DOS HERMANOS GO EAST COAST USA: JOHN DORY, OTTO & AL FIORI
I had hoped that by being in the United States on the big day I would escape the brouhaha surrounding the Royal Wedding but I was quickly disabused of that notion when I switched on the big screen TV in my hotel room. Most Americans seemed only vaguely aware of what was going on in London but the media sure was having a whale of a time. I rang my uncle who lives on the UWS to confirm he was showing due respect by genuflecting towards the screen.
Ensconced as I was near the West Village it was inevitable I would have to endure Little Britain and even more bombast and bunting but at least I could walk past The Village Vanguard and make-believe it was November ’61 and I was waiting to see Trane and his Quartet play their seminal set.
After a pleasant jaunt along the High Line - the second section extending it to West 30th Street is due to open in June - and a large hand-pressed OJ from a random 10th Avenue deli I dodged past the ne’er-do-wells around Penn Station, collected my Amtrak tickets and couriered a super-secret package to HS in LA. Chores done I wandered along to John Dory.
Part of Brit chef April Bloomfield’s burgeoning portfolio (The Spotted Pig and The Breslin being the others) John Dory is a sort of fishy brasserie situated on Broadway. Like a lot of places in the City it comes over as a casual sort of place with friendly tattoed staff and an interesting rock/reggae soundtrack.
No surprise that I was immediately drawn to the Oyster Bar which was piled high with ice and bivalves. As a snack a bowl of peanuts came roasted with cloves of garlic and rosemary and were good messy fun and yes, I did eat the garlic thus ensuring my continued success with the ladeez ("Helloooooooo....").
Oysters while not up there with the best of British Natives were nevertheless very enjoyable especially the West Coast Prince William (is there no escaping these people???). So enjoyable in fact that I had another dozen. I usually prefer my oyster au naturel but little relishes of cilantro and chilli, and a mixture of freshly grated horseradish and Champagne vinegar were good enough to eat on their own.
Chorizo stuffed squid with smoked tomato at $16 sounds like a lot for a single, small cephalopod but what a cephalopod! It was all soft and savoury and stuffed with a delicious rice cooked with chorizo and saffron and no doubt lots of other lovely things. It was sat on a ladleful of small, soft white beans and was topped with smoked tomatoes. Terrific stuff and I almost ordered another but instead got the check and headed onwards and, er, downtown-wards to Mario Batali’s Otto Enoteca and Pizzeria, my go-to place for gelato in NYC. Specifically the Olive Oil one created by ace gelato maker Meredith Kurtzman. Coffee, Grappa and a small mooch around after and I needed a little lie-down in a darkened room to prepare for dinner.
Al Fiori is a swanky joint in the swanky Hotel Setai. I had hoped for an atmosphere of understated elegance but it was as calm as a Pitcher and Piano on a Friday night in The City and the lighting was set veeeeeeeery low (if you value the appearance of your food it's worth visiting NY restaurants during the hours of daylight).
Food, when I could make it out, was the usual overworked small pieces of protein. Pasta a speciality of Executive Chef Michael White was a bit chewy and Desserts so unmemorable I didn't even take a photograph of them. Service was poor and we seemed to get a different person at each course, most whom didn't know who was having what or even what was on the plate. There wasn't even the recompense of good conversation as the noise levels meant I couldn't heard a word of what my guest (my uncle was saying).
The one highlight was discovering an Italian Saison ale that was really rather good but overall a pretty grim experience and one which just goes to show that NYC is quite capable of matching London for blah fine dining experiences.