“Where have you brought me?” asked my companion, stepping onto an empty plastic water bottle as he alighted from the cab. He hadn’t been down to this part of the Lower East Side for years. Well, things have changed. At the intersection of Allen and Delancey Streets, there is the obligatory Starbucks, and the old tenement building at 115 Allen has a penthouse priced just under $4.5 million.
As the old but prescient Lorenz Hart song Manhattan goes: “It’s very fancy on old Delancey Street, you know …”.
Another friend was seated at the long black glass candle-lit bar in the front when we walked in. She was staring down at a thimbleful of white wine. “This is what they give you for $12.”
“True,” responded the bartender. “But I did offer to top it up.”
The two dining rooms at Allen & Delancey, which has been a year in the making, remind me of the Old Drovers Inn upstate, all ye olde worlde atmosphere, with dripping candles, beamed ceilings, bare brick walls and plank floors. There are shelves of books, knickknacks and old photographs, flea market paintings, cleverly placed mirrors, wine racks (behind glass for temperature control) and candles, candles everywhere. It’s sexy and romantic, especially in the back room, which has round green leather banquettes and dark walnut paneling. The staff is dressed in black.
The kitchen is headed by Neil Ferguson, who worked for a decade for Gordon Ramsay and was the chef de cuisine at the latter’s eponymous restaurant when it opened in New York last year. But after a lukewarm review from The Times’ Frank Bruni, Ramsay told Ferguson to chef off, complaining later that he’d been too nice to the staff.
Happily for us, Ferguson stayed in America. His menu at Allen & Delancey—trendily served on a clipboard—is classic Anglo-French, with touches of the Irish, German and Jewish cooking of the immigrant Lower East Side. So dinner begins with a bagel roll and a bacon roll.
In recent days I’ve had my fill, so to speak, of tiny tasting plates, so it was a pleasure for a change to sit down to a three-course meal, especially with food of this caliber. The caramelized bone marrow is a great way to start. It’s served out of the bone, cut in a dainty, unctuous rectangle topped with beads of paddlefish caviar. The marrow is first poached in a beef brisket and oxtail consommé, and then caramelized. It comes with a shallot purée and a gastrique—or thick reduction sauce—of crunchy chopped cornichons, and it’s wonderful.
There are chunks of foie gras in the terrine, nestling alongside pieces of guinea hen and smoked ham knuckle. Foie gras also accompanies a main course of moulard duck magret, meaty and rare, with turnip confit and, interestingly, buttered radishes and a ham gastrique.
Like any good cook, Ferguson knows that a touch of ham or bacon does wonders for a dish. He tosses tiny leeks in a vinaigrette laced with truffled fingerling potatoes and shavings of prosciutto. Prosciutto also wraps braised fluke fillet, served with parsley root and cauliflower cream, while bacon gnocchi accompany a wedge of skin-on mackerel, an apple and apple cider vinaigrette cutting the grease.
On the lighter side, you can begin with juicy seared sea scallops with braised cippollini onions, celery root cream and cubes of celery, or a simple plate of thinly shaved hamachi, dotted with pink grapefruit beads and slivers of pickled fennel bulb.