The Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Grand Central Station, NYC
Review by Diana DeRiggs
The atmosphere of this very unique but proper restaurant is somewhere between "romantic gaslight period" and "university club" and "dad's hobby room" -- with high vaulted tiled ceilings (for guaranteed New York-style cacophony), vintage '60s era lunch counter, a traditional shanty-style oyster bar where oysters are shucked as you watch, and a dark wood-paneled 'saloon' of a very masculine sort. The chandeliers are metal wheels with sailboats and trains arranged on the rims. It's a huge space -- seating around a 1000 in a pinch, crowded with tourists with tour books, locals looking for dinner or lunch, and commuters in for a quick restorative before the train ride home.
The food is fresh, the menu is posted daily, prices are expensive, and the vittles tastes wonderful. There is little attempt at doing the frou-frou thing. It's like a steakhouse-style joint for sealife.
No, you can't get typical fried platters (ugh, you LIKE those?) but why would you want to when there is so much more? (On the menu tonight, there were 22 types of oysters on the halfshell, 18 types of clams, the normal shellfish stews (really a milk-based soup) and panroasts (thicker, more substantial, bread- and cream-thickened stews), 57 "today's fish" dishes (including monkfish, bluefish, tuna, swordfish, halibut, lobster, mahi mahi, etc., etc., etc.), the usual smoked offerings, hearty side dishes like jicama slaw, rice pilaff, boiled pontiac new potatoes, etc. Vegetables were simply steamed and very traditionally American: brussel sprouts, patty-pan yellow squash, string beans. Their New England clam chowder is the best anyone's ever eaten. In season, they also have a musky, delicious She-Crab Soup. One of the women eating with us at the counter got a bunch of Ispwich (deep-fried, breaded clam strips), and she looked marginally ashamed of her rather retro, comfort-food-style choice, but she said they were sublime.
Between the two of us, we had Shrimp Cocktail (5 huge shrimp served on ice with a couple of tablespoons of horseradish and tomato-based sauce and a wedge of lemon), the smoked fish platter (lightly cold-smoked salmon, sturgeon, trout, with enough capers), oyster stew (a bowl of rich milk containing poached bivalves, liberally sprinkled with sherry and paprika), and perfectly grilled tuna served with potato crisps and the aforementioned steamed veggies. We wanted cookies for dessert, but they were out of them, darn it. So we shared a huge dollop of a nice, non-sugary Oreo ice cream instead, served on an almond tuile.
We split the bill (neither party should ever feel obligated to one another, after all -- first rule of dating!) and with tip, it was about $55 each, not including wine or beer. Well, I did mention it was rather pricy. And it's worth it if you love fish in all its variety and freshness. Lovely if you love other things that are somewhat like seafruity, a great start of a nice evening! Besides, Grand Central Station is convenient to everywhere and for everyone.
When Episode 1 was released, we watched the movie late one night, then went to the Oyster Bar for discussion and supper. We'd seen the film about 50 times, and we were still discovering new things and Easter eggs. When you sit at the counter, you basically share the "table" with everyone else there. Strangers comment on your choices, join your conversation and have a nice time (though this being New York, you can also be left alone to your bowl of chowder). At that hour of the night, there was only one other couple at the counter. He ordered fish and chips and asked us to pass the horseradish. She had a crab sandwich with greens on the side. We chatted nicely with each other. Someone in our party leaned over to me and whispered excitedly, "It's Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum!"
And it was! Terence Stamp is a very nice man, and he told us he enjoyed the restaurant as much as we did. He comes here whenever he's in New York and feels the need for a late night restorative. In good NYC tradition, we didn't ask for a photo or an autograph.
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