As gourmet food courts have mushroomed across our city, chef-driven, fast-casual counters have multiplied apace to fill them.
Lobster Press, from Marc Forgione, is one of a handful of eateries debuting at The Pennsy (2 Pennsylvania Place), the new 8,000-square-foot food plaza located atop Penn Station, at the southwest corner of 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. With his fresh lobster panini ($17–$18), Forgione is offering up a crustaceous contender for NYC’s fervent, social-sharing sandwich cravers.
Forgione, whose cooking has fanned the flames of many a candlelit Tribeca romance, tells the Voice that his new venture is not about everyday lobster rolls. “There are other ways to do a lobster sandwich, and this is my favorite one,” he says.
Instead, it’s a handheld interpretation of one of Forgione’s most popular dishes — a chili lobster appetizer served at his eponymous restaurant. The panini at Lobster Press starts with an Orwashers roll, which is rubbed with garlic butter, stuffed with lobster meat, and toasted on a sandwich grill. A warm cup of chili sauce is served alongside for the ultimate dunk.
“We used to make chili sauce to dress our lobsters at the restaurant,” Forgione says. “If there was ever any left over, we’d eat it in the kitchen, and make things to dunk into it — toast, garlic bread, grilled cheese. It was a totally natural idea to me to make the lobster sandwich like a French dip with this sauce, warm, on the side. That’s what led me to the panini press, really. I needed something to stand up to the dunking.”
“The lobster comes in fresh, live, and whole from my partner Homarus every morning,” notes Forgione. The tail meat is sautéed in the shell with ginger and onions before it’s steamed and chilled, then mixed with claw and knuckle meat and seasoned with celery, fresh chili, mint, olive oil, and lime juice. Forgione says the mixture of meat is unusual for a lobster sandwich. “In the restaurant industry, a lot of people buy the tails separately, then the claw and knuckle get sold for lobster rolls. We like to use the whole thing. We go through a couple of hundred lobsters every day. It’s a lot of shelling, but it’s worth it.”
Since the restaurant opened two weeks ago, Forgione reports that service has been smooth. “It probably helps that we only have two sandwiches on the menu.” A lobster salad and a bisque are available, too.
As Lobster Press settles into a rhythm and finds an audience of eaters, the inevitable speculation begins. Is this the beginning of an empire of lobster sammie stands? Early signs are pointing encouragingly toward the future for Forgione — especially if taste is the only metric in play.
“Honestly, so far, I’m really happy with how things are going.” He smiles. “I want to change the way people think about lobster sandwiches. You only have to taste it to see there’s more to the lobster than lobster rolls.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 29, 2016