The John Dory Oyster Bar- Ace Spot

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  • scene: Fishing in the flatiron; funky and light
  • sip: Lado Este; Sasha Petraske designed cocktails are available as well the usual boozy suspects
  • savor: Raw bar; crudo
  • sit: With friends for light bites; with a first date if you just want to pick at some dishes and not feel too heavy
  • spend: $$$
  • address: 1196 Broadway (at 29th Street)
  • phone number: (212) 792-9000
  • website:

The John Dory Oyster bar represents a decidely downtown sort of dining experience, in a decidely awkward part of town.  When the Ace Hotel opened on Broadway and 29th street a few years ago, it brought a one-stop shop for a night out for high-rise dwelling Chelseans, and of course the guests of the hotel, because it had a large lobby bar and two dining outlets. The whole atmosphere is very eclectic/funky, as are the retail and restaurant spaces- downtown darling Opening Ceremony has an outpost in what is still an unhip area.  This stretch of broadway is defined by wholesale handbag shops and colorful characters hawking their random wares from tables and garbage bags.  While you might “stay” at the Ace, you are definitely going some place else during your time in NYC, but thanks to the Breslin and the John Dory Oyster bar, not necessarily to eat.

The John Dory is really well designed,with  lots of windows and counter space, disguising the fact that there are only nine actual tables. The fish in the fish tanks above the bar looked happy and trendy, if fish can be those things.   The staff is funky and friendly to their own- the hostess hugged no less than three people “hello”, but was far frostier to some more corporate types and service requests.  All of the servers were in jeans and t-shirts and vintage store looking ensembles, lots of personal style coming through with piercings, the only uniform being “unique”.

The no-reservations and laid back service vibe do little justice to the serious food that comes out of the kitchen, courtesy of April Bloomfield. The casualness of the service versus the precision needed to execute he dishes is what makes the John Dory really special; uptown food with downtown sensibility.  The raw bar selections are plentiful and delicious- I tried two new types of oysters that were amazing, and the accompanying mignonette sauce had an extra herbal kick.  The cold poached lobster also had an herby spread on it, and for $18 was a satisfying size.  The raw fish items and crudos are handled masterfully; the special dish of a spicy whitefish tartar “sandwich” between two crackers was a feat of flavors and textures; the  pink snapper and durade crudos were simple and elegant. ( I almost missed out on these completely because it took someone 15 minutes to get me a fork). We also had the scallops and the lobster roll (yum fries); the scallops were a stand out, in a tangy, capery sauce that was zingy and crisp.

Now I am usually not one to worship at the temple of mixology, but special mention must be made of the Lado Este- the tequila cucumber drink had us drinking like fish  The John Dory is also an excellent place to pop in before a show at MSG, another destination in a grim part of town.  The Nomad Hotel a block away is another step in the right direction for this area, at least on the foodie front…Go fish…

P.S. There is a chef’s table IN the kitchen available to be reserved each night, for 8-12 peeps…

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