When Dovetail first opened in December of 2007, it was half the size it is now. The bar in which I sat, talking to David Gagnon, the General Manager, did not exist and was instead a small, one-bedroom apartment. In the middle of 2015, the restaurant closed to replace its outdated kitchen, and John Fraser, the owner/chef, decided to renovate and expand at the same time, with help from architect Glen Cobin. The result is a quirky, yet chic, cozy space. I was thrilled with the new ambiance.
The food offerings had also shifted slightly since I dined there several years prior. John has tried to get back to his Californian roots by offering a special prix-fixe, meatless menu on Mondays. “It really took off,” David told me. “Monday nights are very busy.” In addition, every other night of the week there are different dining options including the chef tasting and a seven course vegetable tasting menu.
Another small change that David was afraid would not be popular was the bread: Since the day Dovetail opened, guests had been served a white cheddar cheese cornbread at the start of the meal. After the renovation, that changed to a beet sourdough, but David says he has received no complaints. He also explained that Sunday is a special night when the chef can play around and try more family-friendly meals, culminating in Sundaes for dessert. The Sundaes are in keeping with what I learned about John’s character - “He’s a kid,” David shared with a respectful grin. “And he shows his personality through his food.”
When John redecorated Dovetail, he wanted to make it reminiscent of a child’s memories of the beach. Painted driftwood and sand art, made by Seth Williamson of Yan Mun studio, fill the shelves in an otherwise Southwestern/New Mexico-flavored room. “John likes things that don’t look placed,” David said of the seemingly random layout of artistic trinkets. David describes the atmosphere as “mid-century modern, beachy, and organic.” He told me that before the renovation, people were requesting, “Please don’t change it, we love it!” referring to the generous space in between tables and the casually elegant feeling. With that in mind, John made certain to preserve guests’ favorite elements of the restaurant. David assured me that the regulars are even more pleased with the restaurant now. “We make people feel like we’re inviting them into our home," he said, and I absolutely agreed. This new larger space has been made to look and feel like a welcoming living room.
Always my favorite time when visiting a restaurant, David led us downstairs and into the spotless kitchen where we observed the staff prepping for the evening's meal. Down a few more steps, we entered the private dining room with an adjacent wine cellar. When I commented to David about how every piece of glass throughout the restaurant - both upstairs and down - is impeccably clean, he proudly held up a wine glass that was essentially translucent, polished to perfection. The wine list is given as much care as the vessels: David explained that the wine list has a lot of handcrafted wines from New York and California, including selections that are not found in other places in the city. He went on to say that there are a lot of surprises, including a Californian wine that was made using the same methods employed in making Burgundy. “We like playing games with the customers,” he said with a grin.
There is no doubt that David is an extremely valuable member of the Dovetail team. He met John when he was working at Union Square’s Compass and started at Dovetail as a captain before moving up to maître d’ and then General Manager. Today, he plays double duty at the restaurant. He works in the office throughout the day, but then is on the floor at night. He declared, "I’m a performer - I love talking to the guests.” He added that his stress melts away as soon as he gets on the floor and “drops some arancini to a guest.” David stands strongly behind Dovetail and often urges friends and families to visit, especially on the day when vegetables are the leading players: “I’m from Wisconsin, I’m a meat eater, but I always tell people to come on Monday.” His loyalty is unshakeable - In his words, “I believe in this restaurant. I believe in what John is doing.”
With its prime 72nd Street location, I have passed by Malachy's Donegal Inn almost daily, but had never stepped inside. I was always waiting for the day when I would be working on this street, so that I could go in with the Manhattan Sideways team and have a good time. And that is exactly what happened. "Looks can be deceiving, believe me," owner Bill Raftery immediately said when we popped in during the lunch hour in the middle of the week. He continued to speak lovingly and confidently of his pub, which has been in business since 1989. "This bar has the best pub food of any like it in the area," Bill stated. Looking around, we were pleased to find the old wooden bar packed from end to end. According to Bill, most of his lunch customers are crew guys from local theaters like The Beacon and Lincoln Center, and "they are loyal." Engaging in conversation with more than a dozen men and women, we learned a lot about Bill, and the warm environment that he has built.As Bill continued to serve people from behind the bar, he spoke of how much the neighborhood has changed since he purchased Malachy's. On Saint Patrick's Day, the area used to be blanketed in green bar-goers. "You could not move in this neighborhood the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There's nothing like seeing them blow up those balloons." Hikes in parking and travel costs have drastically reduced business on both of those days, he lamented. Still, he brightened up when pointing to the crowded bar, and said how his regulars are certainly devoted customers. Quite busy, he told us to stop by for a drink sometime soon, and headed into the kitchen.
I walked into Ribbon, the new dining experience from Bruce and Eric Bromberg, on their "friends and family night" and was immediately impressed. One of the waiters, Alex Bar-av, explained to me the history of the building. It used to be the Hotel Franconia, built in the 1920s by Arnold Rothstein, a famous Jewish gangster best remembered for "fixing" the 1919 World Series. The Hotel Franconia became known as the only place where people could drink openly during the Prohibition, since Rothstein paid off the cops. To celebrate this quirky heritage, Ribbon's 200 seat restaurant has a private room called the "Arnold Rothstein Room." Softly glowing cases of whiskey bottles on the walls add to the speakeasy-like feeling in the dark-wood room while also highlighting Ribbon's expansive whiskey collection (there are ninety-five types of whiskey on the menu).When I returned to the restaurant as an invited guest a few days later, Alex took me to see the darkened strip on the floor underneath a row of tables where the old bar used to be. He explained that when they gutted the space, the builders found the Hotel Franconia's original wood floor. The faded frescoes on the wall, now covered in glass, are also from the 1924 hotel. Alex is not alone in his in-depth knowledge. He told me that the employees are constantly being quizzed on their ability to give the facts to customers, not just about the food, but about Ribbon's story.Since my personal visits with Alex, I have had several terrific dinners at Ribbon, but it was especially nice when I came by with the Manhattan Sideways team and Alex brought out a collection of dishes for us to try. Laying them on tables made of repurposed wood from a Brooklyn warehouse floor, he served us a sextet of different kinds of deviled eggs, each with its own taste sensation, and a white bean hummus. The cauliflower covered in spicy buffalo sauce was my personal favorite. It is no surprise that the food is as good as it is, given that the Bromberg Brothers have twenty years of success in the culinary world behind them. "They know what they're doing," Alex smiled. I mentioned to the others that I had not seen the cauliflower on the menu before, and Alex quickly chimed in to say that the menu has changed since the restaurant first opened. "We take customer feedback very seriously," Alex shared, explaining that the food offerings were adjusted according to diners' comments. Ribbon is also known for a great raw bar, their fried chicken served only on Sundays and Mondays, their prime rib, and their hamburgers.Alex emphasized that this is a family friendly place. Despite the great skill of the staff, he pointed out that Ribbon is not considered "fine" dining. Instead, he referred to the restaurant as "elevated dining."
When we visited Irving Farm late one morning, almost every seat was taken and there was a constant stream of people ordering cappuccinos and breakfast sandwiches. "This is one of our busiest locations," Liz Dean, the manager, said, explaining that it functions as a flagship store. There was a wide demographic, from mothers and young children to groups of out of towners. "This neighborhood is very interesting - we get a nice mix of regulars and tourists," Liz pointed out. Liz was a regular for a while before becoming a member of the team. Now that she does the hiring, she looks out for people like herself, people who understand what Irving Farms is about and are already invested in its product. "I prefer to hire people who love our coffee," she admitted.Two former college friends, David Elwell and Steve Leven, founded the company in 1996. The roasting is done in a carriage house in Millerton, New York, and there are now five cafes scattered throughout the city, as well as a training "Loft" in Chelsea. Though the cafe on Irving Place is the original, as the name would imply, it was recently renovated to look more like the Upper West Side spot, which opened in 2012, making the 79th street store the model for future expansion. In addition, Irving Farms has wholesale clients throughout the country and there are two more cafes set to open - one on the Upper East Side and another at the Fulton Street station. Liz is particularly excited for the Upper East Side location, since many of her customers live or work on the other side of the park.While the coffee menu is the same at each of the Irving Farms locations, the food offerings change slightly. 79th offers a wide range of food, thanks to the size of its kitchen.Demba, the barista, appeared to be both a master of foam art and a friendly face to many. He greeted people by name, effortlessly remembering their regular orders. My daughter, Joelle, who was visiting on the day that we were walking on 79th, declared that her decaf latte was "Rich and oh so good," and elaborated by saying it was a "real cup of coffee," not what she was use to being served in the Boston area. She was also thrilled with her scrambled eggs on a homemade flaky cheddar cheese biscuit with avocado. Liz was pleased with Joelle's reaction, commenting, "The breakfast sandwiches are huge here." Liz went on to say that the lattes and pour overs are also popular, but that coffee lovers equally enjoy trying the single origin coffees, which are rotated throughout the year.Irving Farm is part of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, but they try to go above and beyond the definition of "specialty" by not buying coffee that is graded less than 85 in the 100-point system. They consistently try to give back to the farmers as much as possible, including featuring profiles of the farmers on their website. "In the city, it's so easy for there to be a disconnect between you and what you consume," Liz said after speaking to us about her trip to El Salvador, where the ethics behind coffee were really driven home. People often ask Liz if she feels threatened by Starbucks, and her simple answer is "Absolutely not." Liz and her co-workers know that Irving Farms is targeting customers who can taste and appreciate the difference. "We are, after all, a coffee roasting company first and foremost."Yes, they are known for their coffee, and people are constantly stopping in for a fresh cup. However, I also appreciate that later in the afternoon, Irving Farm has a different vibe. Wine and beer alongside cheese boards are brought out, and people are given the opportunity to relax and participate in pleasant, quiet conversation while unwinding from the day.
Jennifer Klein lived on 72nd Street for several decades before debuting her latest restaurant and bar. Since Dakota Bar opened in 2013, it has become a hotspot, attracting Upper West Siders with its chic, unpretentious vibes. The bar features seasonal cocktails, an eclectic menu, and an extensive wine and beer list, all curated by Jennifer.
Across the park and nine streets north from the 64th Street location, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was still visibly excited to be sitting down to breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup. Though she loves each of the teahouse's three "chapters," the 73rd Street cafe is the original - and the first one she visited as a young teen. She shared stories with me of coming here and marveling at the tiered Afternoon Teas that would arrive at her table, filled with scones, finger sandwiches and sweets. She questioned whether or not she might have been a bit too old at fifteen to celebrate her birthday here and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around New York blowing sparkle-filled bubbles, dressed in a pair of shimmering fairy wings acquired from the tea shop's front room, which is filled with whimsical retail items.On our visit to Alice's, Olivia, now a mature twenty-five, had her usual - a pumpkin scone with a personal pot of tea - while Tom, our photographer, ordered "the biggest coffee" they had. It arrived in a mug "the size of Tom's face." Olivia pointed out all the Alice in Wonderland themed decorations that she remembered from previous visits, including a quote from the character of the Duchess written in fun purple font along the walls and an angry painting of the red queen in the bathroom, telling employees to wash their hands or "Off with your head!" Her favorite little decorative touch, however, was on the swinging door into the kitchen. There is a giant keyhole window, suggesting that maybe, like Alice, the diners had shrunk to the size of mice, and would be swept away into a magical land, scones and teacups in hand.
New York City is chock full of phenomenal museums - cultural centers that appeal to a variety of interests. For my family, however, it is West 77th Street where we find ourselves returning over and over again. Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society is the oldest American History museum and research library in New York City. Its holdings include paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts as well as three million books and pamphlets. Of particular note among their art holdings is the John James Audubon collection of Birds of America watercolors and their Hudson River School paintings.The Dimenna Children’s History Museum is a treasure not to be missed. It is a wonderful way to engage children in the history of both New York and the rest of the country. During the holiday season, the amazing train exhibit is a must-see for children of all ages.As a biographer/historian of American history for young adults, my mom has been attending their Tuesday evening programs for as long as I can remember. She has had the pleasure of meeting and listening to speakers such as Joseph Ellis, Richard Brookhiser, Stacy Schiff, and Harold Holzer, among others. The Patricia Klingenstein Research Library, in which she has done extensive research on Abigail Adams, is particularly important to her. She has remarked on many occasions that, for those who frequented the old facility, it is remarkable how superior it is to what it was some twenty years ago.With Caffe Storico attached for a spectacular dining experience, The New York Historical Society continues to be a favorite place that we recommend to everyone from individuals to families, New Yorkers to tourists, and historians to art lovers.
Through the double glass doors connecting Caffe Storico to the New York Historical Society, I pointed out the Holiday Express trains, circling round and round to Olivia and Tom. I had been a frequent guest in both the museum and the restaurant for several years, but was eager for these two members of the Manhattan Sideways team to have an equally special experience. In keeping with its name (translated from Italian, Storico means "historic"), the decor is chock full of towering shelves stacked with antique china plates. Standing in awe, Tom and Olivia noticed the other touches, including the chandeliers hanging from the incredibly high ceiling.Despite the fact that the restaurant is operated separately from the museum, they have a mutually beneficial relationship. Manager Edward Krebser and Gabriel, the assistant manager, told us that the nineteenth century plate ware behind glass is from the museum's collection, and that every other element of the design was carefully chosen. The wood floors, marble tabletops, and Italian pipe chairs were all specifically selected to form a cohesive whole. The restaurant space used to be the Lawrence and Eris Field Gallery, and so the room is accustomed to displaying works of art.Caffe Storico’s interior design is not the only work of art – the food is beautifully and deliciously crafted. The three of us were treated to a sampling of dishes. Tom and Olivia tasted the pork belly, while I had one of my favorite dishes, a Burrata with fall vegetables. When Caffe Storico first opened, it had a more northern Italian style. Now, the menu has swayed in a more local, sustainable direction. Ed Crochet, who worked at Craft before going in search of an opportunity to cook Italian food, is now the chef. With a specialty in handmade pastas, Ed told us that he is "trying as best as possible to be seasonal.” He focuses not so much on what is Italian as what is available locally and tastes the best. “I’m not using the old recipes as gospel and I’m trying to be creative with what the notion of Italian food is.” I must confess that one of the most amazing dishes that I have tried on my journey walking the side streets has to be the spinach and ricotta strozzapreti. These small balls filled with goodness have a soft texture and buttery flavor like nothing I have eaten before. They were so incredible that only a few days later, I made a reservation to dine at Storico with my husband and friends. I needed others to experience this remarkable creation. When Chef Crochet realized that I was a vegetarian, he presented us with several other noteworthy plates of food: The mushroom triangole with swiss chard was delectable, as was the squash with pear puree and pumpkin seeds, presented like a little fairy feast gathered around the roots of a tree.Gabriel sat down and chatted with us while we were consuming our spectacular meal and shared that after opening in 2009, there are still people in the neighborhood who wander by, suddenly see the tops of liquor bottles from the bar through the window, and wonder what is inside. Locals are still discovering the restaurant each day. As Edward phrased it, “They live three doors down, but they didn’t know we were here for years." He added, “I just want people to know about the restaurant.” And so do I, because it is what I would describe as an Upper West Side hidden gem.
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean," Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community," Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave."Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave.The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy," "integrity," "perseverance," "self-control," and "indomitable spirit." These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them," Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster."Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place," she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day." She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo," Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration.Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years," Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you!" When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me," she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong."