need to give to the community in any way he can is inspiring. As he perfectly phrased it for me, "I'm a surgeon. This is the only way I know how to give back."
In 1832, the Reverend Dr. McVickar found a large group of "destitute" boys playing on Stanton Street. He asked them why they were not at church, and they replied that there was no church. He immediately started raising money to start one. He managed to find a place to worship in a tiny room over an engine house. The first assembly occurred on January 6th, 1833, on the Festival of the Epiphany, hence the church's name.Since then, it has had many homes throughout the city and merged with a few other congregations before finding its current location on 74th Street. The parish moved in 1944, over a hundred years after it was first formed. At the time, the "Far East Side" had no Episcopal churches, but Epiphany chose to move in order to meet the needs of the New York Hospital complex.
Coach Jellybean, a man who was only introduced to us by his universally-used nickname, has endless good humor. He told us, "I am world famous on the Upper West Side among kids aged nine to twelve." He added with a cheeky smile, "I'm a big deal." He is often spotted on the street or at the zoo by gaping mouthed kids who are shocked to see their coach outside his natural habitat. It is not surprising that he is recognized so frequently, since two to three hundred kids go through the batting cages each week. It is, after all, the only place in Manhattan with an indoor facility.Jellybean took us past the large bank vaults that are a permanent part of the Apple Bank basement and into the Green and Blue rooms chatting enthusiastically. The Center can host six different classes at the same time, thanks to its size and equipment. It has every kind of pitching mechanism one can imagine, from a big ancient beast that is still "one of the best machines in the business" despite its age, to an LED display that lights up to resemble an actual pitcher. There are even simulators that can show where the ball would end up going in Yankee Stadium (with handicaps for younger batters). Not only does it motivate kids with a little firework display for home runs, but it also serves as a helpful statistical tool for older players hoping to improve their technique. One of the most impressive machines was the "pro-hitter" which can shoot out balls at 100mph and can basically mimic any kind of major league pitch. Jellybean also showed us the party room, which was decorated on one side for the Mets and on the other for the Yankees, in an effort to appeal to fans of both teams.As I was admiring the countless photographs of kids that lined the hallways, Jellybean pointed out that the center is not just for children. Far from it: the facilities have been used for bachelor parties, special needs adults, and even "big league guys" who want a place to practice in between seasons. The Center is also popular among foreign tour groups who want to try out America's pastime while visiting New York. Jellybean was particularly proud of the charity events that the Center hosts, where people pledge money for hitting pitches at a certain speed.After our tour, I took the time to speak with Jason, who told me more about the programs that the Center offers. There are tournament teams, after school programs, summer camps, and birthday parties, weekly classes, and, during the warmer months, outdoor leagues. He explained that the space's main purpose is to "Promote the experience of baseball." When I asked how the Baseball Center accomplishes its mission, he replied without hesitating: "the coaches." Some of the coaches played in college, some are former professionals, and some are still playing, but what binds them all together is their love of the game and their ability as teachers. "A good player doesn't always make a good coach," Jason admitted, and assured me that each of his coaches is thoroughly trained as a teacher. With a grin, he told me that a mother had recently said to him, "I don't think I've ever seen so many men who are good with children." With pride, Jason pointed out the sign that marked the Baseball Center as a designated New York City "safe house."Though Jason has seen some real baseball stars come through the Center's programs - including Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers - he was pleased to tell me of a child who had been coming for years, and had recently been offered a full ride to Stanford via baseball. He went on to say that he enjoys seeing every child thrive, no matter what level they ultimately achieve. He told me that his favorite part about working at the Baseball Center are those happy moments when he witnesses a child get their very first hit. "It's magic," he gushed. It is a personal victory not just for the child, but for everyone at the Center. "We are a part of each child's team."