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Where to Eat 2008


Second Acts

Allen & Delancey  

What do the city’s gifted young cooks do when they grow weary of being screamed at all day by their excitable superstar bosses? They take jobs running small kitchens in far-flung, soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods, where they can do some screaming of their own. Take Neil Ferguson, who, after years of abuse at the hands of that famous culinary lunatic Gordon Ramsay, has found peace, tranquillity, and a measure of respect at Allen & Delancey, on the Lower East Side. The raffish, deceptively stylish restaurant has a candlelit bar area up front, where you can buy all sorts of advanced mixological creations. But the real reason for trekking down to Allen Street is Ferguson’s cooking, which includes delicate iterations of stodgy European classics like bone marrow dressed with caviar and a purée of shallots, crunchy-skinned slices of Moulard duck, and a combination of lamb (braised neck and parsley-covered chop, over a buttery potato purée) that’s as good as any lamb dish at Ramsay’s star-crossed venture uptown.

During the twelve long years he spent as a kitchen slave in the Jean-Georges empire, Josh Eden earned the prison-yard nickname “Shorty.” Now he’s finally on the outside, working a hot little no-reservations joint of his own called Shorty’s.32. Arrive early to secure a table in the crowded, speakeasy-style space, and be sure to order Shorty’s gourmet riffs on classic comfort-food dishes, like golden roasted country chicken served with fried garlic and mashed potatoes, baked skate smothered in tomatoes and bacon, and the braised short ribs, which Shorty pairs with giant prison-yard-style helpings of his sinfully rich macaroni and cheese. You’ll also find good short ribs on the menu at Irving Mill, just off Union Square, where the kitchen is run by John Schaefer, who toiled for many years at Gramercy Tavern. The rabbit ragout is the great delicacy at this Danny Meyer–inspired establishment, although if it’s lunchtime, order the excellent house hamburger, which Schaefer sets on a dainty English muffin and adorns, in classic Haute Barnyard style, with a hint of sherried onions.

Harold Dieterle endured tours in various pressure-cooker kitchens around town, then survived the withering critiques of Tom Colicchio and his super-chef sidekicks to win the ludicrously popular, maddeningly addictive reality-TV show Top Chef. After all this chaos, it’s not surprising that his own West Village restaurant, Perilla, is a peaceful, neighborly space, with a scuffed bar up front and a row of comfortable, dimly lit banquettes stretching into the back of the room. Like all accomplished chefs of his generation, Dieterle serves up a respectable rendition of seared Berkshire-pork belly, as well as platoons of spicy duck meatballs served with a single quail egg decorously broken over the top. But if you’re wise, you’ll order one of his inventive, upscale dishes, like steamed red snapper with chanterelles, and the skillet-braised cuttlefish, which Dieterle sinks in a seafood reduction buttery and smooth enough to induce in even the most volatile kitchen screamer a stunned, admiring silence.

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