Photo: Matthew Kassel / Business Insider
Early in February I went to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station for the first time. A friend and I split a dozen oysters and when they arrived at the table, I picked up a shell, applied a generous scoop of horseradish, a few drops of Tabasco, and slurped out the meat.It was delicious, but I couldn’t really taste the oyster itself. So I decided to forgo the condiments and plopped a raw, unadorned oyster straight into my mouth.
What a difference! Soft, succulent, briny. For a moment, I felt like I was eating the ocean.
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When Jonathan Young, the manager of the Oyster Bar, has oysters, he usually eats them plain. Once in a while, he’ll do a drop or two of Tabasco or sriracha sauce. “I’ve seen people that pile on way too much, and you’re basically not tasting the oyster,” he told me. “It’s sort of like having a white wine that’s too cold—you’re not going to get any of the nuances out of it.”
At the Oyster Bar—which will celebrate its one hundredth anniversary next year—diners can choose from a list of about 30 different oysters every day.
Despite its name, though, the restaurant is an all-around seafood establishment, with a new menu of fresh fish, clams, shrimp, crab, scallops, and sometimes lobster, printed daily. Shad, a fish that’s hard to prepare because it contains so many bones, is the current menu feature.
Someone on staff at the restaurant goes to a fish market up in the Bronx every morning to pick out the day’s selection (except on Sundays, when the restaurant closes because no fresh fish is shipped in). And the Atwood Lobster Company—based out of Maine—has been supplying the Oyster Bar for 40 years.
“We don’t get local lobsters because we don’t think they’re as good,” Young said. “It’s more expensive to get Maine lobsters, but the colder the water, the sweeter the lobster is, and it also gives a better texture.”
The scallops this time of year come in from around Cape Cod and the soft shell crabs, Young predicts, will probably start molting—especially with the coming warmer weather—in the next couple of weeks.
Getting back to oysters, the restaurant mainly sells Blue Points shipped from Connecticut. Young said that there are oyster beds in the Long Island Sound, just south of Norwalk, that are cultivated especially for the restaurant.
When I went down to the restaurant to speak with Young in early March, he gave me a menu to look over for reference. I love oysters, but don’t know much about them. I scanned the menu, which lists the oysters by name and origin. Among them were: Hama-Hama (Washington St.), Moonstone (Rhode Island), Blackberry Point (Prince Edward Island). The information meant nothing to me. I asked Young what makes a good oyster.
“It all depends,” he said. “A lot of them take on the waters they’re in—the brinier the water, the brinier the oyster. Oysters are just like filters, they basically suck in water, get their nutrients out of it, and spit it out the other end.”
He added that West Coast oysters are typically sweeter and less briny than those from the East Coast, which are firmer. The oysters he prefers include Wellfleets (from the Cape, where he vacations), Shigokus and Totten Virginicas from the West, and Belons, when they’re available, from Maine.
The Oyster Bar is, Young said, one of the only restaurants that sells Belons, which have a bit of a cult following and are “extremely briny, very metallic.”
With Shigokus, “what they do is they take them out of the water and they put them in metal barrels and they spin the barrel and it chips off the outside of the shell,” Young explained. This makes the oyster grow deeper, become firmer, more succulent.
And no, Young told me, he doesn’t get tired of oysters, which he’ll have at least once a day.
Of course I had to ask him about him about oysters as aphrodisiac, and he had some smart things to say about the matter. (Every Valentine’s Day, he goes on Q104.3 to have oysters with the DJ Shelli Sonstein.)
“Well, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of zinc,” he said. “It’s also, most people have their first oysters near the beach, and you’re in a good mood, and then any other time you eat oysters it sort of brings that up a little bit.”
“It definitely makes you feel in a better mood,” he went on, “and a better mood could lead to other things…I think it works to a certain percentage. I wouldn’t know—a lot of it’s in your head.”
Young recommends that diners order at least six oysters each, two or three different kinds.
Next up on the Oyster Bar’s schedule is the Herring Festival, which will take place around the first week of June.
The restaurant has Dutch herring shipped in from the Netherlands every year, in imitation of a festival that happens in Vlaardingen, a town in South Holland.
A cart is set up in the middle of the restaurant and herring is served right out of it. “All it is is cleaned, head cut off, brined, then you dip it in onion and egg, and you just hold the tail up and eat it,” Young said. “If you like sushi, you’ll like it.”
He added, “Supposedly the law is the Queen gets the first boatload and we get the second.”
The Oyster Bar, which will celebrate its one hundredth anniversary next year, is the oldest establishment in Grand Central Station.
Despite its name, it's really an all-around seafood place, offering a variety of fish, crab, clams, scallops, and sometimes lobster.
The menu is printed daily to showcase the fresh seafood brought in every day of the week, except Sundays.
The Oyster Bar's manager, Jonathan Young, likes his oysters plain—though a drop or two of Tabasco will sometimes do.
Depending on your taste you may prefer East Coast oysters, which are typically brinier and firmer, over West Coast oysters, which tend to be sweeter.
Blue Points, a popular choice at the Oyster Bar, come from the restaurant's own beds in the Long Island Sound.
The restaurant is currently running the shad, a fish hard to prepare because of the many bones it contains.
In June, the Oyster Bar will celebrate the Herring Festival in imitation of a tradition that takes place in Vlaardingen, a town in South Holland.
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