Sunlight shines willingly through the westward-facing windows at Private Social as beverage director Rocco Milano quickly but deliberately manufactures a Big Apple – a cocktail in the vein of a Manhattan, though concocted with apple whiskey and dandelion bitters. As he shakes, Milano freely explains the process and the drink.
“It’s going to be done to Manhattan proportions, but since we’re going to use apple whiskey and serve it over an ice sphere, I thought the name was very, very appropriate,” he says as he displays a globe of ice with a two-inch diameter. “We’re going to start with Leopold Brother’s Apple Whiskey, a small match distiller out of Denver, Colorado. They crush New York apples and then ferment the runoff – it’s absolutely exquisite stuff. Then, some Dolin Rouge and then dandelion bitters.”
As Milano explains, the drinks at the restaurant become representative of The Social. Across the restaurant are the dark-wood dining tables, shaded from the sunlight and graced by the soft touch of the over head lamps above them: The Private. And while the two different sides of the restaurant may have their own unique characteristics, a shared experience of comfort and ease resonates through them both, as they are tied together through food, drink, and Tiffany Derry.
“I want people to feel comfortable. Yeah, it’s a little jazzy, but there are definitely some warm tones; when you walk in the door I want you to instantly feel comfortable,” says Derry, who along with business partners Patrick Halbert and Andy Austin launched Private Social last year. “I want the service to be overwhelming. I want people to be just like this is an extension of their home. Then they can really sit down and enjoy their meal.”
It is Derry, whose 2010 exploits on Bravo’s Top Chef are well documented, who gives Private Social its unique character. Yes, her personality is welcoming and warm, but her menu and culinary philosophy provide an identity to the restaurant that leaves quite the impression on the diner. Kona Kampachi, Oysters Rockefeller, Peking (Style) Duck Breast and Fried Green Tomatoes all dot the dinner menu, while the ‘social’ side presents treats along the lines of Potato Croquettes, Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Top Chef Pork Buns. Derry’s geographic realms know few bounds.
“I would describe the food as global cuisine. I’ve studied a little bit in France and China, and of course all over the US,” she says. “But at the end of the day, I am a little Southern girl who loves all types of cuisines. And so that’s kind of just what I do – I put them all together.”
The array and scope of the dishes also help to provide an accessible menu to diners who may not be adventurous. It allows Derry to extend some kitchen creativity while also ensuring that any diner at her restaurant can find something that appeals to him or her.
“You have to find the line – I can do a couple of dishes that I think are forward-moving, but then I still have to do some things that are familiar; things that people understand,” she says. “Because I do want to have a place where everybody can come. The more food-savvy person can find an interesting dish, and the people who really just want a piece of fried chicken can get that. But they don’t know that their fried chicken isn’t done like any other fried chicken. Let’s just say duck fat fried chicken and leave it at that.”
What Derry has created is a restaurant that can appeal to both those seeking the upscale dining experience or those merely looking for a good bite and a drink after work. With Milano’s handiwork with the beverages and a happy hour from 3-7 p.m. each weekday featuring one of his 12 cocktails, Private Social can be a big draw to those simply seeking to unwind.
Regardless of her customers’ motivations, though, they can rest assured that as Derry makes her way through the culinary world, she’s going to be bringing back bits and pieces of it to her place in Uptown.
“You know what? I went to Paris in March. And when I came back again, guess what – I wanted to change the menu because I wanted people to experience what I had just experienced,” she says with a laugh.
As it turns out, she’s providing an experience all her own.