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The Payoff: The John Dory

Today, Frank Bruni awarded two stars to the John Dory, in a surprisingly muted review:

[Ken] Friedman is credited as the decorator, and it’s as if he went on eBay, typed in “fish décor” and bought and made use of everything that popped up. It’s all very “Finding Nemo,” or maybe losing Nemo, because the impact of this visual chaos — ratcheted up by an open kitchen that is a distraction too many — can be to give you a maritime migraine and tug your focus from the edible fish that are the purpose and point of the project.

Nemo gets lost in another sense as well. In Ms. Bloomfield’s laudable determination not to treat seafood as lean and pristine cuisine, she sometimes goes too far, for example dousing the restaurant’s namesake dish, a whole roasted John Dory for two, with not just a salty salsa verde but also an audaciously generous measure of butter and other pan juices. Although gorgeously cooked, the fish becomes almost incidental. Dungeness crab, meanwhile, is bombarded by a black pepper sauce.

There were more complaints than he usually incorporates in a two-star review, unless it’s a three-star aspirant gone bad. I suppose it means that Bruni seriously considered awarding three stars, and felt obligated to give the reasons why not. We thought the John Dory was very obviously a two-star place from the get-go, but we hear Chef April Bloomfield was disappointed.

The trouble is that when Bruni gives three stars to marginal places, every chef thinks it can happen to them, even though their restaurant lacks most of the amenities a three-star place should have. The John Dory is a two-star restaurant—in the good sense—and has nothing to be ashamed of:

Ms. Bloomfield’s revel in richness and big flavors pays off. Two in particular stand out: this restaurant’s answers to the gnudi that Ms. Bloomfield made famous at the Spotted Pig. Only they’re more adventurous, and possibly even more enjoyable.

One of them, an appetizer labeled an oyster pan roast, is essentially a thick, garlicky, intense bisque in which several of the plumpest, most tender oysters imaginable loll. But even that’s not the whole of it. With the bisque comes crostini covered in overlapping petals of a pale orange purée of uni, butter and salt. If Poseidon had a preferred canapé, this would be it.

The other marquee dish, an entree, involves several large, seared bulbs of squid that are stuffed, as the menu promises, with chorizo. But once again the menu is indulging in understatement. The chorizo is joined by Bomba rice, saffron and more: a veritable paella’s worth of ingredients, and a very fine paella at that.

We are back on the winning track this week, winning $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bet. Eater loses a dollar.

  Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $109.50   $126.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   +3.00
Total $108.50   $129.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 50–25   52–23


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