Walking into the East Side Social Club last night, I felt slightly out of place without a cigarette holder and fur coat. The decor is reminiscent of a 1940's restaurant – and while it's very obvious, it's not kitschy or tacky in any way. The long, dark wood bar is curved like a giant piano, and the red walls with red and yellow sconces evoke a sexy vibe. I know it may sound a little like Communist Russia with all the red, but it's actually quite charming. Put Cary Grant at the end of the bar drinking some scotch and the image would be complete.
My friend Ange and I had an 8 pm reservation, and we were seated by 8:15. Things seemed a little crowded in front of house, especially since there were quite a few empty tables when we sat down, but it was opening night, and 15 minutes is really nothing to complain about. The only annoying part was the way they arranged the tables. They were right on top of each other (literally 2-4 inches between them) and the waiter had to move the table completely out of the row just so I could squeeze in to the seat. Skinny Pig didn't feel so skinny at that moment in time – I was afraid they were going to have to get butter to grease my thighs. After that, I could think of no better time to order some vegetables. We decided on the Roasted Acorn Squash (with ricotta, brown butter and sage) and the Stuffed Eggplant (with red peppers, corn, pecorino cheese and balsamic vinegar). The squash was fantastic; it's amazing how such a simple dish can taste so complex. Roast some squash, add some brown butter with a dollop of ricotta and sprinkle some toasted pumpkin seeds on top…easy right? I'd love to try to recreate that as a Thanksgiving side dish. The eggplant was different, but also very good. The squash was a warm, comforting winter dish while the eggplant was light with a sweet, vinegary kick. It's nice to have both sometimes. Tease the palate a little.
I wasn't in the mood for pasta, but Ange, true to her Italian roots, couldn't resist the Mushroom Ravioli. I went with the Grilled Chicken with garlic and pancetta stuffed leg, kale, and cannellini beans. The chicken was juicy and seasoned well, while the crispy kale and cannelini beans in garlic jus rounded out this simple dish. There were two pieces of chicken skin with kale and pancetta stuffed inside of it too. What's a good way to get someone to eat a roll of fat without feeling guilty? Put some greens inside it. Mission accomplished, East Side Social Club. The ravioli filling was a mix of fresh mushrooms and black trumpets,
and it's topped with arugula and veal jus. Add a hefty grating of
parmesan cheese on top and you've got one earthy, delicious pasta.
What is a meal without dessert? A meal not worth having, I say. Especially when that dessert is a Salted Caramel and Dark Chocolate Tart. Those are five words I wouldn't mind hearing every day. In that order. On a plate. Seriously though, this tart was unreal. The chocolate tart itself was good, but the thick layer of salted caramel on top with the hazelnut ice cream…my god. Ange had the right words to describe it: "this is…a little ridiculous." Completely, but in the best possible way.
The overall dining experience was excellent, including the reliable service. I was also pleased to see that the portions were just right; nothing looked overwhelming or disappointing. The people seated around us were commenting on the food and despite the loud crowd, you could hear echoes of "delicious" and "amazing". And for future reference, according to some fellow diners, the Branzino was a big hit. I really enjoyed East Side Social Club, both for the food and the ambiance. My initial thoughts on this place (just from hearing the name) were "pretentious" and "probably tiny portions". However, the staff couldn't be more friendly, and the menu is in keeping with the concept: simple and sexy.
East Side Social Club
230 East 51st St (between 2nd and 3rd Aves)