133 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
The last time I paid attention to celebrity opinion, I wound up at The Fat Radish, a mistake that I clearly didn't learn my lesson from and so made reservations at Sons of Essex, another restaurant that, I must assume, survives solely on its hype. When famous people talk about how much they like something, we consumers can't wait to spend our money on it. Just ask the members of Oprah's book club and the people who unironically bought Paris Hilton's perfume.
To be entirely fair, and to keep what little journalistic integrity I have intact, I cannot blame SoE completely for what would turn out to be a pretty shitty evening. I was on a date. It wasn't our first, hence the pricey meal, and it was supposed to be awesome but was... less than awesome. So while dinner wasn't the sole reason that the date flopped, it sure didn't help. Neither did losing my drivers license or getting on the super slow subway train... That said... well, let's just get to it, eh?
Walking in, you'll immediately learn that even with half of the tables empty, Sons of Essex is so loud that you'll be screaming across the table. Having the rap and pop music cranked to the max ensures that what could be a moody, maybe even romantic meal will instead be like eating dinner in a club. You have no choice but to yell and say "what?!?" almost constantly. This, however, is par for the course with a hotspot restaurant. Indeed, it's intentional and anyone who didn't see it coming clearly never visited the SoE website. However, we had a distant and pissy waitress who gave us a tone when we needed more time to look at the menu and who seemingly vanished into thin air when we finally needed her. I didn't like it but I've dealt with that before though, too. I'm used to it. It's not exactly rare.
I do draw the line, however, at having the people stick constantly their arms in my face. On no fewer than six occasions, if one of our water glasses was so much as one sip low, some guy wandering the room would walk up to us, and, leaning over, reach his arm out in front of our faces and, in the middle of our conversation pick up the water that was left on the table. He'd refill our glasses and then reach out again to replace the bottle. This obnoxious, intrusive interruption repeated itself over and over again. Why, I ask, would they give our table a bottle of water if they didn't think we could refill our own glasses? And why, I also ask, would the water guy insist on reaching in front of our faces to perform this clearly vital service rather than approach the table from the other fucking side?!?! Is it me? Did I lose the memo about how that's the new etiquette?
She ordered the Truffle Mushroom Pizza to start. We assumed that this would have been an appetizer sized appetizer, but no, this was something to share. It was huge. And you know what? It was really good! It wasn't eighteen dollars good, but it was good. A thin crust "pizza" with sheeps milk ricotta, arugula, parmesan, truffle oil, sauteed mushroom, mascarpone and goat cheese. If you find yourself here, get this. My appetizer was the Pork Belly Sliders, open face pork belly sliders with hoisin and plum sauce, cilantro, and a carrot. The pork belly was okay, but the carrot was an awkward and unfortunate thing to pair it with. The open faced slider might look good on the plate, but it's difficult to eat and you're basically forced to take the whole thing in one bite. This is made worse by the fact that the bread was so doughy as to feel like it was still batter. After a minute of hard chewing and a few slugs of water followed by an arm in the face, I got it down. Neither of us cared for this dish.
My date won again when it came to entrees. She ordered the Day Boat Scallops with a butter corn risotto. I've had better scallops, but they weren't terrible and the risotto was surprisingly good. They should just offer it as a side all on its own. My choice was the Bone-In Pork Chop, with lemon, herbs, and a mango papaya salsa. This was one of the driest port chops that I've ever had. Honestly, I wasn't very enamored by the salsa either, but it was the only thing giving the dish any moisture. Cutting through it was like sawing through a log and chewing it was like gnawing on a wood chip. Pork chops are notoriously difficult to do properly and this one wasn't.
Since no trendy restaurant is allowed to call itself trendy without some signature cocktails, we had a couple rounds of their specialty concoctions. All four were mediocre. Ask for a sazerac and don't waste your time.
Unable to really have a conversation that went uninterrupted by either the music or the water guy, and nonplussed by the drinks and the pricetag, we took a pass on dessert and hit the streets to wander elsewhere.
If you prefer your dinner to be more about the scene than the food or the service, Sons of Essex is for you. SoE will never come close to winning a Michelin star, but don't be surprised if they put bottle service on the menu one day soon.
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