Entries in Neil Ferguson (4)


The Payoff: Allen & Delancey

Today, Neil Ferguson wins vindication, in the form of a rave two-star review from Frank Bruni:

In its unusual marriage of setting and style, his new restaurant, Allen & Delancey, makes a striking bid for attention. But that’s not all it has going for it.

It’s easily one of the prettiest, most comfortable places I’ve been introduced to in a while, a reminder of how crucial to an evening’s enjoyment the right visual trappings, the right amount of elbowroom and the ability to have a conversation without shouting can be…

And the food at Allen & Delancey is at once sophisticated and accessible, reliant on fail-safe luxuries deployed in a modestly creative and occasionally playful manner. It’s not entirely unlike what Mr. Ferguson was doing uptown, but context is everything.

While his approach seemed too tame and uneventful in one milieu, at one price point, it plays differently in another. At Allen & Delancey the vibe is relaxed, and all the entrees are under $30. You don’t typically get polish like this at prices like these.

We win $4, while Eater loses $1, on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $59.50   $73.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   +4.00
Total $58.50   $77.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 25–11   27–9



Rolling the Dice: Allen & Delancey

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Allen & Delancey, the place where Neil Ferguson re-surfaced after getting canned by Gordon Ramsay. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1
One Star: 2-1
Two Stars: 4-1
Three Stars: 7-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: Bruni awarded two stars to Gordon Ramsay at The London, with Ferguson running the kitchen. For a restaurant of that calibre, it was a serious smackdown. If we take that review as a general indictment of Ferguson’s talent, then it doesn’t bode well for Allen & Delancey, where the overall mise en scène can’t compete with Ramsay’s uptown palace.

But I didn’t read the Ramsay review that way. The Times star system, particularly as Bruni interprets it, weighs price very heavily. All Bruni was saying was that, at these prices (among the highest in town), he expected more culinary fireworks. Now, I thought that Bruni missed the boat at GR, even allowing for his price-weighted grading curve. But even allowing for that, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Ferguson will get slammed at Allen & Delancey.

The other way of seeing it is that, at a much gentler price point, you get a chef whom Gordon Ramsay thought was capable of earning four stars—for there is no doubt that Ramsay intended his New York restaurant to compete with the city’s very best. All of the entrées at A&D are below $30, which in this era is practically bargain pricing for a chef with Ferguson’s pedigree. Of course, that’s still no guarantee that Bruni will like it, but I’m betting that A&D’s hearty rusticity will appeal to him.

At any rate, I liked it, and while Bruni’s tastes and mine don’t always coincide, I can’t help using my own reviews as a tie-breaker—clearly not a fool-proof betting strategy!!

The Bet: It’s a close call, but we predict that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Allen & Delancey.


Allen & Delancey

[Kalina via Eater]

Note: Allen & Delancey closed in March 2010, after something like five chefs in three years. A Scottish-themed restaurant, Mary Queen of Scots, from the Highlands team, opened in November 2010.

The new restaurant Allen & Delancey had one of those star-crossed births that give restaurant owners nightmares. It was announced for the Fall of 2006 with former Craftbar chef Akhtar Nawab at the helm. Then, an investor pulled out, and the project seemed dead…or was it?

A year later, Allen & Delancey has finally opened, with Neil Ferguson in the kitchen. Ferguson is the chef that was canned after the critics demolished Gordon Ramsay at the London. Ramsay is still alive and kicking with a new chef de cuisine, while at A&D you can enjoy, at less than half the price, the chef whom Gordon Ramsay thought was capable of earning four stars.

The space has been beautifully decked out, but it’s so dark you should bring a flashlight to read the menu. Ferguson keeps things simple, with just seven appetizers ($12–18) and seven entrées ($22–29). The similarity to the menu at Gordon Ramsay is striking: not a lot of fireworks, but simple things are done well.

allendelancey01a.jpg allendelancey01b.jpg
Terrine of Guinea Hen (left); Cabbage, Beef and Onion (right)

My girlfriend and I both started with the Terrine of Guinea Hen, Smoked Ham Knuckle, Foie Gras, and Beetroot ($18). It takes a sure hand to make all of those ingredients work, but Ferguson managed it.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen Cabbage, Beef and Onion ($29), had not the server recommended it. This is the kind of dish that got Ferguson in trouble at Gordon Ramsay. It’s a technically impeccable presentation that doesn’t have much oomph. I was pleased with it, but perhaps some people will say that it doesn’t deserve to be a nearly $30 entrée.

The major critics have yet to weigh in on Allen & Delancey. The staff, who are all excited about the restaurant, mentioned that both Adam Platt and Frank Bruni visited earlier in the week. I can only hope that Ferguson gets a fair shake this time. Allen & Delancey deserves to succeed.

Allen & Delancey (115 Allen Street at Delancey Street, Lower East Side)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


Gordon Ramsay at The London

Note: Gordon Ramsay at The London closed in October 2014. Local professional reviews were uniformly terrible, but the restaurant had two Michelin stars for most of its run, losing them only in its final year. The New York media paid practically no attention after the opening period, but somehow it remained open for eight years, outlasting many other imports, including two Alain Ducasse fine-dining restaurants, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and Adour, both of which had far more critical acclaim than Ramsay.

The visit described below was from the restaurant’s early days, with founding chef Neil Ferguson, who was quickly fired after bad reviews. We paid a later visit in 2007, where we had a “Master Class” meal prepared by Ferguson’s replacement, Josh Emett. Later on, Markus Glocker took over; he later moved to Bâtard, where he earned a Michelin star.



Gordon Ramsay at The London Hotel is the latest New York restaurant vying for four stars from the Times and three from Michelin. The loudmouth chef already operates what is arguably the best restaurant in London (the three-star Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road), along with a bunch of others, including The Savoy Grill, which I visited last summer.

The pathway to hell is littered with chefs that opened New York restaurants with four-star aspirations, only to fall short. We’ll have to wait till late 2007 for the Michelin Guide, but Frank Bruni in the Times and Adam Platt in New York both delivered withering two-star smackdowns to Gordon Ramsay.

Meanwhile, plenty of people are making reservations to find out for themselves. It isn’t quite the hot ticket that Per Se was (and still is), but prime times nevertheless fill up quickly. I booked my date at Ramsay exactly two full months in advance, and a 6:15 p.m. reservation was the best I could get.

Ramsay offers two seven-course tasting menus at $110 or a three-course prix fixe at $80. While no one would call it inexpensive, it a bargain compared to other top-echelon New York restaurants. Had the major reviews been favorable, I suspect these prices would have gone up promptly. Now, perhaps they’ll be stable for a while.

I was keen to order the tasting menu, which Ramsay calls the “Menu Prestige.” My friend chose the vegetarian tasting menu, and we tried a few bites of each other’s plates, so I got a pretty good idea of what Ramsay’s cuisine is about. There aren’t any “Wow!” dishes, but there are no duds either. It is very classical and correct cooking, all executed to a high standard.

The bread service came in two flights. First, there were slices of crisp bread with two spreads: cream cheese and foie gras. I could do with plenty more of that foie gras spread. There was also a choice of sourdough or multi-grain bread with unsalted butter.

This was the tasting menu:

  1. Amuse bouche: White bean and mushroom soup with black truffle. Served in an capuccino cup with the soup whipped in a foam, in fact resembling capuccino.

  2. Pressed foie gras and game with port sauce and pickled mushrooms. A rather unmemorable terrine.

  3. Lobster ravioli with celery root cream and shellfish vinaigrette. An excellent dish, and I would have liked more of it.

  4. Striped bass fillet with pak choi and caviar velouté. Probably the highlight of the meal.

  5. Roast cannon of lamb with candied onions, confit tomatoes and marjoram jus. A peculiarly named dish, and for no good reason. There were several slices of rack of lamb, off the bone, and 8-hour braised lamb shoulder. My friend, who usually does not touch lamb, enthused about the braised shoulder, saying it was “the kind of lamb I could eat.”

  6. Cheese cart. Not as impressive as at several other high-end restaurants (e.g. Chanterelle, Picholine), but certainly very respectable, and I thoroughly enjoyed all that I had.

  7. Apriocot soufflé with Amaretto ice cream. A can’t-miss dessert.

The vegetable tasting menu had the following:

  1. Amuse bouche: Vegetable soup
  2. Marinated beetroot with ricotta and pine nut dressing
  3. Sweet onion gratin with Parmigiano Reggiano
  4. Cep risotto with shaved truffles
  5. Chef’s Preparation, seasonal vegetables
  6. Chocolate mousse [substitution]
  7. Apricot soufflé with Amaretto ice cream

My friend’s two favorites were the amuse bouche (which, like mine, came in a small coffee cup) and the chef’s preparation of seasonal vegetables. You wouldn’t think a plate of sautéed vegetables could stand up as an entree, but Ramsay made it work, and my friend couldn’t stop singing its praises. The kitchen was also happy to accommodate my friend’s request for a substitution, as neither of the standard choices for the sixth course (grilled pineapple or the cheese cart) appealed to her.

I requested a wine pairing, and the sommelier did an excellent job for $60 each. We hadn’t discussed price, and I actually expected him to come in considerably higher than he did.

Service was friendly and generally excellent, with only minor flaws that at a less-expensive restaurant one wouldn’t even bother to notice. Our meal took a bit more than two hours, which seemed just a tad rushed. It’s difficult to pace a tasting menu, and this one needed a bit more leisure. At one point I asked a server to slow down, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.

The room is comfortable and elegant, with tables widely spaced, and heavily padded armchairs to sit in. Our table would have been large enough for a party of four at many restaurants. 

After dinner, we were offered a tour of the kitchen. It is a huge space, as the same kitchen is responsible for the main dining room, the adjoining London Bar (a casual “tapas” restaurant), and I believe the hotel’s room service operation as well. Everything is immaculate, and you can easily see why they are proud to show it off. We walked by the chef’s table that blogger Augieland raved about. I’m sure the guests there are fed like kings, but with servers and touring diners constantly walking by, it’s no place for privacy.

Ramsay did not earn the coveted four-star ranking from Frank Bruni. The Times critic has been on the job for 2½ years, and has yet to award four stars to a restaurant that opened on his watch. (For the record, Bruni was the first to rate Per Se and Masa, but they were already open before he landed the job. His other four-star write-ups have been re-reviews.) Surely he is itching to pull the trigger. But Bruni has made it clear that he has little interest in traditional formality. Bruni also has the modern critical bias (shared with many others) against restaurants that do classic things well without generating a lot of excitement.

I have only one meal to go on, but if I were reviewing for the Times, I would have awarded three stars. In its elegance and polish, Gordon Ramsay is in some respects better than many of the three-star restaurants I’ve visited, but it doesn’t have the “Wow!” factor that the best restaurants deliver.

Gordon Ramsay at The London (151 W. 54th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues, West Midtown)

Food: ★★★
Service: ★★★
Ambiance: ★★★½
Overall: ★★★