The sweetbread raviolo was the only dish I didn’t like. The pasta is rubbery, and none of the silkiness of sweetbreads is in evidence because they are chopped up as a filling. The ravioli runs aground on a nubbly bolognese sauce; savoy cabbage and a plethora of slivered carrots make this a bit of a shipwreck.
But the cod is sensational. How does Ferguson do it? The skin is papery and crisp, the flesh melting. The fish comes with ratatouille vegetables, not in a swamp, as is so often the case, but cooked separately—roast tomatoes, roast shallots, olives, fennel, artichokes, eggplant, confit lemon—each retaining its distinctive flavor, all brought together in a red wine sauce.
Pork belly has become a cliché, but Ferguson makes it new. The meat is slow-roasted and served with pickled pear, roasted parsnips, fenugreek syrup and a delicate parsnip foam that adds another layer of taste without making the dish heavy. Beef with cabbage is a cunning postmodern reworking of the dish my Scots-Irish grandmother used to make: a leaf of savoy cabbage stuffed with braised beef, and an onion filled with cabbage, both served along with a square of pommes dauphinoise and a square of medium-rare steak.
Desserts include a fine puff pastry apple tart, glazed pineapple wrapped in filo with angelica ice cream and candied celery, and a scoop of creamy milk-chocolate mousse served with a moist pistachio biscuit and olive oil ice cream. No egg creams, alas.
While it’s certainly not your grandfather’s Lower East Side, it’s not yet your grandson’s, either. One evening, sitting at a table in the front of the packed and lively dining room, I could see all the way down the long hall to the front door, which is made of plate glass. It was an incongruous sight. A bus had stopped outside and people were getting off.
At Allen & Delancey, there may be foie gras and caviar and $12 glasses of wine. But there’s still a bus, not a limo, outside the front door.