Angus McIndoe

As any humble (or seemingly humble) actor will tell you, so much of making it in the theater depends on being in the right place at the right time. So I felt especially fortunate when I happened to be at a restaurant on 44th Street when the entire cast of The History Boys stopped in for a pint after their last performance, the one I had just seen, with a television crew trailing behind. Angus McIndoe was exactly the right place to be.

An upscale Scottish pub, Angus McIndoe (pronounced MAC-indoo) was the subject of a Times story when Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane first starred in The Producers. They ate at Angus McIndoe nearly every night, and when Nathan Lane couldn't make it to the restaurant itself, he ordered in. Whenever Angus McIndoe, the eponymous owner, called to see how Nathan Lane's meal was, he replied, "Surprisingly good."

The food is in fact surprisingly good for the theater district, where most restaurants have no qualms about keeping it mediocre, presumably thinking they won't ever see these damn tourists again. But Angus McIndoe is the sort of place people come to once, then again, then over and over, not just because the food is good - though a little uneven - but because each night there is a frisson of behind-the-scenes excitement. You can almost imagine Eve Harrington stopping by for a drink - or poisoning Bette Davis'. After the shows, many of the stars arrive for a late dinner, and beforehand, the real producers fill the seats.

With all of this hullabaloo, it's fortunate that wine is always served immediately and as a quartino, so pre-theater diners don't have to suffer anxiety pangs wondering if they'll be able to order a second glass of wine before they have to bolt. Upstairs and downstairs are equally entertaining places to sit, depending on the hour - upstairs is better later.

On a preliminary visit for this review, I find the food not as surprisingly good as I remembered, however, perhaps because the kitchen is serving a large private party on the top floor at the same time. The all-day breakfast plate, which has been reliable in the past, doesn't thrill like the first time. The pork-apricot sausages that sound so good on the menu seem pre-cooked and warmed over, and the "potato scone" prompts my friend to say, "This isn't a scone. This is fried mashed potatoes." Overall she pronounces the dish "all right." The tasting plate, part of the nightly special menu, manages to be uneven all on one plate. The country pork paté with cornichons could be my new favorite, but the smoked salmon is bland and the grilled shrimp smells fishy. The hamburger with Boursin cheese sounds intriguing. There is a little too much Boursin caked on top when it arrives, but it's a nice combination, and the burger itself is great - ground sirloin with a little Worcestershire sauce thrown in, just to add a touch of Great Britain to the mix.

On another day at lunch with a friend who works for a certain newspaper whose Times Square offices are right above Angus McIndoe, the kitchen is running on an even keel. We have oysters similar to Kumamotos, with the same fluted shell and delicate, sweet taste. The presentation on a bed of chipped ice is very pleasing, though not so for the shrimp cocktail, which is served a plate of rather sad mesclun. Neither of us likes the chipotle dip that comes with the shrimp alongside the usual cocktail sauce, but then again, I am a traditionalist and don't tend to encourage things like chipotle sauce with shrimp cocktail. We also order chili with our three seafood appetizers, and the waitress doesn't blink an eye, perhaps assuming we are stoned.

The chili is good, fired under a broiler until the cheddar cheese melts on top, then sprinkled with crispy bits of bacon that really make the dish. It adds the same crunchy texture crackers would, but with the bonus of contributing flavor. The pork chop is not as exciting, and my friend calls it "a little dry." I blame the matinee ladies. It is Wednesday, after all, and hordes of tourists have just eaten here, probably demanding pork chops cooked to at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This chop is a little pink but not alarmingly so. I don't think it's half bad, but it's not as good as the pan-roasted free-range chicken, pounded thin like chicken paillard and seared on the outside, juicy within. The mashed potatoes that accompany it are so smooth and buttery I would almost accuse them of being fakes, if they were not Angus McIndoe's, which, though it is not Irish, does know its potatoes. Any guilt from eating mounds of mashed potatoes can be assuaged by forking up the garlicky sauteed kale served alongside.

The phenomenal steamed mussels with bacon and peas are the pinnacle of the meal, the pinnacle of any of my meals at Angus McIndoe over the years. The mussels themselves are little and sweet, dunked in a creamy sauce flavored by the thin, limp folds of bacon and fresh peas. I devour nearly the entire thing myself and start dreaming of the next Copycat Chef recipe...

The History Boys don't show up for this meal or for the one before. They come to Angus McIndoe when I'm there by chance, because we're looking for a good place to have an after-theater drink in the neighborhood, and Angus McIndoe is a good place. It's this kind of loyalty, almost reflexive at times, that can pay off in the theater district, where sometimes kismet is of your own making.

Angus McIndoe
258 West 44th Street
between Eighth Avenue and Broadway

Corrections amended: A Mr. McIndoe wrote in to inform this geographically-challenged American that Angus McIndoe is in fact Scottish, not Irish, which I would have realized had I carefully reread the Times article cited. Therefore, some phrasing in this review has been changed from "Irish" to "Scottish," "of or belonging to Great Britain," or simply "not Irish." Gastro Chic is horribly embarrassed by the error.