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The John Dory


A little like Le Bernardin in blue

Address: 85 10th Ave., near 15th St.
Phone: (212) 929-4948 Seven days, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Cuisine: Seafood
Vibe: Kitschy fish shack
Occasion: Posh counter dining, date, group dinner
Don’t Miss Dishes: Razor-clam ceviche, chorizo-stuffed squid, oyster pan roast, sautéed cod milt:
Average Price: Appetizers, $16; entrées, $28; desserts, $10
Reservations: Highly recommendedThe John Dory

If you could draft a fantasy restaurant team, who would you pick? It depends on what’s on the menu, of course.

Italian? I’d take Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. British pub? I’d take Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield. (Have you eaten the deviled eggs, devils on horseback or Roquefort burger at the Spotted Pig?)

These people are first-round draft picks,
in my opinion. Together, they could open a restaurant called Dumpster,
serve trash, and people would probably line up.

So I’m not surprised that there’s a month-long wait for a table at the John Dory, which Friedman and Bloomfield opened in the Meatpacking District six weeks ago.

Picture a hybrid of every fish shack you’ve ever been to – a little Laguna, a little Key West, a little Jersey Shore, even a little Lancashire.  There’s a giant saltwater fish tank, a long bar with fishing lures
embedded in its resin, shell-studded mirrors, trophy fish on the walls,
swimming-salmon tiles, and stools upholstered in lobsters and palm

It looks like a scene from a Jimmy Buffett
hangover. At the heart of the room, there’s a diner-ish open kitchen
packed with line cooks feverishly at work. It’s tight quarters – for
them, for the servers, and for customers trying to edge their way into
the bathroom.

Really, the John Dory is the complete antithesis of Le Bernardin, the consummate and highly formal fish restaurant in midtown.

The complete antithesis, that is, except for the quality of the
cooking. But this isn’t a fish-shack menu. And the superiority of the
fish here is surprising, considering the fact that April Bloomfield is
best known for her way with pub food. She has completely changed
genres. It’s like giving up the novel for lyric poetry.

Too many chefs think of fish as a faceless
protein. She understands that texture and flavor are equally important.
I didn’t know that a swath of green-onion purée is just what razor-clam
ceviche needs.

Or that yellowtail sashimi deserves a dab
of ginger purée. Or that scallops crudo want fennel franz, a grassy
olive oil and a few pomegranate seeds.

To grasp the inventiveness of Bloomfield’s
cooking, order the pan-seared squid. She stuffs the body with a
wonderful mix of cured chorizo, chili, paella rice, onions, cannellini
and saffron. Then she sears the squid on the plancha and serves it over
a cannellini stew of sorts.

But what makes it live in your memory is
the intense smokiness of the tomato – part of the cannellini stew. The
smokiness is almost contagious. Everything catches flavor from it.

The oyster pan roast is a mind-blowing cup of soup. It tastes
naughty. And I haven’t even mentioned the sea urchin-buttered crostini
that comes with it.

There are a couple of other things on the menu that I really like –
the whole mullet with clementines and puntarella, the sautéed cod milt
and the beer-steamed shellfish. Oddly enough, I wasn’t crazy about the
whole-roasted John Dory. And the Dungeness crab had been peppered to

Those two dishes aside, the John Dory is a
little like Le Bernardin in blue jeans. The Spotted Pig is April
Bloomfield’s take on the British pub. But at the John Dory, she takes
to the sea, triumphantly.

This might explain the hurly-burly at this
fish shack. I know one of the owners, and I still had to wait an hour
and a half to get that cup of soup. Would I wait again? Oh, yeah.