Getting off the M train at Essex Street, my sister posed the question about up and coming areas in NYC. “What determines what is in and what is out? This whole area seems kind of sketchy.” At 10pm on a Wednesday night, without alcohol goggles and groups of friends, the Lower East Side gives off an unwelcoming vibe. The dark, unlit sidewalks, garbage on the street and unfriendly faces, made New York intimidating. However, I knew our destination and led my sister down Essex.
We arrived at our location, with the glaring yellow lights of “Beauty & Essex” giving some life to the dead street.
We walked through the glass doors, with the window displays revealing unwanted jewelry and nick-knacks you would find at your unfashionable Great-Aunt’s house, which hadn’t been redecorated since the first World War. We entered the storefront, with the little room filled with similar pawn shop items, blending in with the entire outside vibe of the street. A large, tough gentleman stood by a back door and a trendy young girl stood behind the check out counter. I said to the gentleman that we had a reservation.
He opened the door to another world.
We entered Beauty & Essex, a creation of Chris Santos’s imagination (he also owns the famed Stanton Social). The dark decor and restaurant gives off a Prohibition Era vibe, with the secretly hidden restaurant, elegant chandeliers, dark floral bouquets and up beat music at just the right volume level.
We approached the hostess stand, decorated with open glass and more pawn shop jewelry. We were immediately led towards the back of the restaurant, to a lovely end table, right off of the main dining room. I sat back on a black, leather couch staring out at the other tables and beautiful people occupying them.
I opened the menu, to the sweet inscribed message, “Start Sharing at Beauty & Essex.”
We would ultimately start sharing, but not yet. First, it was about the cocktails. Each was uniquely named as if they were straight out of a detective or prohibition era novel. I ultimately decided on The Coronado, a combination of tequila, passion fruit and coconut water. Leigh ordered a more refreshing drink, The Emerald Gimlet with vodka, fresh basil and lime.
Our drinks arrived and we toasted to a fabulous last meal in Manhattan. As Leigh explored the restaurant, she sat down and smiled about the wonder that is Manhattan. The discovery of something new, always an up and coming area and the ability to leave the cliche places of days out with underage friends. This would be the perfect ending to a wonderful summer.
The waiter delivered an amuse-bouche onto the table, to begin to excite our palates with a playful little bite.
I absolutely love beets, so this was the most ideal start to our dining experience. The bite was rich and full of flavor, all fitting onto a crisp the size of a quarter.
Already excited about our dining experience, we decided to begin the meal with a selection from the Raw Bar selection of the menu. We selected with the Tuna Poke Wanton Tacos, per the recommendation from our waitress. The dish was a playful twist on the Mexican classic dish.
The simple, yet playful presentation with each miniature taco having its own little spot on the tray really epitomized the restaurants theme. The crunch of the wanton shell broke with the first bite with the soft, silky raw tuna inside. The bite of the wasabi aioli gave the necessary element of spice. I found myself wanting more as we split the last taco, waiting for the next dish to arrive.
After my love affair with Stanton Social’s French Onion Soup Dumplings, I felt it necessary to order the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Dumplings, Beauty & Essex’s version of the playful soup presentation.
While Stanton Social serves dumplings in an escargot tray, Beauty & Essex confines the ideal soup bite into a Chinese soup spoon. The classic pairing of tomato soup and grilled cheese is always a favorite, but this dish allowed for you to have the right bite with each spoonful. The dumpling had the wonderful exterior crispy flavor, with the sweet tomato soup below. Slurping the spoon, you taste the hot soup, then bite into the grilled cheese, which melts in your mouth, followed by the salty smokiness of the bacon. I could eat this dish daily.
We decided something fresh was necessarily during our meal, so we ordered the tomato tartar, an interesting play on any raw dish we have enjoyed. It was not vegetarian making the choice of tomato even that much more interesting.
This dish might have been my favorite of the night. The flavor profile was so surprising and unique, building with each and every bite. The little quail egg broke over the tomato, which had been soaked in balsamic, giving a nice bite of acidity. The creamy egg, with the fresh tomato and crunch of the Parmesan crostini created such a wonderful and playful dish for my palate. Bite after bite, the flavors continued to build on top of each other, until the plate was completely bare. I found myself dreaming for more, wishing we could order another.
At this point in the meal, I ventured to the rest room to clean up between courses. Now, normally I would not include this pit stop into my blog, but this was a wonderful experience. The bathroom is gorgeous, almost like a lounge and a place you would relax with your friends. To top it all off they offer free champagne. Yes, you read that right. Free champagne. Glass flutes are filled with pink bubbling liquid, allowing for you to ascend the stairs, new beverage in hand and smile at all the men exiting their not as fun restroom. I sat back down at the table, smiling gleefully, as I told my sister about the wonders of the bathroom. Now this, is a reason to come back.
I sat back down just in time for our chicken meatballs to arrive.
Little moist balls of chicken, with a creamy ricotta on top and the sweet aroma of truffles made this dish something special. I usually steer away from chicken, but this version couldn’t be missed. The meatballs had a unique creamy texture to them, with a little bite and crunch from the crispy outside. The sauce of truffles, wild mushrooms, butter and oil was dreamy. The sweet ricotta gave that perfect little tang, completing the entire dish. We sat back, content with our entire meal.
We had decided to take advantage of our setting and check out the more lounge, nightlife scene upstairs. We ordered one more round of drinks, and this time I decided to spice things up with a jalapeno margarita.
The lingering flavor of jalapeno stayed on my tongue long after the sweetness of the blood orange and lime had dissolved. The wonderful waitress added more blood orange juice to the beverage, allowing for the sweet flavor to have a fighting change with the bold, spice of the chili. I have to say, once I got over my internal conflict with the spice, I loved this drink. Sucking up the sweet and spicy and salty flavors all at once. It was the perfect ending to the meal.
The upstairs lounge area screamed Euro-Trash, with people grinding and making out in the least classy of ways. We quickly headed back down, to our beloved downstairs area, sat on a comfortable couch and enjoyed our drinks with the music softly blasting in the background.
Beauty & Essex – 146 Essex Street – New York, NY
Beauty & Essex
Location: Lower East Side, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Big Groups, Date Night, Small Plates, Girls’ Night Out
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Tomato Tartare, Grilled Cheese Dumplings, Tuna Tacos, Jalapeno Margarita