Saturday, April 12, 2008
The Oyster Bar
Ancho tequila oyster shooter.
A simple trip to New York City with Spike is typically fraught with tough decisions on where to eat. In this city of millions, there are hundreds of thousands of places to eat - and a man can only eat so much.
Grotesque physics aside, we're hell-bent on sampling as many places as possible and our first stop this afternoon is the Oyster Bar in the basement of Grand Central Station. The place is a classic. You've undoubtedly heard of it before and I've heard of it for years and never got the chance to go. It's old and the tile-covered vaulted ceilings make for spectacular environs.
There's table seating and counter seating that resembles an old-school diner, but our seat of choice was right by the windows at the oyster bar itself where a crew of half a dozen prepared the oysters and panroasts.
Starting off with the ancho tequila oyster shooter, we were off to the races. The shooter was just okay. Nothing spectacular. Just tequila, oyster and some spice that tickled the back of the throat.
Up next was the Oyster Panroast. They make these dishes in custom-designed mini steam kettles that look straight from the 1930s. It's basically a light bisque with a brothy cream sauce that's light and refreshing. Inside are several very large oysters and it's really a wonderful dish served with oyster crackers. I wanted to power through the broth but the day was still young and there was more eating in store.
Along with that came two more dishes, fried whole ipswich clams that were breaded and fried to a deep brown crisp and served with tartar sauce. Nice. Again, nothing mind-blowing. Just solid seafood cookery. Add to that a plate of shoestring french fries and you've got a meal worthy of eating dockside somewhere.
But it's the oysters that lure you to the Oyster Bar and they do not disappoint. There are 27 different varieties of oysters for you to choose from - all served on the half-shell. All served extremely fresh. Depending on the day, they will serve between 2,000 to 5,000 oysters per day. That's upwards of 1.8 million oysters per year, which by any account is a lot of bloody oysters.
For our sampling, we ordered two dozen raw oysters. Six each of the Mattitock, Pebble Beach, Totten and Wianno. Now, when it comes to oysters, I'm no connoisseur. I just like to eat them. Give me good quality oysters, a shucking knife, some lemon and Tabasco and I'm pretty happy. For our rounds of Christmas Parties this past December, I lugged around with me a tub filled with 100 of some of the Chesapeake's best oysters and happiness ensued all around.
I learned recently that oysters on the East Coast are all from the same species Cassostrea Virginica and while you can buy oysters from many different parts of the East Coast, they are essentially the same. The difference in flavor and appearance comes from their environment. Their terroir, if you will.
Mattitock and Pebble Beach Oysters.
Of course, I'm not the only one that likes oysters. So do many, many other people. So much so that only about one percent of the oyster population two hundred years ago remains today. The Chesapeake Bay has been so besieged by fishermen that the population was nearly wiped out and now the oyster lives on in cultivated farms and some natural fisheries.
While I sometimes ponder what the oyster tasted like a hundred years ago before pollution and decimation arrived, I'm just happy that the oyster still tastes good today and that I'm now able to try varieties from across the nation.
With an eye towards a proper tasting of oysters, we sampled (ate) them in this order: Mattitock, Pebble Beach, Totten and Wianno. As one progressed through the oysters, the flavors changed an intensified. The early two were light and tasty, but the Totten and Wianno were just jam-packed with intense flavor - especially the Wianno. For those not well-acquainted with oysters, perhaps the Wianno will be "too much", but I found them delicious with just a squirt of lemon and a touch of Tabasco.
Totten Virginica and Wianno Oysters.
Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10017
Subway Lines: 4 5 6 S 7