Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 28 March 2012
The John Dory Oyster Bar: A Restaurant Review

The John Dory Oyster Bar
1196 Broadway near 29th Street, Midtown West, (212) 792-9000
Getting There: N,R,W,1 to 28th Street

With its surrounding corner windows, its upscale casual vibe, and an array of colorful seating and underwater décor encompassing the interior, The John Dory Oyster Bar is an ideal setup for a business lunch with colleagues or a more intimate preface to an evening out in the City. Adjacent to the lobby of Midtown West’s Ace Hotel and just feet away from The Breslin, as the name would indicate, John Dory eschews the heavy cuts of lamb and beef for more creative (yet pricey) and inventive fare from the sea.

The restaurant is equipped with two separate bars- an eye catching oyster bar, showing off the fresh varietals on ice, and a cocktail bar that features a bevy of in house created liquor concoctions. The dinner time feel is distinctly exciting. The John Dory carries with it an understated energy, as the dim lighting shines upon the many tables in the dining area quickly filling up with refined clientele. After a short wait at the bar, chatting up some friendly patrons, we were ushered to our table smack in the middle of the space with cocktails in hand (“The Lawrence Welk” ($13) was a big winner).

Portions at the John Dory are relatively small and are designed to be shared. Hence, you won’t find an “entrees” or “main courses” section anywhere on the menu. In their stead, comes selections from the aforementioned raw bar, bar snacks, crudo, and small plates, which are the closest thing to a single serve portion you’ll find. Being a relative oyster novice, we opted against the “shellfish plateau,” ($50) and instead worked with our server on 3 oysters a piece ($3 each) from the east and west coast and the “parsley and anchovy toast” ($4) to get us started. The oysters were tasty and succulent, slurped down with a lemon squeeze, while the toast left a little bit more to be desired. The overwhelming parsley and fishy flavors were a bit overboard and detracted from, instead of complementing, the tasty bread, relegating the dish to fail to live up to our initial expectations. On the other hand the “Vermont burrata” ($19) was outstanding. The creamy, pillowy cheese was mouthwatering on its own and paired nicely atop the same toast, flavored incredibly with crispy potato straws.

Tasting every portion of the menu was important to us and as such the “Spanish mackerel” ($15) crudo was recommended by our server. Served with blood oranges and gaeta olives, the diminutive dish certainly was flavorful, but the bite sized portions were disappointing. On the other end of the spectrum however, sat the “oyster pan roast with uni butter crostini” ($15) which was in a word- off the charts. The salty, rich broth and supremely savory oysters combined for a ‘go out of your way to taste this’ experience and made the visit to the John Dory entirely worthwhile. The toasted, crunchy bread proved essential for lapping up every drop of the delicious soup and even at $15, the dish was impeccably crafted and superior to anything else that touched our lips on this night. A close second however would go to the perfectly cooked “wild striped bass” ($22). Plated over a tasty bed of broccoli rabe and shitake mushrooms, the generous cut of fish easily pulled apart with every touch of the fork and the salty and seasoned skin and tender fish paired brilliantly with the fresh vegetables.

Finding a restaurant in New York City with an affordable raw bar outside of happy hour is something which doesn’t seem to exist. And since that fact is so widely accepted, the prices at The John Dory Oyster Bar are hardly exorbitant. Much of the fare here was outstanding, with little in the way of underwhelming flavor, and the experience of dining here is truly unique in that Manhattan simply has a dearth of restaurants with the same Boston-like, authentic oyster bar feel. The John Dory doesn’t take reservations but you can get away with stopping by on a whim, grabbing a seat at the bar, and drinking in the place’s distinctive ambiance. And suck down an oyster or two while you’re at it.

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