The Wren

“Go ahead and grab a table.”

These words, spoken offhandedly by our server, could have knocked us over with a feather on the first night we dined at the Wren. It appeared that this newish place might not be like the rest of the new Noho establishments that claim to be “neighborhood” restaurants, where you can usually expect an hour or more wait followed by a bill of $70 or more per person. Multiply this by the amount of visits it takes to become a regular to skip the hour and or more wait, and the only “neighbors” in the so-called neighborhood place are the very wealthy.  (more…)

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Usually when friends want to go out to dinner, “British” is not on their top list of desired cuisines. Nevertheless, the buzz about British restaurant Whitehall has been building since it opened six months ago, and it’s full almost every night. We stopped by recently to see what gives.  (more…)

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One of the best things about dining in New York is following the diaspora of kitchen talent from one key restaurant to its contemporaries. April Bloomfield (herself a grad of London’s River Cafe, like Jamie Oliver) has launched several chefs from the seminal gastropub the Spotted Pig, including Nate Smith, formerly of Dean Street and now the proprietor of Allswell in Williamsburg.

Allswell isn’t direct copy, so don’t come here looking for the Spotted Pig II. There are similarities, like the quirky British decor – cutesy mismatched wallpaper (surprisingly feminine for a male-owned pub), exposed wood beams, inexplicable bric a brac, those famously uncomfortable stools, but a bar you could really settle into. The space is populated with patrons who’ve mastered a particular brand of studied cool, like the Spotted Pig before it hit hundreds of guide books. But the menu and the setting feel personal and distinct.  (more…)

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The John Dory Oyster Bar

If April Bloomfield were a fashion icon instead of a chef, she would surely be a maximalist along the lines of Anna Dello Russo or Daphne Guinness. Just as those two specialize in outrageous outfits that elicit stares of utter disbelief, Bloomfield serves up food that makes you want to put down your fork and say: No she didn’t.

Dining Room, the John Dory Oyster Bar

A pot full of pigs’ feet? A bowl full of liquified butter? A bag full of fried pork skin? Yes, yes and yes. Her fearlessness in the kitchen makes it surprising to hear a note of vulnerability in a recent profile in the New Yorker, as she wondered if there was too much butter in the fare at the original John Dory on Tenth Avenue, paraphrasing a New York Times review she’d apparently memorized. But fans of her maximalist culinary style will respond: of course it can be over the top – that’s the whole point. (more…)

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The Fat Radish

When fashion people heartily endorse a restaurant, one’s suspicions are immediately aroused. Do they serve actual food there? Or merely a substance one can push around the plate while admiring the crowd, as at Indochine or Monkey Bar? This is a tribe that espouses the joy of cooking with sugar substitutes and raw cacao nibs, a tribe that professes to actually like the taste of kombucha. So when the praise started rolling in for new, vegetal-themed British restaurant the Fat Radish, we had to go experience it for ourselves.

Interior, the Fat Radish

Rest assured, the “fat” in name is merely playful, so you can still wear your skinny jeans here. Owned by the people behind Silkstone, a catering company that caters largely to – surprise! – the fashion industry, the Fat Radish skews towards British food. Not like the Breslin, however: there’s nary a pig’s foot in sight. Instead the array of greens and legumes on the menu speaks to the fact that that the Brits were into this organic, locally-sourced thing way before we were. Look at Prince Charles and his cute little vegetable garden! (more…)

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The Breslin

The Breslin is a restaurant for people who like to eat. That may sound redundant, but given the lengths to which some restaurants go to accommodate picky eaters (an entrée of “steamed vegetables with boiled egg” at one downtown spot comes to mind), the Breslin embraces food with genuine gusto.

April Bloomfield, the Breslin

Granted, chef April Bloomfield’s British pub fare is extreme cuisine. Bacon-wrapped eggs, stuffed pig’s foot and fried head cheese are all on the menu, should you be craving them. But there’s also sea bass, chicken (aka poussin) and some excellent salads if you’re not a particularly adventurous diner. The menu—and the food—almost seeks to provoke: the “onion and bone marrow soup with parmesan toast” ($10) turns out to be a particularly meaty, velvety riff on French onion soup, with the bone marrow only adding to a beefy flavor that already existed in the original. Tread carefully, but do not be afraid. (more…)

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Brinkley’s may be new, but this pubby Nolita spot has an old-school preppy vibe, with Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers playing on the stereo. Outfitted with a huge backlit bar, subway-tiled dining room, and horseshoe-shaped banquettes good for parties of six, Brinkley’s draws a similar bankers-and-ex-debs crowd as Southside downstairs.

Brinkley's, Exterior

Still, there’s a downtown edge to the darkly lit space with industrial light fixtures, vintage prints on the wall, and coy wallpaper in the bathrooms with illustrations of farm animal breeds (including an “Improved Tennessee Sheep”). It’s as if your old friend Dorrian grew up, developed some taste in food and decor and moved to a loft downtown. (more…)

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Angus McIndoe

As any humble (or seemingly humble) actor will tell you, so much of making it in the theater depends on being in the right place at the right time. So I felt especially fortunate when I happened to be at a restaurant on 44th Street when the entire cast of The History Boys stopped in for a pint after their last performance, the one I had just seen, with a television crew trailing behind. Angus McIndoe was exactly the right place to be.

An upscale Scottish pub, Angus McIndoe (pronounced MAC-indoo) was the subject of a Times story when Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane first starred in The Producers. They ate at Angus McIndoe nearly every night, and when Nathan Lane couldn’t make it to the restaurant itself, he ordered in. Whenever Angus McIndoe, the eponymous owner, called to see how Nathan Lane’s meal was, he replied, “Surprisingly good.”

The food is in fact surprisingly good for the theater district, where most restaurants have no qualms about keeping it mediocre, presumably thinking they won’t ever see these damn tourists again. But Angus McIndoe is the sort of place people come to once, then again, then over and over, not just because the food is good – though a little uneven – but because each night there is a frisson of behind-the-scenes excitement. You can almost imagine Eve Harrington stopping by for a drink – or poisoning Bette Davis’. After the shows, many of the stars arrive for a late dinner, and beforehand, the real producers fill the seats.

With all of this hullabaloo, it’s fortunate that wine is always served immediately and as a quartino, so pre-theater diners don’t have to suffer anxiety pangs wondering if they’ll be able to order a second glass of wine before they have to bolt. Upstairs and downstairs are equally entertaining places to sit, depending on the hour – upstairs is better later.

On a preliminary visit for this review, I find the food not as surprisingly good as I remembered, however, perhaps because the kitchen is serving a large private party on the top floor at the same time. The all-day breakfast plate, which has been reliable in the past, doesn’t thrill like the first time. The pork-apricot sausages that sound so good on the menu seem pre-cooked and warmed over, and the “potato scone” prompts my friend to say, “This isn’t a scone. This is fried mashed potatoes.” Overall she pronounces the dish “all right.” The tasting plate, part of the nightly special menu, manages to be uneven all on one plate. The country pork pat&#233 with cornichons could be my new favorite, but the smoked salmon is bland and the grilled shrimp smells fishy. The hamburger with Boursin cheese sounds intriguing. There is a little too much Boursin caked on top when it arrives, but it’s a nice combination, and the burger itself is great – ground sirloin with a little Worcestershire sauce thrown in, just to add a touch of Great Britain to the mix.

On another day at lunch with a friend who works for a certain newspaper whose Times Square offices are right above Angus McIndoe, the kitchen is running on an even keel. We have oysters similar to Kumamotos, with the same fluted shell and delicate, sweet taste. The presentation on a bed of chipped ice is very pleasing, though not so for the shrimp cocktail, which is served a plate of rather sad mesclun. Neither of us likes the chipotle dip that comes with the shrimp alongside the usual cocktail sauce, but then again, I am a traditionalist and don’t tend to encourage things like chipotle sauce with shrimp cocktail. We also order chili with our three seafood appetizers, and the waitress doesn’t blink an eye, perhaps assuming we are stoned.

The chili is good, fired under a broiler until the cheddar cheese melts on top, then sprinkled with crispy bits of bacon that really make the dish. It adds the same crunchy texture crackers would, but with the bonus of contributing flavor. The pork chop is not as exciting, and my friend calls it “a little dry.” I blame the matinee ladies. It is Wednesday, after all, and hordes of tourists have just eaten here, probably demanding pork chops cooked to at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This chop is a little pink but not alarmingly so. I don’t think it’s half bad, but it’s not as good as the pan-roasted free-range chicken, pounded thin like chicken paillard and seared on the outside, juicy within. The mashed potatoes that accompany it are so smooth and buttery I would almost accuse them of being fakes, if they were not Angus McIndoe’s, which, though it is not Irish, does know its potatoes. Any guilt from eating mounds of mashed potatoes can be assuaged by forking up the garlicky sauteed kale served alongside.

The phenomenal steamed mussels with bacon and peas are the pinnacle of the meal, the pinnacle of any of my meals at Angus McIndoe over the years. The mussels themselves are little and sweet, dunked in a creamy sauce flavored by the thin, limp folds of bacon and fresh peas. I devour nearly the entire thing myself and start dreaming of the next Copycat Chef recipe…

The History Boys don’t show up for this meal or for the one before. They come to Angus McIndoe when I’m there by chance, because we’re looking for a good place to have an after-theater drink in the neighborhood, and Angus McIndoe is a good place. It’s this kind of loyalty, almost reflexive at times, that can pay off in the theater district, where sometimes kismet is of your own making.

Angus McIndoe
258 West 44th Street
between Eighth Avenue and Broadway

Corrections amended: A Mr. McIndoe wrote in to inform this geographically-challenged American that Angus McIndoe is in fact Scottish, not Irish, which I would have realized had I carefully reread the Times article cited. Therefore, some phrasing in this review has been changed from “Irish” to “Scottish,” “of or belonging to Great Britain,” or simply “not Irish.” Gastro Chic is horribly embarrassed by the error.

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