Ah, the oyster pan roast, a timeless dish of decadence in which oysters swim in a pool of cream sauce. Equal parts deliciousness and heart attack in a bowl. April Bloomfield’s version of the dish has been reprised at the John Dory 2.0 (having been introduced at the first iteration of the restaurant) and is considered one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. The Grand Central Oyster Bar, meanwhile, might be best known for its raw plates of the briny bivalves, but the pan roast is high up on the list of its all-time classics. New York food scribe Adam Platt even considers it one of the greatest dishes in the city ever. So we trekked to the train station and to the trendy Ace Hotel for this week’s Battle of the Oyster Pan Roast, old-school versus new-school.
The John Dory Oyster Bar’s Pan Roast
We popped into the the John Dory for lunch to sample the $15 oyster pan roast (pictured above), which is served with a large crostini slathered with uni butter. Upon first glance the dish seemed rather small, about the size of a very large teacup. Four plump oysters (either Ram Island, Mystic, or Naked Cowboy, depending on the day) luxuriated in the cream-heavy broth, which was garnished with a light sprinkling of herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, and the tiniest touch of paprika. Uni butter, made by pureeing sweet butter and sea urchins, was spread across a large, crunchy piece of toast. Yes, it is a small portion, but make no mistake: This dish represents culinary hedonism. We would have preferred a bit more briny flavor in the broth itself to counterbalance the mouth-coating richness, but dunking in the crostini solved that issue. We were coerced encouraged by our waiter to order the $4 Parker House rolls to sop up the sauce, and those warm, yeasty rolls were quite tasty. But then again, shouldn’t $4 bread be tasty?
The Grand Central Oyster Bar’s Pan Roast
The $11.95 oyster pan roast can be found on the stews and pan roasts section of the menu (the difference between the two being that there’s tomato chile sauce and a slice of toast in the pan roast, while the stew is au naturel). As you can see from the picture, this pan roast came in a large bowl and was clearly carried by a waiter who doesn’t know how to balance a tray well. But never mind the presentation. The roast itself was much pinker in color than the one at the John Dory, with a heavy dose of tomato — a little too much for our taste. Also of note were the eight Bluepoint oysters in the dish — double the amount of the John Dory’s, making this dish a far better bang for the buck. A piece of toast floats in the bowl, but it was quite soggy by the time it arrived at the table. The broth itself wasn’t as elegant as the other, and tasted like the cream had been cooked at too high of a temperature with just the slightest graininess to it, while the oysters were cooked maybe 30 seconds too long. But there’s something so classic about eating the oyster pan roast at the Grand Central Oyster Bar that makes these shortcomings easier to overcome.
This Battle of the Dishes was a tough one. Both dishes had their merits and also their downfalls. New-school versus old-school. So who rules the roast?
The John Dory!
Overall, we preferred the flavors of Bloomfield’s pan roast; the oysters were fat and the sauce decadently creamy and the uni crostini a decidedly welcome modern touch, especially when compared with soggy bread. We’re not without our gripes, though: The dish is smaller, pricier and contains fewer oysters, and is almost too rich. But the flavors were more nuanced and less reminiscent of canned tomato soup than in the one at Grand Central. But each dish is special in its own way and deserving of being eaten at least once in everyone’s life. So get thee to the both oyster bars and taste for yourself.