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


lfg said...

Had the Juan Gil at Casa Mono on Thursday. Thought it was a great buy and incredibly tasty. They were selling it for $40 I think though...

bellastraniera said...

Hmm... that's cause enough to hit Casa Mono, I think!