Chris Santos is king when it comes to the lower east side. With both The Stanton Social and Beauty and Essex under his belt, it’s hard to imagine the area without him. In between his next tattoo and his next Chopped judge’s table, Santos found time to let us in on his lower east side world…
What would be your ideal food day?
In a perfect world of time travel, a perfect day would consist of munching on a fresh baguette and fresh-squeezed orange juice while strolling the streets of Paris for breakfast, doing a crawl of Barcelona tapas bars for lunch, and then flying to LA for a delicious meal at Tar & Roses in Santa Monica (my new favorite restaurant). Here in NYC, it would be breakfast Chilaquiles at Rico’s Tacos in Sunset Park, a breezy lunch in the backyard at Franny’s in Park Slope, maybe a few small bites and some good wine at Casa Mono, and a perfect burger from Josh Capon at Burger & Barrel or Lure to close out the night. And a midnight session at the gym apparently.
What is it about small plates? What do normal portions sometimes lack?
I think it’s less about the size and more about the variety. Small or share plate restaurants allow the diner more freedom to explore the menu as a whole, and to sample more dishes that the chef has created. Normal portions in a share plate setting can work – as they do at Beauty & Essex – but in a traditional Appetizer/Entree/Dessert format it’s a little limiting. What we have done, I think, is take the “tasting menu” concept and loosened it up so that in effect, each table is choosing the tasting menu that suits them best.
What’s most special to you about the Lower East Side?
I’m in love with the mash-up of the old and new, and with the sheer variety of businesses that are in the hood. It really is, if you think about it, an extraordinarily eclectic mix of high-end boutiques, rock ‘n roll shops, tattoo parlors, hole-in-the-wall take out joints, wine bars and higher end restaurants; there truly is something here for everyone. I think the fact that the neighborhood has embraced what we do at the Stanton Social and Beauty & Essex, and also embraces all the newer small businesses and the old venerable ones – like Katz’s and the old time garment stores on Orchard Street – is a pretty spectacular and special thing.
How involved were you in the aesthetic of Beauty & Essex? Did you choose the M. Katz furniture store location?
I had my eye on that location for many years, so as soon as I heard through the grapevine that it might be available, I spoke to my partners and we jumped on it before anyone else could. Both my partners and myself were very hands on during the design process, and we would present ideas to Avroko, who would flush them out and make them functional as well as generate amazing ideas themselves. My role is obviously the chef in the partnership, but I was a part of every design step, just as my partners have tremendous say in the menu. It’s a great partnership actually: three individuals with vastly different personal tastes that come together to create something beautiful and functional.