If I ever get
to Heaven (which seems increasingly unlikely), I suspect it will look a lot
like the Grand Central Oyster Bar. There will be a raw bar with people shucking
more than a dozen varieties of bivalves. Dozens of varieties of fresh fish will
be available daily from all parts of the country. There will be a formal dining
room, a saloon, and a series of counters facing an open kitchen, all housed in
a building of incomparable beauty.
The Oyster Bar originally opened in
1913, and thrived along with the railroads. By the early 1970s, though, rail travel in
America was almost extinct, and the Oyster Bar had died along with it. It was
brought back to life by a veteran restaurateur named Jerome Brody, who
redefined the concept and sourced the freshest possible seafood from a nationwide
network of suppliers. It is again booming today, and has spawned an elaborate,
upscale food court on Grand Central Station’s lower level.
It is a
huge place in its current incarnation, with seating for nearly 450 in its assorted
venues. Those counters are unquestionably the heart of the place, each holding
14 diners and offering a quintessential American dining experience. You sit at one and
confront the impossibility of choosing something from the encyclopedic menu.
Can’t decide between New England and Manhattan clam chowder? They’ll give you
half and half in the same bowl, and both are better than anything you may have
tried previously. There are lobsters from Maine, soft shell crabs from
Maryland, cold water halibut and better tuna than you find in most sushi bars.
You could easily eat here every night for a month and not order the same dish.
precise and intuitive. You will not necessarily leave knowing your server’s
name or life story. They are friendly if you want to be and will converse on
demand, but that’s not their primary mission. They specialize in the
old-fashioned technique of serving you without fanfare and without calling
attention to themselves.
The wine list
is printed on the back of the food menu, and it is surprising: over 300
selections are offered from the U.S., France, Italy and Germany as well as
emerging regions such as Portugal and Greece. You would expect whites to
outnumber reds in a place like this, but the balance is closer to 50/50. Sure,
you can get Sancerre, white Burgundy or California Chardonnay, but there’s also
a vertical selection of Shafer Hillside Cabernet alongside Pinot Noir from
Oregon, California and Burgundy.
parlance, the Grand Central Oyster Bar is worth a detour. If you’re passing
through Manhattan, don’t miss it.