Grand Central Oyster Bar
Grand Central Station, NYC
Review by Susu, MaceVindaloo, Rosie, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGril, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt
The architecture is cavernous the restaurant is located below-ground (beneath Vanderbilt Hall, named for the man who built the station), there are vaulted ceilings evoking the station's tracks (right on the other side of the walls), and the clamor of the place adds to the aura of speed.
There are basically four restaurants contained here: the Saloon, which is a dark-paneled bar (the bathrooms with their interesting seats are here, under the hanging of the big sturgeon), the restaurant with it's white-clothed tables and silver, the counter area which may be the last New York style lunch counter in town with its teatowel-napkins and tubs of horseradish, and the oyster bar itself where you can watch the countermen shuck shellfish, gently cook panroasts and seafood stews, and ladle out clam chowder to customers who walk up to the window behind them for take-out. In general, the hot food is done in the traditional grill-laden kitchen behind the counter area, the cold food and soups at the oyster bar.
Being the Oyster Bar, they offer many types of oysters daily. Hand-written signs indicate the prices and availability for the day the knowledgeable oyster shuckers will tell you where each critter came from, what to expect in terms of flavor, and even how to eat the things. Some are monsters, and they advise how to dip, swallow, chew, etc. Most oyster eaters know what they want, and happily tell their order to Luis the champion oyster shucker of the world (16 in a minute!) or to any of the long-timers who work the bar.
We opted to sit at the counter. It was a bit later than lunch, just before they started closing up some of the counterspace. The counters zigzag with rounded corners through the space, and if you're lucky you can grab a couple of corners so that your party can sort of see each other as you eat. It's less intimidating than sitting in the restaurant or the oyster bar, and there are kids in the group, so the Saloon was too intimidating, too. You have to love a place that lets you choose your playground and dresscode.
We had heard of the fine New England clam chowder, so we got a bowl apiece (no such thing as a "cup" of chowder here ...) Be warned it's rich and tasty and really a full meal, not an appetizer. One of us is a connoisseur of oyster crackers, and she rated the ones served in little packets here to be among the best! The nice waitress gave us a whole bunch for snacks later. We also loved the biscuit and seeded flatbread they gave us instead of the usual breadbasket. There's something very New York about getting these old-fashioned breads instead of the artisinal breads that are so popular these days. Another of us got the Oyster Stew it was something she read about when very young, and the reality more than met the expectation. Unlike other stews, seafood stews are heated quickly, not cooked slowly, and the matrix is milk. Sounds awful? Little YOU know!
We had been doing a lot of walking this day, so about half of us opted for the full experience and ordered fish dishes as well. We were able to share without any leftovers to carry around. The meals are big just remember that! We had hamachi tuna yellowtail, the highest grade. Many of us often wondered why TV chefs opted to just sear big hunks of this tuna and keep the interior raw, and now we know why! The tuna is buttery and rich, and tastes completely different when uncooked. It's an indescribable richness that disappears on cooking, and that's a huge shame. We now consider it an executable crime to cook tuna beyond a brief surface sear!
We also got the Smoked Fish Plate, which contained thin, long slices of salmon, sturgeon, and trout, alongside toast points and a big pile of capers in a lettuce cup, and a big dollop of tasty, sharp horseradish mayonnaise. We also ordered a halibut which was listed as one of the daily specials, which was served with a sauce charon (hollandaise with tomatoes) and simply steamed vegetables which is whatever is seasonal. A side of fries was all someone wanted, but they were good fried. And we also got a side of jicama slaw it's soggy yet crunchy. Got to have something described in such a manner, don't you think? We all passed our bread plates around to get a taste of everything. We all moaned with pleasure at the well-prepared feast. We were all too full for dessert!
We did mention the bathrooms? Many of the older, finer restaurants in NYC have bathroom attendents, so be sure to bring some change or a dollar as a tip to those who keep the place tidy, etc. You don't have to, but it's part of the experience, right?
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