The John Dory Oyster Bar

1196 Broadway New York, NY 10001(212) 792-9000 •  thejohndory.com

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After having read that they offer the best whole fish in the city, I have to say I was a bit miffed when I got there and there was no such option to be found anywhere on the menu. Which is especially effed up when you have a name like John Dory and you don’t even serve the damn fish! But as deflated as I was by the “bait and switch,” I quickly perked back up when the oysters hit the table. Six East Coast, six west coast and all twelve were awesome. Fresh, not too briny. Shucked by pros, so not a shell fragment to be seen and served up with a genius jalapeno mignonette. Horseradish was also in the house, but no cocktail sauce or vinegar. And I gotta say, neither were missed, because both options really let the mollusks shine, without overpowering them.

Having nearly forgotten all about whole fish-maggeddon, the distractions continued with the Spanish mackerel crudo served in a cup of squid crackling and spiced chili. It was quite fabulous. So much so that I started to question the 3 star yelp consensus (not that it’s the first time, of course).

And that’s when the entrees arrived and things started to make more sense. The octopus, while good, didn’t quite reach great, and even at its best, was only made so with yummy additions like Bottarga, olives and the potatoes, which were surprisingly key for this dish. On the other hand, there was no saving the Beer, Lamb & Clam. Great name, but that’s about the nicest thing I can say for it. It’s basically a bowl of steamed clams with a crushed tomato sauce that vaguely resembles notes of beer.

For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding is quite good, reminding me a bit of the one you’ll find one block over at L&W Oyster Co. Granted it’s bigger, just not better. And therein lies the rub, with L&W so close by, I’m not sure I’d pick the John Dory over it 9 times out of 10. But if you’re craving a change of pace, it’s pouring rain or freezing cold and every block matters, or you simply can’t get a table at L&W, then I say jump in with both feet. You could do a helluva lot worse.

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Vin Sur Vingt

1140 Broadway New York, NY 10001(646) 922-7700vinsur20nyc.com

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Apparently the name means “Wine on Twenty” in French, but considering it’s on Broadway and 26th either the owners are very bad at counting or it’s a play on words that also means “top notch.”

Well, top notch might be a bit of a reach, but Vin is most certainly worth the visit. Cute and cozy in size, it feels like something you might stumble upon on one of Paris’ cobbled backstreets. The waiters are authentically French, without being authentically rude, which is also a nice plus. And as for the menu, it’s very reasonably priced (rare in New York), but it’s also very catered toward smaller bites to be enjoyed along side a glass of wine, so if you’re craving a feast you will be sorely disappointed. The food, however, will not disappoint.

Classics like French onion soup, nicoise salad and tart tatin were all very strong. As good or better than many of its peers in the city.

Another strong dish was the duck tartine with marmalade. So tres bon (very good) it was enough to make Paddington Bear swoon for a nibble.

The only miss were the oysters of all things. One was served chipped, with bits of shell all over the mollusk and another tasted VERY fishy, which is a big no-no in oyster land. Fortunately I didn’t get sick. Won’t being risking it again here, especially when you’ve got L&W Oyster CO. right around the corner serving up dreams on the half-shell. But oysters aside, Vin is still a win.

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The Ultimate Lobster Roll

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I know I’ll probably catch some grief for not having a single New England establishment amongst these, but the only one that would’ve made it no longer exists, at Harborside, Osterville, MA (RIP). Sorry, NE, you may have created it, but New York perfected it.

Pearl Oyster Bar – New York, NY

I have been going to Pearl ever since it was a one-table restaurant and a bar. Oh, and the owners were still in love. Since then, the owners split up and the place blew up (now about 20+ tables). But the good news is that in all of this time Pearl never lost its way. Their lobster roll continues to be the bomb. The standard to which all others are held in my book. And I’ve been all up in New England, on Cape Cod, etc… And there was one other that bested Pearl. But then they closed. And closed don’t count in Ultimates. But I digress.

What makes Pearl so damn fine is that they don’t over do it with mayo and herbs and spices. But they don’t underdo it either, making it feel too much like a lump of lobster meat in a hotdog bun. They also give you a ton, making it feel mildly worth its hefty price tag. And with a well poured pint of Guinness, there are few things on this earth that compare.

Red Hook Lobster Pound – Brooklyn, NY

Now after praising the shit out of Pearl’s lobster roll I’m about to sound like a giant hypocrite, and that’s because I am. But no more than anyone else I suppose. I’m human. And I love to contradict myself. Even within the very same post. Like now. Because Red Hook Lobster Pound’s Connecticut-Style is so good, it’s contradiction worthy. A little on the small side, however, but don’t let it’s diminutive footprint fool you. It’s more filling than you’d expect, primarily because it’s done up with warm butter as opposed to cold mayo. They also toss in a sprinkle of paprika and then top it with freshly chopped parsley and the net outcome is a lobster roll incomparable to so many others, because the flavor spectrum is just so vastly different. Like apples and oranges. But make no mistake, this is one friggin’ good apple.

L&W Oyster Co. – New York, NY

Technically this isn’t a lobster roll. It’s a sandwich. And more specifically a lobster BLT. But more specifically than that, it’s OMFW (Oh My Fucking Wow). Served on a buttery toast, as opposed to a “hot dog bun,” which I’m not sure is required by the official lobster roll commission of Maine (if that even exists), then they spread a killer sriachi aioli and top it off with bacon, lettuce and tomato obviously. But what isn’t so obvious is how much one man can truly love a sandwich.

The Mermaid Inn

After having made this initial post so many people clamored on about Luke’s Lobster and how it deserved to be on this list so I finally tried it, and well, as you can see, Luke’s still isn’t making the cut on my update either. That said, just a few blocks away there is a very similar roll, clean and simple, like Luke’s. With a nice hint of vinegar, like Luke’s and that one IS making the list.  Mermaid somehow manages to play subtly like a seasoning virtuoso, allowing the lobster to shine in all of its lobstery glory, and yet still brings a little somethin’ somethin’ to the party with the most artful restraint. And thus, edging out Luke’s by a nose.