Monday, January 3, 2011

Fabulous Evening: Beauty & Essex

As I've mentioned before, there are few things as exciting to me as an incredible dinner out in NYC. Making the reservation, perusing the menu before the big night, having a drink at the bar while waiting for the table, finally sitting, ordering, taking the first bite. I'm not sure where my food obsession came from, but my heart was practically racing as Patrick and I walked into Beauty & Essex Thursday night, the new Lower East Side joint from Chris Santos of Stanton Social fame. If you haven't read my post on Stanton Social brunch, click here before continuing.I've been reading rave reviews of the restaurant since it opened a few weeks ago, so I really couldn't wait to see the champagne lounge in the ladies' room for myself. To make the night even more exciting, I had been Tweeting back and forth with Chris Santos for a few days, and he told me to ask for him when I got there. More on that later.

We walked through the funky pawn shop and opened the door to the restaurant. I was blown away by how beautiful the space was. High ceilings, dim lighting, beautiful accents, vaulted ceilings and a winding staircase set the mood for our night. We gave our name and went over to the bar for a drink. I ordered a Golden Peacock (cucumber hangar one & junmai sake, granny smith apple, pineapple & mint) and it was honestly the most delicious cocktail I had ever tasted. Our name was called and we were shown to a table for two in the main dining room.
When we opened the menu, we decided we would share several things between the 2 of us. We landed on the Chicken Fried Oysters with apple, bacon & braised spinach and the Yellowtail Crudo with caramelized citrus yuzu, avocado & cilantro to start. When the waitress took our order, I quickly asked her if she wouldn't mind letting Chris Santos know that Rachel was here. I wasn't expecting anything because I didn't want to get my hopes up, but it doesn't hurt to ask.The first thing the waiter brought to the table was an amuse bouche, 2 small "Caesar Salad" bites. There was a tiny bit of romaine and caesar dressing on a small round crisp. They were delicious! Then our appetizers came out and my mouth began to water. The Chicken Fried Oysters, something I've never had before, were crispy and flavorful without being the least bit greasy. The Yellowtail Crudo had a nice, fresh taste and the avocado was ripe and added a nice texture and flavor to the yellowtail. We enjoyed the appetizers and opened our menus back up to decide on what to eat for our main courses.Beauty & Essex dinner, like Stanton Social brunch, features small portions meant for sharing. Since we had already decided to share, this worked out perfectly. We couldn't pass up the 18 oz. Classic New York Strip or the Brick Pressed Chicken with creamy mascarpone polenta & sweet roasted tomato salad. At the last second, we added a side of Brussels Sprouts to our order to make our moms proud (and because we secretly love them!) While we were waiting for our food, I noticed Mr. Santos had come out onto the floor of the restaurant to greet some other diners, and my heart jumped. I was beyond excited at the prospect of meeting a chef I respected so much. I remembered how amazing it was to meet Wylie Dufresne at WD-50, and I truly hoped I'd have a chance to say hi to Chris.I made a quick trip to the bathroom so I could check out this free champagne I had been hearing about. Right there, in the ladies' bathroom, was a private champagne bar! Incredible! Why haven't any other restaurants done this?!

I went back to the table, and when the food came, I knew we had made the right selections. The steak was perfectly cooked medium/medium rare and the chicken looked juicy. I was impressed at the portion sizes, imagining they'd actually be a lot smaller. Both dishes lived up to our expectations. The steak was great, very well-seasoned and came with 4 side sauces that Patrick had a blast with. I'm not a huge sauce person, so I let him have at it. He said they were delicious, so I'll take his word for it. The chicken was as juicy as it looked, with a nice skin on it. The polenta under the chicken was a little too spicy for me, but had a unique taste that I did enjoy.
We basically licked both plates clean, and then we started our usual dessert discussion. It goes something like this:

Patrick: "Do you want to get dessert?"
Me: "Nah, not really."
Patrick: "Well, if I order something, will you share it with me?"
Me: "I'll probably try a bite, but don't order based on what I like, get what you want."
Patrick: "Okay, you'd eat the (insert dessert name here), right?"
Me: "Sure, why not?"

And then he'll order something that he knows I would eat. This time, it was the Apple Pie with Cheddar Ice Cream. Cheese? And ice cream? I had to try it! The small pastry that the apple pie came in was also cheddar, and nothing on the plate was at all sweet. This was my kind of dessert! Savory? Yes please! I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this so-called "dessert." Good thing Patrick is good at sharing. I pretty much attacked the ice cream and loved every last bite.By the time our bill came, I was both full and resigned to the fact that it just wasn't my night to meet Chris Santos. Bummer. Then I looked down at my phone and saw that he had tweeted at me again. "are you still here? I just went up to say hi and your not at the table?!? I'm sorry if I missed you!!" I was floored! I wrote back letting him know I was still there and where I was sitting. And then I waited. Finally, he came out of the kitchen and started making the rounds to a few other tables. We figured we'd go stand near the entrance and wait for him to be done chatting, and then he started walking over to us. I couldn't believe I was about to meet him!

I stuck my hand out and introduced myself, and as soon as he shook our hands, he started talking with us as if he's known us for years. He told us about the restaurant, the food, the menu... we were chatting up a storm! I had a huge smile plastered on my face. Then he asked if I had been upstairs yet and I told him I hadn't. He personally took us upstairs to show us around. A private tour of the restaurant by Chris Santos? Was I dreaming? After showing us around and chatting for a few more minutes, he lead us over to the bar and ordered a round of drinks on him. I seriously couldn't believe this was happening. He thanked us for coming and told us to let him know when we planned to come back.

Chris Santos is an incredible chef, an accomplished restaurateur and one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys I have ever met. Thank you, Chris, your food and your visit with us truly made our night! We will absolutely be back.

To my awesome readers, have you ever met one of your favorite chefs? Were they nice? Which chefs would you like to meet? Everyone should put Chris Santos on their list, he's a great guy!

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

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