I expected a lot from Irving Mill. It’s the first solo venture by John A. Schaefer, who was executive chef at Gramercy Tavern for six years, including the period when it won a Michelin star. Early reviews have been mixed, but I figured a former Gramercy Tavern guy would offer a menu with more hits than misses.
Alas, we were underwhelmed at Irving Mill. Most of what we had was merely adequate. I have to figure that better things are in store here, but our meal there offered little reason to go back.
And that’s really too bad, because the service was as good as I’ve seen at a casual restaurant in a long time. We know Schaefer is a Danny Meyer alumnus, but the front-of-house must be too. I had to pinch myself when they offered to seat me before my girlfriend arrived. At most busy restaurants below three stars—and Irving Mill is very busy—the usual line is, “You’re welcome to wait at the bar until your party is complete.” And when my girlfriend ordered a Whiskey Sour “not too sour,” the server checked back twice to ensure it was exactly the way she wanted it.
The décor is rustic chic, but not in a cynical way: you feel instantly at home. Like Gramercy Tavern, there is a front room that doesn’t take reservations. Tables in the main dining room have been tough to come by lately, but I think the novelty will wear off if the food remains this undistinguished.
The seasonal menu, which I suspect will become more expensive over time, offers appetizers ($10–16), entrées ($25–28), side dishes ($7), and a so-called tasting menu ($54) which is really just a four-course prix-fixe. There are 21 wines by the glass, most of them $12 or less.
I started with the New Zealand Cockles Stew ($12; above left), which I don’t recommend. The cockle shells yielded tiny flavorless pea-sized chunks of meat, the chorizo was tough as leather, and the broth insipid. My girlfriend had the Cauliflower Ravioli ($15), which I didn’t taste, but was the meal’s only true highlight.
Roasted Arctic Char ($28; above right) was somewhat better. I liked the contrast of the crisp skin and the tender flesh underneath, but lentils, cabbage, and a red wine reduction added nothing to the dish. My girlfriend’s Grilled Pork Chop ($26) seemed under-sized, and it wasn’t much improved by accompaniments of red cabbage, spaetzle and mustard seed.
I would very much like to think that Schaefer can do better. In such a lovely setting with such polished service, I certainly hope so.
Irving Mill (116 E. 16th Street between Union Square & Irving Place)
Amuse-bouche: Goat cheese
and olive tapenade