No trip to New York – at least for us – would be complete without a stop at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Yes, it’s full of tourists. But it’s also full of New Yorkers. And there is one reason they all go: fantastically fresh oysters and relatively affordable prices in a no nonsense setting.
The restaurant is located, as you probably already know, right in Grand Central Station. It’s in the cavernous lower level and always has been, ever since it and the station itself opened in 1913. Well, almost always. As train travel became less and less important, so too the restaurant, which closed its doors in the early 1970’s. It was bought out by a new owner in 1974. After making the decision to restore the storied place to its former glory, he began seeking out the freshest and best sources for seafood. Especially, of course, oysters.
When I was living in New York this was definitely not a place I ever thought of going to. It just wasn’t on my radar, even if I was swooping through Grand Central on my way to catch a train. And I certainly never thought about going out of my way for a meal there.
But ever since I traded in my card-carrying status as a New Yorker for being a tourist things have changed. I have to admit it was Domenico who first convinced me to go. He has a passion for clam chowder (actually, he has a passion for just about any regional American specialty) and so was always hankering for a cup of clam and potato filled creamy soup every time we visited New York.
But it was when Sophie and Emma became full fledged oyster addicts that our visits became more regular. It’s one of the few places where we say to them: go ahead, order as many as you’d like. Fresh, high quality oysters are never cheap, but here they are definitely more affordable than in other, fancier settings.
As you enter the restaurant you have a choice. Go to the left and you are seated at the restaurant. If you’re organized, you can book a table ahead here, otherwise it will be a long wait.
Our choice (since we are bad planners) is to head to the right, to the bar area, where it’s first come, first serve and seating is at fixed stools surrounding several long counters. The wait is never that long, since the turnover is fast. A suited maitre d’ who seems like he was transported straight from a 1950‘s movie handles the busy scene. Since we’re four, we rarely get to sit together, but that’s ok.
Take a look at the oyster menu and make your choice. We got a dozen Blue Points and a dozen Christmas Coves on our last visit. But if you don’t really know your way around an oyster menu, then leave yourself in the hands of the experienced waiters and waitresses. They know what they’re doing. And don’t be discouraged when they tell you it will be at least a half hour to 45 minute wait for oysters (they are all shucked to order) it’s never that long.
And even if it is a bit of a wait? Only an excuse to indulge in a plate of fried oysters or clams, or (you knew it was coming) clam chowder
Me? I love the crab cakes. But almost as much, I enjoy the spectacle of watching everyone else at the U-shaped counters. It’s like some sort of oyster-based reality TV show. There’s the couple from New Jersey who aren’t talking to each other. There are the Korean tourists who sprinkle a half teaspoon of salt onto each oyster (who knew?) and of course the waiters and waitresses who are so old school that they have their own special language.
Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant
Lower Level, Grand Central Terminal
89 East 42nd Street
Open from Noon to 9:30pm
NOTE: They are currently restoring the original tiled ceiling and so are closed until March 2014.