Almost two weeks ago I took the Acela up to New York for a work event, and while most of the trip was extremely packed with meetings and activities, I was able to squeeze in a little time to both revisit some favorite places and cross some others off my “restaurants to visit” list in the city. The first thing I did after dropping off my bags in my hotel room was to hit up Fairway to both stock up on vinegars as well as get some room essentials that would not require me to use the well-stocked but extremely expensive minibar in my room. I then had the very difficult decision to make as to where to get dinner, but with the weather being kind of gloomy I stuck with places within easy walking distance: the main course was the steak frites at Les Halles on Park Ave, and then for a nightcap I treated myself to some oysters at The John Dory Oyster Bar which was conveniently located off the lobby of my hotel.
The John Dory has long been on my list of places to visit but I just never had the chance prior to this trip, most likely because whenever we’d come in for the day from Stamford we’d typically go to a much more conveniently-located oyster bar in Grand Central. (You know the one.) The joke was on me, though, because I had seriously missed out on a very cool place: like Grand Central’s oyster bar, there are counters all over and what you miss in admiring Guastavino tiles you make up for in large aquaria and an equally hectic scene. The oyster selection is not nearly as extensive, but the day’s menu had some favorites of mine (Naked Cowboy!) with the chance to try some new-to-me varieties. I also got myself their version of a Gibson (called a Spring Forward) which was just gin, Dolin white vermouth, and an artfully-sliced piece of spring onion that quickly infused into the drink, and went perfectly with the half-dozen mollusks I ordered with it. Knowing that we were planning to hit up the neighborhood farmers market this past weekend, I had it in my head to pick up some spring onions and try to recreate this drink at home.
I also had it in my head to get some oysters because I knew it would be really humid on Saturday and that the idea of turning on the stove would be highly unappealing to either of us, so I took some inspiration from another favorite hotel bar–Roca Bar at the Hotel OMM–to make our first course. The last time I showed oysters in this space I had been inspired by the fried sardine tapa on their menu to make a sort of mignonette, but this time I was inspired by the actual oysters they serve there. You have your choice of getting oysters paired with a specific sauce–cava, shallot, or ponzu–or you can get a selection of all three instead. All three are fantastic accompaniments to the oysters, of course, and naturally I wanted to be able to recreate them at least in spirit at home.
After a bit of research I settled on a pretty simple recipe for the ponzu sauce: zest and juice of a lemon and lime mixed with a couple of tablespoons of usukuchi soy sauce and a couple of tablespoons of mirin until I had a solid balance of salty, sweet, and sour. The spring onion sauce, while similar to the lemon-basil vinaigrette I’ve made before, took on a totally different flavor (and hue!) thanks to the inclusion of some purple basil which was another farmers market score, along with a little olive oil for a touch of richness.
I have a feeling I’ll be making both of these sauces frequently over the course of the summer (well, so long as I can get my hands on purple basil and spring onions, of course) because oysters seem to be readily available and frankly there’s no way I’m not going to improve my shucking powers if I don’t practice…
Ponzu Sauce for Fresh Oysters
(makes about 1/2 cup)
Note–this recipe can be completely modified to your own tastes–start with these ratios and then adjust accordingly.
1/4 cup usukuchi soy sauce (more to taste if necessary)
2-3 tablespoons mirin
Juice and zest of one lime
Juice and zest of one lemon
In a small bowl or ramekin, combine all ingredients and mix well. Add in additional soy sauce or mirin to taste; spoon gently onto shucked oysters to serve.
Spring Onion and Moscatell Mignonette
2 spring onions, minced (white and light green parts)
1 tablespoon moscatell vinegar
6-8 purple basil leaves, chiffonade
1 tablespoon good olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl or ramekin, combine the minced onions and vinegar–let sit for a half-hour to an hour before serving. When ready to serve, add in basil, salt, pepper, and olive oil, and whisk with a fork to combine. Serve on fresh oysters immediately.