The first time I went to Island Oyster on Governors Island I almost didn't order the lobster roll, which, in my opinion, came with too many things in the mix (it's listed as follows: Maine lobster with herb, fennel, lemon, dulse emulsion, pickled cucumber). Why do people put so many extra things into a lobster roll when all it needs is lobster meat and butter or mayo? Nothing can improve that simple combo, I always thought, and I eye-rolled hard when I saw Island Oyster had a pickle-lined roll... but I was wrong to do so.
Island Oyster's chef Kerry Heffernan has improved the lobster roll. And it's all in the subtle flavoring and the way the meat is cooked. I have eaten hundreds of lobster rolls in my life (probably? hopefully?), and I have never tasted lobster meat prepared like this before.
Heffernan told me, "When cooking lobster, we find it best to separate [tail and claw meat] and cook them in different time frames. Generally we bring a large pot of richly flavored and seasoned Court Bouillon to the boil, and add the claws... bring back to a simmer for two minutes, and add the tails." After that, the meat is cooked for an additional 4 minutes, and once removed from the heat it cools in the liquid. When it's lukewarm, the meat is taken out of the shells. This treatment makes the meat extremely tender and not at all hard to chew, which is often a downfall with other lobster rolls. It melts in your mouth immediately, so much so that there's no need for butter.
"As for flavoring," Heffernan added, "I took my classic French training and imagined the south of France with the fennel, tarragon, lemon and even a tiny bit of garlic as the most prominent flavor notes. The other thing we do is to add some puréed seaweed to reinforce the aroma of the ocean."
The lobster roll—which, yes, is a pricey $25 and comes with no sides—is also served at Pilot and Grand Banks, which close at the end of October, as well. However, sources tell me the lobster roll is not quite as good at these spots, so whoever is cooking these things up at the Governors Island location is a culinary genius.
Here's a list of good, but lesser, lobster rolls.
Island Oyster is located on Governors Island, and operates Monday-Friday from 12 to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 12 to 7 p.m.