Entries in John Dory (5)


NYC's Ten Most Disappointing New Restaurants of 2010

In a previous post, I listed my top ten new restaurants of 2010. Now, here are my top ten disappointments. The list ranges from those that were truly bad (Kenmare), to those that merely failed to live up to outsized expectations (Lincoln).

As before, the list is based on my actual experiences at the restaurants, not what others have said, what the chefs are theoretically capable of, or what may have changed since I visited. Some of these places will eventually earn return visits, but remember: I’m spending my own money. I usually wait a while before giving a second chance.

1. Lincoln. No restaurant opened with higher expectations than the new luxe Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center with former Per Se chef Jonathan Benno. I’ve read reports of some great meals here, but ours was mediocre, and most of the pro critics were unimpressed. The space is terrible, and that can’t be fixed, but Benno won’t go down without a fight. If Lincoln is the year’s biggest disappointment, it’s also the one most likely to improve.

2. Colicchio & Sons. Coming from a chef with Tom Colicchio’s pedigree, this place figured to be excellent. But Colicchio botched the roll-out, opening with an à la carte menu, switching to an expensive prix fixe after just a month in business, and then switching back less than a month later. Practically all the reviews were negative, except for a bizarre trifecta from Sam Sifton of the Times. The restaurant is now off the radar, and we’ve heard nothing that would justify a return visit.

3. John Dory Oyster Bar. The re-located April Bloomfield/Ken Friedman seafood place bears no comparison to the original John Dory, which was in a poor location, but was otherwise a very good restaurant. Our meal here wasn’t bad, but it’s nowhere near what this team is capable of. Let’s hope that April is able to find her mojo, as she has done at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin.

4. Kenmare. This Italian restaurant from chef Joey Campanaro was probably the worst new restaurant we visited in 2010. Given Campanaro’s track record (Little Owl, Market Table, and before that The Harrison and Pace), who would have expected it to be this bad? Was ever a “consulting” gig more phoned-in than this one?

5. Zengo. This restaurant, built on the site of four failed Jeffrey Chodorow places, is so comically bad that the critics couldn’t even bring themselves to review it. The Latin–Asian fusion concept is unfocused and poorly executed. The nominal chef, Richard Sandoval, has fifteen restaurants in five U. S. cities and three countries. This one never got the attention it needed.

6. Lotus of Siam. This is the New York branch of a legendary Las Vegas standout, which Gourmet critic Jonathan Gold anointed the “best Thai restaurant in North America.” But none of the Las Vegas staff moved to New York: the original chef spent just a few weeks training the New York staff, and then went back home. The result is a watered-down version of the original. It’s such a pity to see a great opportunity missed.

7. Bar Basque. I had high hopes for this place, despite the involvement of Jeffrey Chodorow, who builds failed restaurants at a prolific pace. There’s a serious chef here, and a number of critics have had better meals than we did. But there is no getting around the Chodorrific service and the irritating space. Over/under on a new chef or concept: 18 months.

8. The Lambs Club. This was supposed to be Geoffrey Zakarian’s big comeback, after his pair of three-star standouts, Town and Country, imploded after long declines. Our meal here did not live up to Zakarian’s talents, to the space, or to the excellent service team. On the first night of service, we saw Zakarian dining at Lincoln, which tells you how committed he is to the project. We’ll be giving a pass to his other new restaurant, The National.

9. Nuela. This pan-Latin restaurant was in gestation so long that the original chef, Douglas Rodriguez, gave up. With Adam Schop now in charge, we found an overly long menu (60+ items) with far too many duds, a horrific décor and an overly-loud sound track. This restaurant concept was sorely in need of an editor.

10. Plein Sud. Here’s another case of missing expectations. Plein Sud offers serviceable comfort food, but chef Ed Cotton (who made it to the finals of Top Chef Season 7) did far, far better work at Veritas and BLT Market.


John Dory Oyster Bar

The John Dory Oyster Bar should come with a disclaimer: all similarities to the outfit formerly named the John Dory are purely coincidental.

Once upon a time, chef April Bloomfield and business partner Ken Friedman opened a damned fine restaurant called the John Dory in far Southwest Chelsea, on the same block as Del Posto, Colicchio & Sons, and Morimoto. It got mostly favorable reviews (two stars from both Frank Bruni and yours truly).

In a move that no one saw coming, the restaurant closed after just nine months. Friedman gave multiple explanations for why it failed. (We’ve heard others that we can’t repeat.) In essence, he says that the business model counted on a heavy all-day walk-in trade, which is absent in that neighborhood. It’s an understandable mistake, coming from a team whose other places—the Spotted Pig, the Rusty Knot, and the Breslin—don’t take reservations.

Now called an Oyster Bar, the John Dory has re-opened in a corner of the Ace Hotel, the same boutique that’s home to the Breslin. Located just south of Madison Square Garden, Penn Station, and the Herald Square shopping district, it should have no trouble attracting the foot traffic that was lacking in the old location.

Some of the old Dory’s over-the-top fish décor made the trip upstream, er, uptown, but it is done far more tastefully here. With high ceilings and panoramic picture windows, it no longer looks like, as Frank Bruni put it, “Mr. Friedman . . . went on eBay, typed in ‘fish décor’ and bought and made use of everything that popped up.”

But some of the changes are less salutary. The seating—all bar stools—is so cramped that it must surely be at the legal limit. It leaves servers with hardly any space to maneuver. At 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening, I got one of the few places available, a window stool with my back to the room, looking out on what must be one of Manhattan’s most charmless intersections.

The limited menu, which changes daily, is now all bar snacks, raw fish, and small plates. Most individual items are $15 or less, but a hungry diner will need several of them to put together a full meal. Friedman and Bloomfield have already proven that they can serve real entrées in a casual, no-reservations setting. The loss of the original Dory’s more serious cooking is a real disappointment.


I loved the Oyster Pan Roast with Uni Crostini (above left), even if there was no “pan.” This is one of the few dishes retained from the old John Dory, and with good reason. But the Lobster and Onion Panade (above right) was too bland—the first time I’ve ever said that of an April Bloomfield dish—and I didn’t detect any lobster. It turned out to be a not-very-good French Onion Soup without the cheese.

There’s a fine wine list here, but I had two very good cocktails, the Spring Forward (Gin, Vermouth, Spring Onion) and the Fall Back (Applejack, Rye, Amaro Nonino, Vermouth, Peychaud).

The staff are friendly and attitude-free, but they struggle to keep up. The cocktails took too long to come out, and there were other awkward waits. I was puzzled by the kitchen’s decision to send out my two dishes simultaneously, although this could have been the server’s error (i.e., not making clear that I was a solo party). The server might also have pointed out that both were soups, which I had not realized. I would probably have ordered something else.

The John Dory Oyster Bar is an excessive reaction to the failure of the original John Dory. I fully understand the desire to be in a neighborhood with customers, and the no-reservations service model is fine with me: I love the Spotted Pig and the Breslin, both of which work the same way. But the menu is not as appealing as their other places, and right now the service is too frantic.

With April Bloomfield in charge of the kitchen, you know that it will probably get better.

John Dory Oyster Bar (1196 Broadway at 29th St. in the Ace Hotel, West Midtown)

Food: *
Service: no stars
Ambiance: *
Overall: *


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



Rolling the Dice: The John Dory

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni goes swimming at the John Dory, the new Ken Friedman/April Bloomfield seafood place. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 25-1
One Star: 6-1
Two Stars: 3-1
Three Stars: 5-1 √√
Four Stars:

The Skinny: A bad review (zero or one) would be a big surprise here. Ken Friedman knows how to run a restaurant, April Bloomfield can most assurely cook, and reports have been fairly positive—including ours.

But three stars? Hoo boy, that’s stretching it, even by Bruni’s loose standards. Bruni has given the trifecta to some dubious restaurants, but we don’t see here the level of execution we observed at Dovetail, Matsugen, or BLT Fish in its early days—all three-star laureates that should have received two.

Our bets lately have not been very reliable, but we’re going with the safer choice.

The Bet: We predict that Frank Bruni will award an enthuisastic two stars to the John Dory.


The John Dory


Note: The John Dory closed in August 2009. A similar, but much more casual version of the concept, re-opened in 2010 in the Ace Hotel as the John Dory Oyster Bar.


Five years ago, The Spotted Pig was an overnight sensation in the West Village. If chef April Bloomfield and her partner Ken Friedman had followed the usual path, by now there’d be Pig clones all over town, and a couple more in Vegas and Atlantic City. But Bloomfield stayed focused on the Pig, which earned an improbable Michelin star and has held onto it for four years running.

Nothing lasts forever: Bloomfield and Friedman now have their second restaurant, The John Dory, which opened two weeks ago in Southwest Chelsea, on the same block as Del Posto and Craftsteak. (Del Posto’s Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich are investors in both the Spotted Pig and the John Dory.)

Friedman has an eye for witty design. At the Spotted Pig, the theme is “pig art.” Here, it’s “fish art,” and he arrays it even more deftly than at the earlier restaurant, from fish lures embedded in a countertop, to fish tiles in the floor. A large tropical fish tank stands sentry over the bar.

There are just two small dining rooms. The first one, with about eight tables, rests on a narrow elevated platform and offers a terrific view of the open kitchen. The second one is in a side room with a view of the fish tank. There is ample counter seating facing the kitchen.

Bloomfield has wisely kept the opening menu short and focused, with just seven appetizers ($14–20) and eight entrées ($24–35). There’s also a few raw bar choices and five crudi ($16–20). Side dishes ($8–10) are excellent, as they are at the Spotted Pig.

It was obvious that many of the patrons were friends of the management, but Bloomfield never once left the kitchen to schmooze (she left that to Friedman). We saw one critic in the house (GQ’s Alan Richman), and the staff seemed to think Frank Bruni was coming too, but we didn’t spot him.

We started with a cute amuse-bouche of arctic char pâté (above right) with chips for spreading. There should probably be a bit more, as it disappeared rather quickly.

Sardines “A La Plancha” (above left; $18) had a nice cruncy texture and were nicely seasoned with almonds, raisins and paprika. My girlfriend pronounced the Fish Soup (above right; $16) a success.

There is, of course, John Dory on the menu. On some nights, they seem to offer it for one, but when we visited it was available only for two ($50). Instead, I had the Whole Grilled Sea Bream (above left; $26), which was presented tableside and then filleted. This was a lovely preparation, with a rosemary-anchovy pesto on the skin. Pan-Roasted Cod (above right; $28) was just as good.

Sweet Potatoes (above left; $8) were dusted with bone marrow and served in hefty beefsteak slices. Our second side dish was much delayed, but I give the server credit for how she handled it. Instead of just leaving us staring at dirty dishes, she cleared the table and re-set it with fresh plates and flatware. Jensen’s Temptation (above right; $10) works perfectly well as a separate course, though it clearly wasn’t intended that way. It’s a Swedish preparation of scallopped potatoes, with onions, heavy cream, and an anchovy crust.

As we were leaving, it dawned on me that the coat-check attendant hadn’t given me a ticket. Despite that, she seemed to know who I was, and had my coat ready for me. It was just one of many points, both little and great, that made me feel like these people know how to run a restaurant. My girlfriend had the same thought: “They’re going to do just fine.”

The John Dory (85 Tenth Avenue between 15th & 16th Streets, Chelsea)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **