Bacon finds its way in to all manner of dishes on Skeens new menu, from a lobster salad to roasted squash with cashews, and even the burger, which is a unique blend of beef flap, beef cheek and pork fatback. But in addition to his proclivity for the use of pork fat, Skeen has also increased his employment of deep fat frying. Pork toast, for example, an euphemistically named but delicious appetizer, is actually breaded and fried shredded pig cheeks topped with egg salad and caviar. Similarly a charcroute plate littered with almost every part of the pig - feet, head, ribs and shoulder - also features deep-fried pork belly and fried potatoes.
It not all meat: in fact, some of the other offerings are equally compelling. A creamy sunchoke soup is strewn with grilled endive and sprinkled with hazelnuts. It is ideal for the fall - hearty and nourishing. A gnocchi dotted with perfectly poached morsels of shrimp and ensconced in a velvety lemon sauce, delicate in texture yet assertive in flavor, is one of the highlights of the menu. So too, is a succulent half chicken with a crisp, Parmesan sprinkled crust aided and abetted by an artichoke barigoule.
The roasted Four Story Hills rib-eye for two, a staple at Resto, has been re-enlisted by Skeen and the dish is every bit as captivating. Bold and beefy, with a sharp Roquefort-like tang by virtue of its 36 day dry age, the flesh is ethereally tender even though the kitchen turned it out closer to medium than the requested rare. Inexcusable on a $120 cut but who would want to wait another 45 minutes for a re-fire? If there was one area in which the menu faltered it was in the dessert. A flaccid cheesecake lacked vivaciousness although the accompanying huckleberry compote was lovely. A monolithic slab of blondie over-matched the ice cream, fudge and bourbon caramel that attempted to blanket it.
Skeen has clearly evolved, whether by virtue of having a freer hand over the menu or less geographic restrictions for his inspiration or both, since his tenure at Resto. His dishes are more ambitious and consequently so is the reward when they emerge triumphant, which they mostly do. The cornerstone of the menu remains pork but Skeen has shown himself adept at crafting compelling dishes without the use of it. Clearly Skeen is a talent and if the progression he has demonstrated thus far continues his future looks bright indeed.
Service at the Irving Mill was effusive and friendly throughout and the room, with its high exposed rafter ceiling and rustic knickknacks, is a charming example of the bourgeois vision of agrarian life. Speaking of rustic, a ladybug, unexpected in late October, buzzed past my table during wine service. It turned out to be the owner's daughter in Halloween costume, her brother Frankenstein in tow. Had Skeen designed his costume he would probably have been dressed as a pig.
116 E. 16th St.
(bet. Irving Pl. & Park Ave. S.)