99 Stanton Street (Orchard & Ludlow St)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 995-0099
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Chris Santos
2nd Cuisine: Eclectic
Area: East Village
One of my favorite things about going to weddings…well, wait, let me rephrase. One of the ONLY things I like about going to weddings (other than witnessing the joyful bliss known as wedlock) is the cocktail hour. (Especially weddings at The Pierre. They do a nice job over there.) While dinner is usually some dreadful combination of dry salmon, rubbery chicken, or well-done (choke) steak, the cocktail hour is usually a lovely affair involving a flurry amuse bouche-styled snacks. It is also usually the point at which I try and assess the crowd (read: confirm that I am indeed the only single person left on the planet other than the recently divorced male who hails from Iowa and is lookin’ for a lady to take home with him to mind the kids), and then hang out by the bar-—alone. The point of all this is nonsense is this: I love hors d’oeurves. And I am not ashamed to admit that I can often be found hovering by the kitchen door waiting for the pigs in blankets. These pups go fast people. You need a plan to get at them.
And so the menu at Stanton Social—owned by Peter Kane, chef Chris Santos and Rich Wolf (Tao)—immediately made me smile. Not just because Chris, whom I have adored since his days at Wyanoka, is in the kitchen, and not just because AvroKO designed the soaring and stunning duplex space (if you have not read my article on them for New York Magazine yet, click on articles and check it out), but because the menu allows you to have your very own little hors d’oeuvres hour, basically a seated cocktail party, while tucked into one of AvroKO’s cozy Genie-in-a-bottle-styled banquettes. (Plus you can go with your friends, and not have to make small talk with some ill-suited wedding date.)
I have been to Stanton Social about a half-dozen times now, and clearly I have a problem because I cannot stop eating when I am there. Santos’ food is scrumptious and addictive, and speaks to the restaurant’s “social club” concept in its take and pass feeding plan, and nods to the era of the social club with modern riffs on dishes like Oysters Rockefeller and Beef Wellington, and just to make sure the LES gets some play, Potato Perogies and Essex Street Pickles.
One of the first nights I was there, with my trusty Team Food—Jamie and Susie, plus our best guy friend Court—we assaulted the menu with eyes too wide for our stomachs. We started with French Onion Soup Dumplings ($9)—a Chinatown twist on the classic soup that delivers a dose of hot onion soup inside a golf ball-sized dumpling, topped with a blanket of gooey gruyere cheese. We popped them in our mouths and pretty much on cue all rolled our eyes back into our heads. Clearly we were all aroused. Ditto the Red Snapper Fish Tacos ($9)—flaky chunks of snapper flecked with chiles, lime, cilantro, and fired up with a spicy mango and avocado salsa, tucked neatly into crunchy homemade mini corn tortillas. These disappeared way too quickly. The Crispy Oysters Rockefeller—breaded and deep fried oysters—are not necessarily oyster-like after they are fried. But we didn’t really care. These pancake-sized fry babies were crispy and greaseless and topped with creamed compound butter of traditional Rockefeller garnishes—watercress, parsley, Pernod, and chives. We bickered like siblings over the last of the Duck Empanadas ($9)—aggressively (but nicely) seasoned shredded duck stuffed into a deep pastry envelope, served with a blood orange dipping sauce. (We kept the sauce on the table throughout the evening to use for anything else that might come our way. It was smashing.)
Santos replaces traditional crab cakes with fat fried paella cakes fashioned from lobster, chorizo, artichokes and saffron-scented rice ($12). Jamie and Susie finished them pretty quickly, leaving Court and I to start in on the chicken and cashew spring rolls ($7), lean crunchy cylinders with a syrupy sweet and sour sauce. These are definitely worth a few orders for the table, as are the piping hot, super crispy on the outside, fluffy potato on the inside perogies with caramelized onions and sour cream ($7).
On another night, our cross-cultural cocktail party began with a couple of pizzetas—a pair of crisp flat bread planks—one topped with the milky fresh buffalo mozzarella, with cherry tomatoes and torn basil ($9), and another more uptown version, quilted in smoky bacon, bleu cheese, and truffle honey ($12).
We then moved onto The Stanton Social Beef Wellington ($19)—a luscious hunk ‘a filet mignon, smothered in a duxelle of mushrooms and wrapped in a golden case of buttery puff pastry. But the Nori-Crusted Tuna ($11) was sort of average, as were the Tuna Satays. The slider combo, however—a sweet little assortment of brioche bunned mini-burgers—Kobe beef ($5), pulled pork ($5), and lobster roll ($6)—were spectacular and a lot of silly fun. After the sliders were inhaled, we had one last dish—the Lamb Shank Tacos ($15)—tender ropes of braised shank meat, surprisingly rich flavor, served with a pile of warm tortillas and a salad bar of fresh salsas, beans, and relish, that Susie commented were almost as good as at Baja Fresh (her favorite chain in Southern California).
While we could not move from our food orgy, we did manage to squeeze in one dessert—the Stanton Social Cookie Plate—stocked like a cookie jar from heaven with homemade Oreos, gooey chocolate chip cookies, and mini-black and whites that are smothered in fudge-like ganache. Yum.
Now, as you can probably tell, I really like Stanton Social. It is stunning to look at and a lot of fun to eat in, but Per Se it is not. It can get loud in there (though Peter Kane’s soundtrack is stellar), and the upstairs lounge often feels like a petting zoo for fetching twenty- and thirty-somethings. Not a bad thing, but if it’s an intimate evening of haute cuisine you are looking for, Stanton Social is not your place. This is a spot for festive cocktails, for parties of four (or preferably more) with appetites for laughter, and loads of delicious little bites. To me, it is a fabulous cocktail party that goes on for many hours and does not require a wedding gift (or date).
Review By: Andrea Strong