Every city has its restaurateurs who open multiple outlets, often with similar food and vibe. The Tao Group has a host of venues in New York City as well as Las Vegas and even Sydney. On New York City’s Lower East Side, there are a few groovy eateries that the group runs in conjunction with chef Chris Santos. One is Beauty & Essex.

On Essex Street, between Stanton and Rivington, just a few blocks below Houston, it’s easy for a visitor to walk past the restaurant, thinking it to be a quirky retail store. There’s a very glam-looking ‘pawn’ shop inside the front windows, full of very sparkly delights including a crystal-encrusted bag looking rather unnervingly similar to the Apple logo, but Greedy Girl digresses. A plain door at the back of the shop opens and reveals a statement chandelier next to the host desk, a dark and moody bar and a long, large dining room dominated by a glass dome. This was early-ish evening so plenty of daylight flooded this part of the floor.

We’d already enjoyed the food around the corner at Stanton Social (another offering from the group) so we had very solid expectations of this venue. The menu read very well too, with a healthy number of dishes that whetted the appetite – no mean feat, given we’d already been gorging ourselves in the city for two weeks.

There are deep sofas along the walls, with spaces available for tables of two or more, while larger groups were accommodated on big tables underneath the glass dome in the centre of the room. We were shown to a table for two abutting one such large group. The space between it and gluttonous husband’s chair as he sat down was rather tight. Consequently, all night, he was bumped by wait staff and diners trying to get past him, but more on that later.

We were told the menu is designed for sharing and recommended to order anywhere between four and six dishes. We decided to start with four. Gluttonous husband took a Founders IPA, while Greedy Girl contented herself with a glass of Prosecco. Gluttonous husband raised a quizzical eyebrow when an unopened can was placed on the table before him. Hmmm. Ah well, time to roll the sleeves up …

Where to eat NYC Beauty & Essex

Our beet ‘amuse bouche’ arrived at the end of the meal

But that set the tone for the evening. Our waiter tried his best to be engaging but we didn’t get a warm or welcoming vibe. We’d already started eating our first plates when other diners were shown to spots near us (all of them did actually have sufficient room around their chairs) and presented with a ‘little treat’ from the kitchen, a beet ‘salad’ on a crisp. Obviously we didn’t merit such consideration.

Gluttonous husband inquired of the waiter. He seemed perturbed we hadn’t received it and promised to do something about it, but our ‘amuse bouche’ didn’t end up arriving until we’d finished our savoury dishes. But again, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The first of our selections arrived at the table, two at a time. We’d have preferred – given the waiter had told us the dishes were designed to share – to have dishes one at a time but we didn’t explicitly communicate that. Never assume, as they say in the classics.

First up was tomato tartare, served with a sunny side up quail egg and a Parmesan crostini. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband took two each from the platter; Greedy Girl’s first was a bit bland. She immediately commented to gluttonous husband that the mixture could do with some seasoning. Gluttonous husband was surprised at her reaction and it became apparent when she took the second one which, although it could have still done with a little more salt in her opinion, there was a nice tang from something that tasted like a Worcestershire sauce – in short, a much better flavour although still not terribly zingy in the mouth.

Where to eat NYC Beauty & Essex

Tomato tartare

Next were tuna poke wonton tacos, artfully presented with the crisp taco shell resting on a lime wedge. Greedy Girl asked for the advertised cilantro (coriander) to be served on the side. Not a problem. These were quite nice, served with radish and a wasabi kewpie mayo. Greedy Girl felt the tuna was overwhelmed by the other ingredients but still enjoyed her portion.

Where to eat NYC Beauty & Essex

Tuna tacos

We’d made a mess of our side plates with various bits of mayonnaise and cheese, so we lined up the cutlery to signal they should be taken away. Another waiter asked if we were having more food; the inference being why we wouldn’t use the same plates in that case. Our second hmmm.

Next up, we took some of the restaurant’s signature dishes – tomato soup dumplings and chicken meatballs. The dumplings were nicely presented on individual Chinese soup spoons and the soup itself was tangy and tasty. These were topped by grilled cheese and flecks of crispy smoked bacon. The dish could have used more of the latter. Again, Greedy Girl felt it needed a bit more seasoning.

Where to eat NYC Beauty & Essex

Tomato soup dumplings

Finally we had oven braised chicken meatballs served with a sheep’s milk ricotta, wild mushrooms and truffle. The fragrance from the truffle was intoxicating but that’s pretty much where this dish began and ended. Neither of us enjoyed the texture of the meatballs, finding them a bit too soft and once again, Greedy Girl felt there wasn’t enough seasoning. Sigh.

Where to eat NYC Beauty & Essex

Oven braised chicken meatballs

We finished these dishes and then our ‘amuse bouche’ arrived (as per the beginning of this blog). A third hmmm. We finished our drinks and watched as two further plates along with spoons were deposited on the table. Hmmm again – we hadn’t ordered any dessert at this point, although, admittedly, we did indicate at the start of the evening we were planning on leaving room for a pud. Given we’d been in the restaurant just over half an hour by that point, we decided we’d try to prolong our night a fraction. We opted for the dark chocolate peanut butter mousse, served with a Kahlua ice cream (pictured at the top of this post).

Gluttonous husband went in search of the restroom and Greedy Girl contemplated the surroundings. Our waiter returned to double check on our order. Greedy Girl needs to write this phonetically so you can get the sense of what transpired…

“You’re having the moo-say?”
“Excuse me?”
“The moo-say?”

Greedy Girl wondered if he was asking about a particular style of dessert wine she’d not heard of. Again, she asked: “Excuse me?” He ran off to get the menu. We were both on the, ahem, same page but Greedy Girl had to confess she’d never heard ‘mousse’ pronounced that way before. Was it kind of a variation on ‘tomayto, tomahto’?   Another hmmm. Greedy Girl was very much ready to ‘call the whole thing off’.

But we sat and waited for the dessert to be served. Our main waiter kindly brought us a fresh carafe of water (unbidden) but another waiter came by shortly after, filled our glasses (the first time all night) and then promptly took away what was left in the carafe. It was really, really odd. Again … Hmmm.

The dessert however, was the dish of the night, providing a high point. The ganache-covered squares featured a lovely mousse and salted caramel inside and the seasoning there (Ta da!) was absolutely perfect. A lovely salty, chocolatey, not-too-sweet hit.

And we were done. Gluttonous husband made a point of walking around the table behind us to see what kind of space was available between it and the tables/chairs on the far side. He said we could have skipped through there hand in hand. Right.

Beauty & Essex wasn’t a great experience for us but there’s no doubt it is a popular venue because there was a line of people at the bar and at the host desk. Our selections, which included some of the restaurant’s signature dishes, didn’t really deliver in terms of flavour or texture (apart from the dessert) and it was jut an uncomfortable evening all round. It’s not hard to make diners feel special but, equally, it’s not hard to make diners feel they’re in the way and that’s pretty much how we felt.

All told, there were too many things that made us go: ‘hmmm’.

Beauty & Essex

The Foodie World star rating
146 Essex Street, NYC (between Stanton and Rivington)
Beauty & Essex Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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