Note: In January 2014, Famous Oyster Bar closed after 55 years in business, after it lost its lease.
Last night, a friend visiting from out of town invited me to join him for dinner in midtown. Restaurant plans were loose, and I cringed when he suggested the Famous Oyster Bar. The neon “Seafood” sign suggested it catered to tourists who are looking for something a bit better than Red Lobster. I’m sure the clientele is nearly all walk-ins staying at hotels like the Sheraton and the Milford Plaza.
The restaurant has been there since 1959, and it probably hasn’t had a renovation since then. Not even Zagat has noticed it. The décor is a trite assemblage of maritime detritus (a life preserver, an oar, etc.). The laminated menus are worn and and frayed, with a predictable offering of steaks, seafood, pasta fra diavolo, frutta di mare, clam chowder, and so forth. When you’ve finished your diet coke, the server brings an iced tea refill (that is, when she manages to notice you need one).
There are specials written on a board, and it is here that the Famous Oyster Bar comes alive. A whole trout stuffed with crabmeat was a pleasant surprise, crisp on the outside, and succulently moist inside. This was an entrée that actually required some thought, and they managed to get it right. My friend ordered soft-shell crabs and was also pleased.
We both had clam chowder to start; although unremarkable, it was a bargain at $3.95 for a cup. The seafood entrées were generally in the $19-23 range. The bill for two came to $82 (with only one of us drinking alcohol).
I’m willing to try anything once, and the Famous Oyster Bar managed to exceed expectations. It helps to have expected nothing.
Famous Oyster Bar (842 Seventh Ave at 54th Street, West Midtown)