Goodbye Max Fish, hello Beauty & Essex. Last night, celeb chef Chris Santos debuted his absurdly glitzy new restaurant, located in a 10,000-square-foot former furniture factory on Essex Street. Slightly tipsy from fraternizing with fellow food writers at the Saveur Potluck Holiday party in the Cooper Square Hotel, I waltzed into the opening party and discovered that, yes, the gentrification of the Lower East Side is still going on and has in fact reached previously unthinkable new heights.
Designed by trendy design team AvroKO (Double Crown, Lavo, etc.), the restaurant is an ode to excess, two stories of champagne-fueled revelry. The only sign you’re not in the Meatpacking District is a bone thrown to the neighborhood’s gritty past: a functional pawn shop selling guitars and the like, located in the entrance. After that, it’s pure glitz. A spiraling staircase. Vases filled with peacock feathers. A chandelier made entirely of motherfuckin’ pearls. This is some next level shit, even for a neighborhood with no shortage of fancy cocktail lounges and restaurants. I wandered through the chattering crowd, constantly discovering new rooms, like some kind of maddening hall of mirrors. I swear I must have passed like 1,000 different bars.
Technically it’s a restaurant, but it feels more like a nightclub. The DJ was spinning ‘90s R&B, because apparently girls in dresses wrapped tighter than cellophane and the besuited men who love them can’t dance to anything other than Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.” It’s not often that I get a Veuve Clicquot hangover but, hey, when in Rome. It looks like bottle service is going to be huge here and the massive, intoxicated crowd clearly loved it. There are small plates, too. Chris Santos, of Stanton Social and the Food Network, has come up with some sure-fire crowd-pleasers: grilled cheese with tomato soup dumplings, oven-braised chicken meatballs, steak sourced from Creekstone Farms.
Will I ever return? Probably not; it’s not really my scene. I’d rather be drowning pints of Sixpoint in a calm Brooklyn bar, preferably one with dogs running around in it. I’m pretty sure they won’t miss my business, though. From what I could see last night, they’ll have no problem filling all 250 seats.
Side note: Props to all the chefs who made some pretty amazing food for the Saveur party, including Marea’s Michael White, who made a kick-ass lasagna that Josh Ozersky was hovering over like a protective mama grizzly bear. Also spotted: Fatty Cue’s Zak Pelaccio, Aldea’s George Mendes, Scarpetta’s Scott Conant and every food writer who has ever roamed this fair city.
Beauty & Essex, 146 Essex Street, LES