It’s become slightly cliche to love The Stanton Social, a Lower East Side restaurant that began the small plate phenomenon almost a decade ago. But even though the restaurant now attracts a slightly different crowd – a slightly older clientele mixed in with attractive foreigners – the food still keeps this Chris Santos’ first venture a fan favorite. His second restaurant, Beauty & Essex, has stolen some of the trendier clientele. Yet, when you’re looking for the original treats, mainly French Onion Soup Dumplings, there’s no replacement for Stanton Social.
It came as a surprise that my middle sister, Leigh had never been to Stanton Social. Even my grandmother from Florida has made her way to this once trendy LES spot for a taste of these usual concoctions. Unlike a few years ago, reservations are much easier to come by. I was able to reserve a prime time table the day before.
We ventured downtown, arriving 10 minutes before our reservation, hoping to get seated a bit earlier. The hostess politely informed us that the table was enjoying dessert and the table should be ready in no time. She directed us upstairs to the bright, open bar area to wait for our table. After 30 minutes of waiting, we came back downstairs to inquire about the wait. To our dismay, the table was still not ready. The manager assured us she’d make it up to us, apologizing profusely. I must note, this is not the first time I’ve had to wait an extra 45 minutes for my reserved table at Stanton Social. Last time this happened I was treated to complimentary starters, so I anticipated the same kind of treatment for our troubles.
The manager personally escorted us to our table, located right in the heart of the open dining room. The high ceilings and dim lights give a high end feel to the restaurant. It’s comfortable and trendy all at once, with plush booth seats lining the walls and large round tables filling the center of the restaurant. It’s crowded without being overwhelming, since you feel comfortable at your table.
We ordered cocktails to start. I decided to try the Watermelon-Ginger Margarita, while Leigh selected the Strawberry Fields.
My drink was light and refreshing, with a subtle hint of spice from the ginger. The muddled pieces of watermelon made their way up the straw adding a burst of freshness and contrast to the tequila.
Next, the hostess delivered our apology platter filled with three different dishes. These trays area specially designed to hold such a appetizer not featured on the menu, which led me to believe that this happens often. We were thrilled to sample the Pierogies, Red Snapper Tacos and Chicken Arepas. With two pieces of each dish, it was the perfect little start to our wonderful meal.
The Goat Cheese and Potato Pierogies were immediately one of our favorite dishes. The combination of the tangy cheese with the sweet caramelized onions and crunchy exterior created a rich bite. The delicate, truffle sour cream sauce on the bottom added a surprising element of freshness and creaminess to the decadent pierogi.
Next, we tried the arepa, which was surprisingly phenomenal.
We would have never thought to order this dish on our own, which made the platter and wait time completely worth it. A pile of pulled chicken mixed with spices sat on top of a moist, cornmeal patty. A little sliver of jalapeño on top adds an element of heat, creating the ideal contrast with the sweat corn patty on the bottom. The shredded chicken packed so much flavor into the little bite. We could have easily eaten a whole platter of these.
Next, we moved onto the Red Snapper Tacos.
These were good, but nothing as unique and extraordinary as the other dishes. The crunchy shell, creamy avocado and spicy mango salsa made the dish fresh and enjoyable. But I think I’m so over this taco craze right now, that anything just above average will leave me disappointed.
At this point, we finally received our amuse-bouché, a chilled cucumber yogurt soup.
The chilled soup acted as a palate cleanser between our unexpected starters and planned meal. It was light and fresh, reminding Leigh of a tzatziki soup.
The first dish to arrive was the Maryland Jumbo Lump Crabcake “Corn Dogs.”
At first glance, this totally look like the ballpark street food. We each picked up the wooden skewer, with the tip of the corn dog coated in a light, spicy aioli. And then you take a bite and taste a moist, chunky Crabcake. The sweet, corn batter kept the interior completely in tact. This dish is a must order.
Next, we moved onto one of the few light dishes to grace the menu at Stanton Social.
The depth and complexity brought to a classic goat cheese and beet salad makes Stanton Social great. The pieces of smoked duck are thinly sliced and slow cooked to remove all of the fat. The duck is moist and rich, adding a light smokiness to the salad. The crispy, truffle goat cheese fritters add a tangy, creamy element to the salad. In my opinion, anything with goat cheese, especially warm goat cheese, is always a winner. The sweet baby beats and crunchy kale rounds out the entire salad. It’s a fun, playful spin on classic flavor combinations and a great lighter option.
Finally, the French Onion Soup Dumplings (yes, you read that right), Stanton Social’s most famous dish arrived.
Served in an escargot tray, each of these little parcels of French Onion Soup Dumplings nails the flavor profile of the beloved soup. French Onion Soup is made of a few simple elements; beef broth, onions, bread and cheese. Chef Chris Santos manages to deconstruct the soup, while keeping the integrity of the flavor profiles intact. Slow cooked, caramelized onions and a beef broth are cooked inside a thin, dumpling wrapper. Shredded Gruyere cheese coats the entire top of the tray, creating a bubbling and crispy crust. Finally a light crouton sits on top acting as the necessary bread element needed to deconstruct a French Onion Soup.
You need to be careful upon taking the first bite, since the broth of the soup is still sizzling hot inside the deceivingly thin dumpling wrapper. The onions inside are divine, rich and sweet against the salted, hearty broth. Finally, the tangy, slightly crisp Gruyere and crouton come into play, creating the ultimate bite. My Mom has attempted to create these at home, but has never been able to replicate this to the same degree of perfection. It’s a reason to come back to Stanton Social again and again, since you will never be able to find this anywhere else.
Finally, it was time to turn to dessert. We originally hadn’t planned on ordered something sweet, but the table next to us had some kind of chocolate concoction with popcorn that we needed to try. Plus, when Milkshake Shots are found on the menu, it’s a sin not to order.
I slurped this delicious milkshake up the straw with two gigantic sips. It’s sweet and icy with the potent flavor of the marker’s mark whiskey coming through at the very end. If only all alcohol was this fun to drink.
We ended on a sweet and salty note with the Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel Mousse.
There’s something charming about reinventing classic childhood favorite flavor combinations into a high end dish. Popcorn, Chocolate, Caramel and Salt? Yes, please! This dessert is everything I want in a final course with the salt and sweet working hand in hand to create something incredible. The mousse is heavenly, melting in your mouth with one simple spoonful. The popcorn ice cream has a buttery and salted flavor, turning movie theater food into an icy, delightful treat. Everything about this dessert works on so many levels, allowing for the meal to end on such a high note.
While Stanton Social no longer tops the lists of trendy New York City restaurants, it still delivers when it comes to the food and service. French Onion Soup Dumplings win me over every single time, and the Goat Cheese Pierogis are some of the best I’ve tried. It’s always a wonderful, whimsical surprise whenever the dishes arrive at your table. Things are never what they seem and are executed to perfection. As the case with most small plate restaurant, the low priced of the dishes add up quickly. For a fun night of playful dishes in a beautiful setting, it’s a place every self-proclaimed New Yorker needs to try at least once.
The Stanton Social – 99 Stanton Street – New York, NY
The Stanton Social
Location: Lower East Side, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Date Night, Small Plates, Girls’ Night Out, Special Occasions
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: French Onion Soup Dumplings, Potato and Goat Cheese Pierogis, Pulled Chicken Arepas, Crabcake “Corn Dogs,” Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel Mousse