East Side Social Club: Not Quite Monkey Bar Lite


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“Let’s meet here,” I had said, noting an Eater.com post that called the new East Side Social Club “a sleek sexy spot for the Monkey Bar rejects.”

My “been everywhere” friend Bob’s immediate response? “I never get rejected at the Monkey Bar.”

Good point.

Even so, East Side Social Club held some intrigue. Opened by Billy Gilroy (owner of Macao and Employees Only), with celebrity photographer Patrick McMullen as an investor and Devon Gilroy, who’s clocked time at Chanterelle and A Voce, helming the kitchen, the restaurant had generated plenty of buzz well before its doors officially opened last week.

The menu was designed to be Italian, with some modern American dishes with a locavore bent tossed in. And the cocktails, given Papa Gilroy’s other establishments, promised to be interesting.

We had no big complaints about either, really — the price and the ambience, however, were another matter altogether.

If you’re expecting anything like the fashionable, genteel comfort of modern supper clubs like Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar, you’re going to be a little disappointed.

For starters, East Side Social Club’s ambience really is more akin to the chain restaurant Buca di Beppo’s.

There are the red, checkered tablecloths calculated to telegraph old-school Italian as well as framed black and white photos and crannies packed with what could pass as artifacts of some bygone social club.

It’s also not that much quieter than boisterous Buca di Beppos — from the moment we sat down, we knew we were going to be a little hoarse by the time we left. It was so loud the three of us at the table had to shout at one another simply to discuss our dinner choices.

A cocktail seemed to be in order.

I started with the Blood & Sand — Scotch shaken with orange juice, vermouth and cherry liqueur, served straight up. The flavors were delicious together — and it signaled a good start to the meal. 

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Moving onto the eats, an $11 starter of hearty, juicy roasted acorn squash (pictured at the top) came with the delicious accompaniments of sheep’s milk ricotta, brown butter and sage.

And the $12 beet salad with pistachios and a slab of taleggio, topped with citrus vinaigrette was satisfying, even if the vinaigrette wasn’t terribly flavorful. 

One nit, however — the taleggio could have been a little softer and warmer. The elements on the plate would have meshed better if it didn’t feel so stiff that it felt as if it had been taken out of a very cold fridge just seconds before.

(You’ll have to pardon the fuzzy pictures — my camera has been
doing this thing where it appears to be splitting down the middle,
which makes photo-taking a little hairy at times.)

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Gnocchi with a bolognese ragu ($17) came with a giant dollop of creamy ricotta — this wasn’t anything special. But, as basic Italian comfort food goes, this was done fairly nicely.

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My favorite, however, was the Berkshire pork chop with chanterelle mushrooms, chestnuts and farro ($28). The pork was tender, juicy and perfectly done, with the pairing of a sauce that was not too creamy or heavy. 

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As we watched our plates getting cleared, however, we felt as if something was missing.

The food hadn’t been bad — although, factoring in how standard and generally not-terribly-mind-blowing they were, we weren’t sure that it had all been entirely worth the prices.

And, we’d also spent the evening leaning over the table, speaking very, very loudly to one another. Not exactly a place that’s conducive to appreciating what’s on your plate.

As the bill was settled, Bob surmised what might fill the hole we all felt. 

So out we walked, trekking up just a few blocks.

At the Monkey Bar, a smiling man in uniform opened the door for us. We took our seats in a comfortable booth and when our drinks arrived, we raised our glasses, glad at being able to hear one another yet again.

And just when I was thinking, “We should have just come here for dinner,” Richard Belzer (of “Law & Order: SVU”), one of my favorite actors, walked by.

I was right.

East Side Social Club, 230 E. 51st Street, New York, N.Y., Tel. No: 212.355.9442, www.esscnyc.com

Monkey Bar, 60 E. 54th Street, New York, N.Y., Tel. No: 212.308.2950

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