Manhattan is by now pretty well strewn with places that serve delicious and affordable lobster rolls fixed around the $15 to $16 price point. Just because there's a glut of lobster rolls in a multitude of styles doesn't necessarily mean people should overlook a few more expensive options, most notably the brand-new $25 version now served onboard the historic fishing schooner docked at the end of a deluxe pier at the westernmost fringe of Tribeca. Here's why.
First, to get to Grand Banks, you walk out over the Hudson, past the tanning couples and kids waiting for lessons at the Offshore Sailing School. Once aboard, you notice that the life preservers are bespoke and empty craft beer kegs are stacked in the pilothouse. The clientele is decidedly yacht-club-esque and, between the crew and the customers, there is an abundance of nautical striped shirts. This could go any number of ways.
The boat rocks as you hear about the lobster roll, which comes with potato chips dusted with malt powder and Old Bay and tops out at $25, making it the most expensive thing on the boat's small food menu. It's almost twice as much as the perfectly fine lobster rolls around the city, and — yes — six times the cheapo but passable "lobster salad sandwich" doled out unironically at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island. Even the Grand Banks menu description doesn't really convey what's in store: The lobster itself is mostly claw and knuckle, dressed with tarragon mayonnaise with no discernible tail meat pieces or random interruptions of celery. It's spooned into a split-top bun lined with "boat-pickled" cucumbers, which keep the wet lobster and toasted bun separated.
As noted previously, New York's lobster-roll economics are surprisingly complicated, but what sets chef James Kim's roll apart at Grand Banks is the attention that goes into its preparation. His cooks don't have enough room below deck to break down whole lobsters; space constraints are not uncommon among tiny New York kitchens, and Kim's is even more miniscule. Some restaurants work around this by buying precooked claw and knuckle. Kim's lobster meat, though, comes in raw from Maine. His cooks poach it in salted water scented with bay leaves.
This makes all the difference. Lobster meat is sweetest, and tastes the most like lobster, when cooked just a few degrees above being medium, but before the tail and claw meat has a chance to take on a rubbery texture. Since Grand Banks handles the cooking itself, a little at a time, instead of relying on deliveries from a factory 300 miles north, they're able to nail that texture. The result is something cooked with more apparent care and, simultaneously, considerably less fuss than you'll find at other spots around town. With all due respect to the mini-lobster-roll empires and reigning titans, the lobster roll at Grand Banks is proof that small batches are better for flavor.
The boat itself will only be in Tribeca until the fall, at which point the lease runs out and the Grand Banks lobster roll could disappear forever. Like summer, it won't last forever, which is what makes it so irresistible right now.