Grand Central Oyster Bar
I don't like going out to eat on Valentine's Day. In fact, nothing about it feels right. I like to cook, especially for my wife, and it's an especially nice gesture on this most Hallmarkian day of days.
Alas, we decided to go out. Or rather, I did. Danna wasn't feeling all that great and wanted to just go to bed. The sleet and slush wasn't making it any more fun to be outside. But I didn't want to have to deal with cleaning a pile of dishes. Note: we don't have a dishwasher in our tiny NYC kitchen and knowing that I have a great big, new kitchen at our new home, it was hard to get interested in cooking this evening.
My goal was to have a nice night out with my wife, regardless of the "holiday", to a truly NYC place not serving a special Valentine's Day menu or prix fixe dinner and where there might not be a lot of lovey-doveyness taking place.
So we went to The Oyster Bar in Grand Central.
I love the building itself - it's easily one of my favorite structures in the city. I also love the ceiling at the restaurant and the fact that it's been around since 1913 - just three years older than our new house in the 'burbs.
We went in with few expectations. And they sort of met those expectations.
Before we got our water, we were given a printout of the items they were sold out of already: Blue Point oysters, haddock, mahi mahi, crab cake appetizer, crab cake entree, etc. Nothing says romance like the number 86.
When the time came, here's what we got:
Oysters. You have to get them here. They were very good (but not the best) and still cool, i.e., recently shucked. We got some Ninigret (Rhode Island) which were very good and very briny, Olympic Miyagi (Washington St.) which was meaty and rich and Ships Point (British Columbia) which was an all around solid specimen. They were out of Kumamotos and others.
Lobster Bisque. Terrible. Don't ever order this here. I've made much better myself at home. I think they neglected to include cognac (or sherry), but even that wouldn't have helped.
Clams Casino ($9.95). A very good interpretation with a thicker cut bacon of which they weren't chintzy. Several clams were doubled up with the stuff. Not as good as how I make them (I learned from the master: Seth Van Dorn of 18th Street Cafe in Barnegat Light, NJ), but very good.
We both went for the pan roasts because I've been told several times that the best dishes they serve are the pan roasts. Well, we were mixed on this. Danna went for the lobster pan roast ($21.95), I went for the lobster/shrimp combo pan roast ($20.95). I was a bit perplexed when it arrived, as it looked like a bowl of soup with chunks of lobster/shrimp and a slice of bread in it. I had to ask one of the 3 waiters that came to our table during the course of the evening if this was the stew or the pan roast. He confirmed it was the pan roast and that the stew was "milkier". Okay.
The flavor of the broth was rich - almost too rich. Most of the lobster and shrimp were good but I did bite into one piece of tough, overcooked lobster. Nothing terrible though. I enjoyed it for its simplicity but didn't care for how overly rich and buttery the vast amount of broth tasted - or rather, felt in my stomach. Danna didn't care for hers at all.
You have to get something on the side here and much like Luger's, they charge you mightily for these mediocre dishes. Steamed vegetables ($6.95) and god-awful, Burger King style french fries ($4.75) were our picks. They even had the audacity to use "baby carrots" instead of buying, at the very least, a horse carrot and cutting it. Blech.
As you'd expect. Fairly gruff, boom boom out the door, kinda treatment. Food came out fairly quickly, though our pan roasts were sitting at the waiter stand for a few minutes while the group of waiters tried to figure out to whom they belonged. Utensils and tabletops were dirty.
Overall, my expectations were met. It was romantic in that the location and architecture and old school charm met my criteria and I knew going in that the food was mediocre to satisfactory. Unfortunately I don't think Danna enjoyed it as much as me, but we had a nice night together, which in the end is really all that matters.