May 17, 2010 | BITE: My Journal

The Lion Purrs and Licks Its Chops (CLOSED)

Lush egg-topped asparagus scarcely needs a $20 truffle trickle. Photo: Steven Richter
Lush egg-topped asparagus scarcely needs a $20 truffle trickle. Photo: Steven Richter

        It’s the 10 o’clock feeding time at The Lion and a surge of modish narcissi swarm in. We’ve been sitting since 7:30 – the unstylish hour we were unexpectedly lucky to score because our companion tonight and the man commanding the newly feverish restaurant’s datebook discovered they were both born in Singapore. I am actually charmed by the luminous glow through the glass of the graceful two-story atrium at this ungodly hour. Imagine. Light where there is so often stygian dim. We can see our food. And the biscuits are ethereal, the asparagus with soft boiled egg is lushly sensuous and the pork chop (on second try) is a singular triumph.

The reward for unstylish early birds in a room aglow in luminous light. Photo: Steven Richter

        Well, of course it will be dark by the arrival of the nocturnal nomads. We’re still on our banquette to witness the drama. You know you’re on the edge of the volcano when a slithery blonde customer kisses the hot-looking waiter on both cheeks.  “You know,” I remind my new friend, Cheryl Tan (, as do our Joan Rivers quack on the modish processional, “There are countless New Yorkers who eat out all the time and have never heard of The Lion or John DeLucie (it’s proud chef-proprietor on sabbatical from the kitchen of Waverly Inn, the West Village snub house just a few blocks away, which they never heard of either.) “Hard to believe, isn’t it.”

The lobster pot pie is as good as Waverly Inn’s chicken pot pie.  Photo: Steven Richter

        Well, the two menus, both pretty straightforward and accessible, are rather similar.  Lobster pot pie here (just as good as the chicken pot pie in the old townhouse on Bank Street where DeLucie counts himself a partner). Amish chicken is decked out for spring, the dark meat hacked up into a fabulous nectar of spring onion, ramps, wild mushroom and a lemony ooze. And a very spare $20 shaving of truffles for your asparagus - a reminder but not a replacement for Waverly’s truffled mac’n’cheese. The biscuits are actually better here. You don’t need to be a vegan to love the roasted salsify with mushrooms.

Brave enough for a medium to rare pork chop? This one is a triumph. Photo: Steven Richter

        At Waverly one night recently, with no chef in sight, the pork chop needed a saw. Actually, the Lion’s thick haunch of pork is vexing too. A server lifts the dome and a choking drift of smoke catches your throat, the chef at play. And though we asked for it medium rare to rare, it’s barely pink. Graciously the waiter takes it away. (Did I mention that I’ve been recognized?)  And the meat that replaces it – under its dome with more hacking smell of burning – is perfect, brilliantly caramelized, ever so slightly sweet, really rare.

Nothing wrong with the tuna tartare. It’s just seems a bit stingy. Photo: Steven Richter

        Some of this good stuff makes up for a few mingy portions – the stinginess of tuna tartare with pickled Asian vegetables and sweetly sticky sesame crisps, a Cobb salad that is a poor substitute for a true Cobb, a doll-size portion of scalloped potatoes, a side I couldn’t resist as my starter. The modest serving of sheep’s cheese cavatelli is actually a blessing.  The tough little nubbins sink in a greasy buerre noisette. None of us wants to eat them anyway. And would it hurt anyone (except maybe a dieter) to offer a second biscuit?

Cheesecake in a canning jar is enough for four to share. Photo: Steven Richter

        Cheesecake in a jar? Well, at least it’s a jumbo jar, enough for each of us to get a taste or three.  I like it better than the too-sweet chocolate soufflé with espresso ice cream sent as a gift by the kitchen.  As for the Nutella crepes – people who order Nutella get what they deserve.

No need to moan over a too small portion of cavatelli. It’s awful tonight. Photo: Steven Richter

        There are rumors the powers at Waverly Inn are not pleased with DeLucie’s ambition played out so close to home, even though The Lion got a nice upfront advance write-up in Vanity Fair, suggesting Graydon Carter’s magnanimity.

The sun sets and shadows veil the Lion’s great looking room. Photo: Steven Richter

        With media partners here like David Zinczenko (Men’s Health), Dan Abrams (Mediaite), and MTV’s Tony DiSanto, and an early run of celebrity warms-up with windows still taped and covered with paper so mere mortals wouldn’t see Demi and Ashton, Mary J. Blige, or Nora Ehpron, The Lion has emerged as this week’s jelly bean. I like that the name harks back to an earlier incarnation where Barbra Streisand once performed in the 60’s and the room has a graceful vintage feel.  It won’t be easy to score a spot at a time you like to eat. Locals who have no problem at all getting into Waverly Inn seem cheered by the food as they divvy up their loyalties. Certainly if you were born in Singapore, you should give it a try.

62 West 9th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. 212 353 8400. Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday to 1 am.