Imagine yourself a filmmaker, looking through the eye of a lens. You’re strolling the grungy streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now, look around. At a distant corner is an overflowing garbage bin. Dressed in a variety of garb–from grunge to classic to yuppie to hipster to blah to thoughtless–a steady stream of people pass you by. Some, one might suppose, are hurrying to meet friends for libations and/or grub at a nearby bar or bistro. There are musicians scurrying to Rockwood or The Slipper Room for 30-minute gigs that’s far shorter than their commute. No one minds anything around or beyond their prescribed destination.
There is movement in the architecture, too. The streetscape is a canvas of low-rise tenements, some well patinaed (aka neglected façades displaying rust, corrosion and peeling paint). Some others have had HGTV-esque makeovers that are as impressively paint deep as orange tan on a president. And then there’s the mix of new construction, all heralded as the new best thing, designed by the newest hot architect or designer, using materials that have been around since the roman empire, as avant garde as Lego Star Wars.
Take all these things together, add the spirit and music of New York, and then place a jewel box like Beauty & Essex (reviewed on the first issue of this magazine in 2012), and what you have is something truly surprising, authentic and special.
Your next scene is Las Vegas, where you’re first hit with the City’s obsession with lights. It’s Times Square on acid, quite alluring more for its glitz than its glamour. It’s generally a no-holds-barred adult theme park that promises (and mostly delivers) anything that one can dream of doing, and doing it ‘bigly.’ Unlike New York, the point of walking the strip is to have no preconceived destination or activity at all (unless, of course, one is a serious gambler). Therein lie the adventures.
One cannot say that architecture here is unimaginative or static. To be a successful travel destination, it would have to morph, if not evolve, into something more exciting, splashier, more captivating. You’re not only forever besting your competition; you’re also always looking to beat your last best idea. And that is not an easy feat.
The success of Chef Chris Santos (and the TAO Group) lies, at least in part, in the ability to identify, with uncanny precision, its market. And once again, it does so with relative ease. Already known for its enchanting décor, Beauty & Essex Las Vegas continues its style philosophy of 21st century-meets-Gatsby inspired interiors throughout all five of its individually crafted dining and entertaining rooms.
Like glowing embers, more gold seems to radiate here as one might imagine it would at Gringotts. Fortunately, the design and ambiance, while exuding showmanship, is devoid of the Vegas ‘bougie’ leanings. Thanks to its design that alternate clean sweeps of demi-circles and crisp lines, its deep earthy palate and its luxurious finishes, Beauty & Essex Las Vegas manages to maintain its sophistication despite the Vegas visitor’s expectation of grand and gaud.
BY LOY BERNAL CARLOS & RYAN OBERMEIER
Of course, where a Chef Chris Santos restaurant chiefly excels is its menu, a selection of small plates meant to be shared–a huge departure from Las Vegas’ eat-till-you’re-sick buffets. One who is familiar with both the Stanton Social and Beauty & Essex in New York might say that the food is a combination, if not derivative, of the two. But if you are truly familiar with those restaurants, that would be perfectly fine by you, too.
Vegas brings a little of heaven in Sin City. In New York, which Santos creation you pick is decided by the menu one is craving at that particular time. Who doesn’t think of the Stanton’s French Onion Soup Dumplings when ordering B&E’s Grilled Cheese, Smoked Bacon and Tomato Soup dumplings? Here, you can have both. Palate wise, it’s probably not advisable. But hey, one has done worse things to satisfy a craving. It hits the spot. Many, many times.
Flavor wise, the Caesar Toast with Crispy Chicken Skin is bright and unblemished. It’s wonderfully garlicy and it doesn’t make for tidy eats; so it’s probably not a good meal to share with a date.
The Roasted Bone Marrow with Rioja Braised Marmalade is decadent, although one might argue whether the intended balance of savory and sweetness might have been better achieved had the marrow been salted by the chef instead of being left to unseasoned guests.
The Maine Lobster Roll was delightfully sumptuous, a pleasant surprise in this City by the desert. Seafood lovers will find the Thai-style Deep Fried Shrimp with Green Papaya and Mango Slaw as well as the Fish & Chip Tacos flavorful, fresh and pleasing.
Certain to be listed in any Chris Santos restaurant are elegant comfort food. The Short Rib Mac and Cheese with Herbed Cornbread Crust practically screams cold nights, plush silky comforter and Netflix. Accompanied by the devilishly divine Barbecue Fries is the Beauty & Essex Burger made from brisket, short rib and lamb spiced with harissa aioli. It is simply a North African-American marriage that needs to be celebrated over and over and over. To finish, Kygo Cloud Nine Smores take you exactly there.