Who would have ever thought that a restaurant in the dining concourse of Grand Central Station could feel so removed and so distant from the transportation hub? It was to the point where exiting the restaurant was jarring, and time and space were forgotten. Dark, windowless, vacuum, and oysters. Oyster Bar and Restaurant is one of the best in the city, according to a wide range of sources, from foreign to local.
The vaulted ceilings were constructed of a basket weave tiling method, lined with little bulbs of light, dotting each curve and line. The ceiling felt heavy and low, dark but also inviting. There was a kind of warmth and familiarity, like you had been there before, maybe it was the friendliness of the staff, or the picnic like table clothes, or just the lighting. The space was not cramped, and the pressure from the profound ceiling, just lured you in, keeping you there for leisure and seafood.
The space felt like it had a history, from the open area of tables, to the lunch counters, all the way to the more luxurious and cozy bar area. It felt like people had come in and out of that place, and enjoyed the breather and momentary stop from the hustle and bustle of the fast paced city. Because time really stood still there, not like stale air, but round and forgiving.
The menu is printed new each day. This is made obvious by the fact that the date was featured in the corner, along with filled in market prices of fish and lobster. The menu was endless, making decisions brutal. And the freshness made everything enticing. It ranged from soups and salads, to raw bar options, scallops, half a dozen different fishes in different styles, lobster, and delicious desserts. There was so much to look at and so much I wanted to try. If I could have, I would have ordered three entrees, it was so difficult.
But alas, decisions had to be made.
The New England style clam chowder was just really clam chowder, it had all the elements; the thick creamy broth, the chunks of potato and the little clams, but it was missing some of the soul experienced in New England proper. Maybe it was just missing the water view and the New England accent. The ratios of this clam chowder were not necessarily my favorite, unless the clams were hiding in the bowl, it seemed like there was not enough clam and more than enough of everything else. Clam chowder is not always the most flavorful, but it is extremely rich and filling. Oysterbar got that right on the mark.
Soft shell crabs are so hard to find. Accustomed to getting them only once in a while when traveling through or to Baltimore, but when I saw them on the daily menu, I jumped. These little soft shelled creatures are some of my favorite crustaceans, a special treat that reminds me of childhood and family, like lunches with my sister and my grandma and aunt, and visits to the various local seafood hangouts in Baltimore. There was some feigned deliberation, but my heart was set. I love soft shell crabs and every memory they bring to me, so there was no way out of it. These soft shell crabs were tiny, smaller than I had ever seen in Baltimore, but there were four on the plate. I am used to just getting two larger ones, either on a roll as a sandwich or two solo, outshining the side veggies. These were salty, crispy, crunchy, and delicious. The seasoning at the Oysterbar was a little stronger than just the salt and pepper purity I was used to. But in the end they tasted familiar, like smiles. The meet underneath the edible shell was sweet and delicate, with a little pungency that the insides some times exuded. Exactly how I wanted them and almost how I always remember them. I could have eaten another order they were so delicious
I could have done without the little side vegetables that they serve with all the meals, but it did add color to the plate. They just tasted like veggies and a little bit of butter, wanting salt and love. But they were not the point. My soft shell crabs were the stars of the show.
As a little treat from the raw bar, I ordered three cherrystone clams. They were the big ones. This may have been the first time I had this variety, so I was curious about their size and flavor. They were so pretty to look at, their meats were peaches and pinks in color. The taste was also delicious, and the chew just what I would look for in raw clams. Salty, chewy, and meaty.
The two pound lobster, tasted fresh and delicious, we saw it alive and then we ate it. Before ordering we asked about the various lobster weights and sizes, and considered the options, and how much each of us would eat. In the end two pounds and a lot of work was just right. But with lobster comes too much work, which for me is less than its worth. Lobster meat is delicious and decadent, don’t get me wrong. It is rich and heavy, with a taste that can stand up to many other ingredients, but the effort needed to eat a lobster, builds the appetite larger than the meat can even satiate.
And of course, dessert. The desserts, out of all the items on the menu, were the most inventive and unpredictable to me. Yes, there was key lime and lemon meringue pies, delicious desserts to follow delicious seafood. There was also the typical bread pudding and some rendition of chocolate cake. But then, there was a fig and apple pudding dealie, with a fruit reduction and half of a fresh fig to top it. It was delicious. The apples remained tart and crisp, defiant. While the figs were soft and rich, their little tiny seeds bursting in the mouth throughout the little pudding. This dessert was completely different than what I was expecting when reading the description, and it was not exactly what I wanted, until I finished it and realized it was the perfect ending to my seafood meal.
Prices of seafood in restaurants can be quite inflated, but in some places, the freshness is a privilege that costs. Most of the fish and seafood options were no less than expected in a restaurant in the heart of New York City, so there was little surprise.
The only thing incredible about the food, was the complete and utter freshness. The dishes were not inventive or esoteric, it was just seafood at its purest and finest. The various preparations were about the ingredients, but not really about what the ingredients could become, simple and straightforward. The atmosphere was also the topping on the cake. A giant restaurant, under ground, in the middle of one of New York Cities busiest arteries, that felt so utterly homey isolated, and old timey at the same time.