Recently, a friend suggested dinner in the iconic Oyster Bar & Restaurant at Grand Central Terminal. I’d never dined there, and I suppose this is one of those experiences—like a walk in Central Park—that everyone must have, at least once. The walk in Central Park is an experience you’ll more likely repeat. Here, the fabled Guastavino ceiling is instantly impressive, but I don’t understand why they spoil the atmosphere with red-and-white checked tablecloths that would look cheesy even in Red Lobster.
Oyster Bar’s Long MenuThe Oyster Bar has been around since 1913. I didn’t do an exhaustive search for reviews, but I noted that Bryan Miller of the Times awarded one star in 1989, and William Grimes demoted it to Fair (two notches below one star) in 2002. Miller noted an earlier two-star review in 1985, which I didn’t try to find. Its most recent write-up was a Diner’s Journal piece by Sam Sifton in May 2004, after a strike had shuttered the restaurant for 112 days during the preceding winter and spring, finding a bit more to like than Grimes did.
The menu is about three times longer than it should be. Reprinted daily, it comes on a broadsheet that takes about 20 minutes to read. No restaurant could possibly offer so many items, and expect to excel at all of them. A month of dinners at the Oyster Bar wouldn’t be sufficient to get through it all.
Both Grimes and Sifton agreed that the bar is superior to the tables, but we were ignorant of that advice, and sat in the dining room (which, in any case, was better suited to our party of three).
While we waited for the third in our party to arrive, my friend and I shared the completely forgettable Fried Oysters with Tartar Sauce ($8.95; above left). The Smokehouse Sampler ($23.95; above right) features Atlantic Salmon, Pacific Sturgeon, Brook Trout, horseradish cream and capers. Once again, I was struck by the blandness of it.
One of my friends ordered the New England Clam Chowder ($5.75), which she loved. The other ordered the Trio of Cheeses ($8; pictured left), which he enjoyed. There are probably some wonderful things among the 100+ choices at the Oyster Bar, but I wouldn’t recommend either of the ones I tried.
Service was not particularly attentive, but everything we ordered came out fairly quickly. There are some unusual bottled beers, and in his review Grimes had good things to say about the wine list. We contented ourselves with some port after dinner.
Oyster Bar & Restaurant (Lower Level, Grand Central Terminal, East Midtown)
Ambiance: It’s a train station