Irving Mill

Some restaurants seem destined for women. Take any man over 5'9" to the diminutive Cafe Cluny, for instance, and the results are almost comical. One wrong move and several dainty cafe tables, botanical displays in glass cases, and neighboring female diners are in danger of tumbling to the floor.

Some restaurants seem made for men. Not because the waiters toss around a Saran-wrapped hunk of red meat or offer dozens of beers on tap - Irving Mill does neither of these things. But take in the oversize scale of the restaurant - from the front bar room so roomy it could induce agoraphobia, to the wagon wheel decoration scheme, to the massive (3,000 pounds!) millstone of a bar table - and you might be reminded of the old testosterone-laden Bill Murray Hercules SNL skit. ("That boulder is too large. I could lift a smaller one.")

The hype surrounding the opening of Irving Mill has been even bigger. Huge space off Union Square, under construction for a year! The chef from Gramercy Tavern! Celebrity investors like Benjamin Bratt! On the night we visited, Town Cars and Suburbans (the new Town Car) loitered out front. And now even Chelsea Clinton is going there.

Expectations were running high - maybe too high. When the food turned out to be not mind-blowing (as alpha wino Robert Parker would put it) but merely good, we were disappointed. The setting had more guts than the celery root "chowder," which came off as comparatively wimpy - bland, and not substantive enough to live up to the hype. Unfortunately, this set the tone for much of the fare at Irving Mill.

Recent Page Six reports have it that a server at Irving Mill was fired because he brought Chelsea Clinton the wrong appetizer. No such mix-up occurred with us; if anything, we had too many very attentive people waiting on us, to the point that we couldn't figure out who was the server, the hostess, the sommelier, the manager, the busboy, or another person hovering whose job we didn't quite know. Despite the service overkill, this white bean dip and bread, right, didn't appear on the (huge) table until we'd been there a half hour. It was very good, though it had a confusing number of thingamabobs on top.

Chicken liver crostini were also good, though they recalled the lament, "What am I, chopped liver?" Compared to a richer pate or foie gras, these were just chopped liver. Perhaps looking for the essence of the Greenmarket fare he's serving, chef John Schaefer tends to err on the side of oversimplification. All you have to do is look at the sheep's milk ricotta salad with a few marinated mushrooms buried beneath to understand it: WYSIWYG. We longed for more pizazz.

Entrees fared better, with the grilled pork chop with cabbage, spaetzle and pickled mustard seed winning for best of the bunch. Let's hope more of these interesting pickled and marinated ingredients arrive on Schaefer's (massive) table, because they push his New American cuisine into a more inventive zone. And spaetzle is the homily elegant comfort food of the day.

Beef short ribs braised in stout were satisfying, but not particularly craveable. A lot of appetizing things were added to the mix at serving time - nubbly farro, roasted tomatoes, marrow, and horseradish cream - but there could have been a little more invention earlier on in the cooking process to give the ribs some extra oomph. They cried out for garlic, onion, shallots, salt, pepper - something. There's almost nothing you can throw at short ribs that they can't take.

Atlantic codfish was bland. That may be what you get for ordering cod, but it sounded so exciting on the page - served with artichokes, spinach, and chanterelles. When it arrived, it looked pretty, but it was just cod with artichokes, spinach, and chanterelles.

Did we expect too much? Did we not try enough? (There were five of us dining, and we all concurred on the verdict.) What makes a dish leap off the menu and become not just a list of ingredients but an exciting new creation? There's a bit of magic involved that Irving Mill's namesake Washington Irving understood. Let's hope Irving Mill takes a page from him - and not just as writing on the (supersized) banquettes.

Irving Mill
116 East 16th Street, between Union Square East and Irving Place


Madison Avenue and 60th Street

Shoppers and fashionable people travel the route between Barneys and Bergdorf's on a November afternoon.

Leather accessories in beautiful fall colors.
Three young women exchange a taxi.
Schoolgirls - one with trench coat and cell phone.
Woolen shorts.
Traveling in style with bicycle and briefcase.
Man with scarves and family.
Metallic bag.
Black crocodile Birkin bag.
A well-tailored coat.

Black leather jackets can be hard for guys to pull off, but this one does it with panache by mixing it with preppy picks.
Tina Brown with Goyard bag.
Family of three.
Fluorescent soled sneakers.
Jamee Gregory pops in yellow.
Wide-legged pants and winter white coat.
An interesting mix of color.



Burger blowhards are everywhere these days. Just as every Ray's Pizza calls itself "the original," every place that can scoop together a handful of ground meat and throw it on a grill likes to call their burger "the best."

After a disappointingly diminutive burger at Resto and a misfired one at Bar Marmont, I was getting ready to give up. A victim of false advertising, I actually believed Bar Marmont's menu when it touted the restaurant's own burger as a "darn good burger." The presumptuousness in the name seems akin to Bruni's pet peeve, wherein "eat" is interchangeable with "enjoy" in every waiter's vocabulary. ("Are you done enjoying that?") There's also a fashion equivalent. A girl walking down Robertson Boulevard last month sported an outsize tee shirt that read "THIS IS WHY I'M HOT." If you have to say so...

Then providence intervened in the form of Keens. High Maintenance, Fang Shui et al. ended up at Keens at the eleventh hour before a Bruce Springsteen show. The place was packed. We had no reservations. The maitre d' was merciful. If we ordered quickly, we could be in and out of the wood paneled, clubby pub room before the Boss went on.

If you don't know Keens, you're most likely female. Nearly every male in a fifty mile radius has been to historic Keens over the last 100 years. Not only are they famous for their steaks, they're also known as a prime bachelor party destination. The ceilings are decorated with hundreds of clay pipes of bachelors past, when the place was a major hangout spot for gentlemen and actresses like "Miss Keens" in the nude portrait above the bar.

Burgers can be wolfed down in a shorter time than steaks, so High Maintenance and I went for those. The "Lady Burger" is a sort of diet plate adaptation of the traditional burger, with no bun and sauteed potatoes instead of fries. This seemed interesting enough to try and showcased the meat itself, which had a deep, grassy flavor on par with aged sirloin, though it's just prime beef chuck, very freshly ground.

High Maintenance wisely ordered the regular cheeseburger and fortunately only ate half of it, so that I took other half. Finally - a great burger. Both burger and bun had a nice char from the grill. Cheddar cheese was melted to an oozy glaze. Technically, the burger was slightly smaller than the bun, but it's so juicy that once you sandwich it together with crisp lettuce, tomato and red onion and saw the whole thing in half, it all melds into a coherent circle. Best of all, there was nothing weird about it. Chef Bill Rodgers saw no need to substitute a regular bun with some kind of hardened brioche or swap out cheddar for herbed goat cheese. Nothing kills a good burger like creativity. Chefs should go as wild as they want with other American classics like meatloaf or even pancakes, but please leave burgers alone.

Other standout items on the Keens pub menu are the salty-sweet, plump oysters on the half shell, crisp, just slightly greasy fries, and the perfectly mixed martinis. This is one place that knows about kickin' it old school.

With all the burger places and gastropubs opening, it's easy to forget that steakhouses are an excellent source for burgers. The pub room at Keens is better than a go-to place before a show or game at Madison Square Garden - it should be on every carnivore's must-eat list.

Keens Steakhouse
72 West 36th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
New York, New York


Young Lions Dance Party

And now for something completely different: party pictures. The crowd at the New York Public Library's Young Lions benefit last night was not just young but glamorous. F. Scott Fitzgerald would have approved.

Red lips.
An elegant tux for a black tie event.
A preview of winter white.
There were lots of black sequined dresses on hand. Also note the resurgence of black pantyhose - hers with sparkle.
Red corduroy blazer and Belgian loafers, plus another little black dress.
One of the more fashion forward looks of the evening.
WASP culture.
Print and another sequined LBD.
It was nice to see this splash of color - and another white dress.


Allen & Delancey

A friend, let's call him Twann, has a brilliant phrase I wish I could use more often. It is:

N.F.P.™ n. A recently discovered restaurant or bar deemed to be one's New Favorite Place. Example: Q: "How was [such and such]?" A:"Definitely going back. N.F.P."

Unfortunately, in these pop-up store and spin-off restaurant times, there are very few places that can score such a lasting place in your own personal canon. Fortunately, Allen & Delancey is one of those places. The curtained storefront on a nowheres-ville street may remind you of another famous LES place, especially when you note the Town Cars lingering out front. Like WD-50 in olden days, Allen & Delancey has the mystique and the culinary muscle to make a big impact on the New York food scene.

Of course, I'm biased. Marie Fromage and I were two of the few people who liked Neil Ferguson's cooking when he was the chef at Gordon Ramsay. In an era dominated by gimmicky theme restaurants, Ferguson's subtlety on the plate was lost on the critics. He's just British, people. It's an understated approach. Unlike Ramsay himself, Ferguson isn't going to hit you over the head with anything, which maybe, in the end, is a good thing.

The English touches here are apparent from the moment you walk in the door. The atmosphere, which can best be described as haute bohemian, combines posh elements like a bar topped with reflective black glass with homey ones like the thrift-store bookshelves hung behind it to hold the liquor bottles. Exposed rafters form a trompe l'oeil with the help of a mirror, and various doo-dads occupy the walls. Is that a bridle hanger thingy from a stable next to that vintage print? Who knows. But it all adds up to a luxe city-country feel. The crowd is young enough to appreciate Allen & Delancey's chic but old enough to afford it. Tall, thin, well-dressed women and the men who squire them about town mill in the bar area, waiting for their tables. Another guy twiddles with his drink straw and quietly sings along to Pink Martini - in French. You get the idea.

The menu starts with the seasonal-ingredients-
and-organ-meat motif and elevates it to a more sophisticated plane. Why have just bone marrow, when you could have bone marrow topped with caviar? The sweet fattiness of the marrow melts on your tongue, dissipating only when you hit the salty crunch of the caviar. It's beyond. Only when we'd nearly finished the dish did we notice it came with toasts, which we deemed an unnecessary distraction in light of the excellence of the dish.

Portions are generous, like the skin roasted Spanish mackerel appetizer, which Marie Fromage called entree-sized. I liked all of the flavors here, though the huge chunk of fish was a little difficult to manipulate. Would it have been easier to eat with a smaller size fishy fish, like sardines or white anchovies? Either way, the fishy fish and bacon were two great tastes together in one. (Look out of the fish + pork trend. It's a nice segue from the all-pork-all-the-time trend and should carry us smoothly into winter.) Something revolutionary lurks under the fish: bacon gnocchi. Those are gnocchi that have been sauteed in bacon fat. Need I say N.F.P.?

Ferguson brings French technique and ingredients to English country food. Lamb chops are infused with the flavor of persillade - a minced mixture of fresh herbs and garlic - and set atop a rich potato puree. This tasted very slow-food, as if it had been braised for hours. Allen & Delancey's lamb was the best I'd tasted since Yves Camdeborde's gigot at Le Comptoir in Paris.

Moulard Duck Magret manages to be both subtle and decadent. A marinade you can't quite place infuses the duck with flavors of fruit, spices and wine that complement the slight gaminess of the meat. There's a stealth sweetness to this dish that's accentuated by a brilliant twist on foie gras. Why just have foie gras when you can have foie gras foie sprinkled with large crystals of a rare breed of sugar? Crazy good.

A well-thought-out wine list holds some excellent finds at a range of prices, like the $46 2005 Juan Gil Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain. Let's hope this appears on more wine lists in the near future.

Dessert took an intellectual turn with the milk chocolate cremeux with a pistachio biscuit and olive oil ice cream, which was an interesting experiment in different densities and levels of sweetness. The chocolate mousse was the best of the bunch.

Of course, there's a downside to telling people about an N.F.P., or even what "N.F.P.™" means. Other people may make it their N.F.P. too. Then they tell people, who tell other people, and before you know it you can't get into your N.F.P. anymore. It's almost enough to make you hesitate to tell anyone about N.F.P.'s.... almost.

Allen & Delancey
115 Allen Street at Delancey Street
New York, New York