Posts Tagged ‘restaurant’

Grand Central’s Yer Oyster

Oysterbar_Grandcentral2

I had a business pow-wow on 42nd Street today, so I took advantage of being a block away from New York’s Grand Central Station and went for a recon mission. The station, aside from being one of the most photogenic in the US, is one of those rare places where transit and gastronomy co-exist and even thrive – something you really appreciate if you spend a lot of time at airports or that other, crappier NYC train depot, Penn Station.

So where other stations would have a Pizza Hut, I walked through the glorious stretch of the Grand Central Markets: a hall of gourmet producers and providores supplying quality cheeses, meats, fish and more. I sampled a terrific sausage flavoured with black truffle shavings, tasted a killer duck paté and ogled lots of dry-aged steak.

After the food-perving was done, we walked down to the Oyster Bar, an institution in Grand Central’s lower depths that’s been on my hitlist for years. My dining companion and I stepped inside the glass frontage and entered into the sprawling room, with tiled, curvaceous ceilings that conjure a feel somewhere between a Moorish temple and a circus tent. And before me lay a long countertop in a continuous snake around old-school waiters and waitresses.

To say that the Oyster Bar’s menu is a single page is true, and at the same time, a vast understatement. The daily-updated menu packs in a dizzying array of oysters – 34 different varieties on the list today – plus an equally extensive offering of fresh fish, plus often-fried appetisers, a cold buffet selection, stews, cooked and uncooked shellfish, main dishes, soups and more. I don’t get overwhelmed easily, but I found I couldn’t digest it all.

The first thing I did was defer to the waitress, who nullified my pick of a Belon wild oyster from Maine (too big), and requested that I allow her to choose the oysters for us. We happily deferred, and then added a couple of more tastes to accompany, including a shared bowl of New England Clam Chowder and a starter of Dungeness crab cocktail.

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The good news is that the restaurant’s namesake more than does it justice: a choice of Blackberry Point oysters from Canada’s Prince Edward island were flavourful, lively and with the crispness of super-cold waters, and Totten Viginica’s from Washington State were also very satisfying, and would have been more so if I wasn’t pining for a few more of the Blackberries. Each oyster came accompanied with a lemon wedge, ketchup and a light vinegar, but I only sparingly used the latter to enhance the oysters. I thought the ketchup to be a strange condiment until I discovered that glasses filled with what looked like wet sugar were actually filled with horseradish. Add a dollop to the ketchup and voila – your own homemade cocktail sauce.

I’d go back to the Oyster Bar any day for its oysters, and there’s also a matter of a splendid wine list that’s nearly as long as the food menu, with an astonishing number by the glass – 77 on a rough count. What I wouldn’t return for, though, would be the clam chowder, which was overly creamy for my tastes, the too-dry biscuits that arrive pre-meal, and the Dungeness crab, which was so bereft of flavour (assumedly because it had been frozen for so long) that it may as well have been a faux Asian crabstick.

Yet I still have a yearning to return to the Oyster Bar, partly to sample more of its library of oysters and to visit more regions of its one-pager menu. There’s a whole “Today’s Catch” section to examine when I’m feeling hungrier, from pan-fried black cod to wild Columbia River red king salmon, and grilled surgeons steak with anchovy butter. Our waitress also recommended the oyster po’boy, oysters Rockefeller and fried Ipswich clams – none of which I heeded – and there’s also a matter of a $27.95 Maine lobster roll, which I’m still wondering whether it would be worth the lunchtime investment.

So the next time I’m close enough to hear the trains a’rollin’, I’m up for another round with the day’s catch. And it wouldn’t hurt to wade through those 77 glasses of wine. If I’m going to go off the rails, what better place to do it than at the station.

Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Grand Central Station, New York, www.oysterbarny.com

Grand Central Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Escape to New York – Momofuku Ssam

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It’s been a whirlwind month-and-a-half, travelling from Melbourne to Sydney to Los Angeles, the California Coast (Ventura, St Ynez wine valley, Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey), San Francisco, New Orleans and finally to New York. Yes, it’s been a big quiet on the Gosstronomy front, but expect that to pick up now that I’m going to be based here for at least the next five months. The plan is to cook at some top NYC restaurants and work on my first food book. Wish me luck. I’ll share the details in due course, but I’m keeping things under wraps for the time being.

Food here in New York has been an eye-opener, something that didn’t register as much on my brief visits home every couple of years. I’ve always defended New York against Australians who were quick to slag off the size of meal portions, complain about the coffee and contend that the pizza was no good. I’d contend that they didn’t choose the right venues. Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, I’d tell the, you can’t just eat anywhere in New York; you have to know where you’re going. That’s still the case, but my God, it’s apparent more than ever that they’re right about the portion sizes. If I want a large Coke, I order a small. Sarah and I share as many meals as we can, and if we order separately, we often regret it with bloated bellies. And the food, on average, is surprisingly heavy. Even a couple of trips for Japanese food have revealed mammoth platters and sashimi pieces so large and thick, they may as well have just plopped an uncooked tuna steak onto my plate. And don’t get me started about the coffee. I know there’s a good cuppa out there, but it’s been a long, hard search to find it, and so far I’ve only found one obscure place – in Hoboken of all places – with Japanese barristas who’ve been (of course) trained by an Australian roaster.

There’s fantastic food in New York, if you can be selective enough and pay for it. After a string of ho-hum and downright artery-clogging meals, my first memorable dinner in the city came last week at the well-regarded Momofuku Ssam. Sarah and I were off to meet some friends for a drink at Terroir wine bar in the East Village when we wandered past Ssam and noticed that the usual long lines looked downright reasonable for a Friday night. We wanted more than wine bar nibbles, so we lined up for the 30-minute wait at Ssam, not a long time in this town for a weekend night.

For all the word-of-mouth I’d heard about Momofuku Ssam, the place was more casual than I’d expected… or maybe that should be casual-cool. It’s a narrow room that open-airs to Second Avenue (at least in the warmer months), crams a few small tables opposite an elongated bar and then opens to a small dining area that sits in front of a modest open kitchen. The staff is young and funky, both on the floor and in the kitchen, whereas neighbourhood residents compete for seats with what seem to be Midtown tourists and excitable pilgrims from the burbs. The fashionistas, I reckon, are either at house parties hiding from the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, or they’re moved on to Keith McNally’s oh-so-hot-right-now Minetta Tavern. Weekend dining can be hell for locals.

But the food, the FOOD, is like a breath of fresh air. We’re talking refined, restrained and inspired dishes that have so many influences, it’s hard to put together a cuisine type to define it, and I’m reticent to use the F word: fusion.

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We were seated at the bar and started our meal off with cured hamachi (a.k.a. yellowtail or Japanese amberjack) from the raw bar, and tucked in to tender slices of sashimi with a drawbridge of edamame-and-horseradish puree spread across the plate, a scatting of pea leaves and topped with unidentified salty/crunchy granules for contrasting texture. It is as light yet lively a dish I’ve seen since I left Australia in early April.

Next up we tried the starter of steamed pork buns, which seem to be the signature dish of the restaurant and were highly recommended by the waiter, and by friends who popped in on their way to Terroir. Unlike the doughy balls that take down appetites with leaden accuracy at typical dim sum joints, these buns are crafted with a less-aggressive clamshell of a bun, giving the hoisin-flavoured pork more prominence. Next up, a grilled fillet of branzini with fried jicama matchsticks, tomatillos and pepitas (lightly roasted and salted pumpkin seeds) are tasty, but don’t provide much in the way of fireworks. More memorable is a mince of spicy pork sausage with Chinese broccoli and fried shallots (eschallots to you Aussies), which was dotted with cylindrical drums of rice cakes that provide a riveting popcorn-like texture that stands as a polar opposite to the saucy, spicy sausage. It’s a match made in gastro-heaven.

We wrap up with the Thai ice tea parfait, which we weren’t excited about, but chose it as none of the three desserts sound very appealing, but we needed to sate Sarah’s sweet tooth. Thankfully, we are mistaken. The butter-stick length of tea cream offers a smooth, sweet essence that is lifted by an adjoining, tart lemon mascarpone and the satisfying bite of an almond tea crunch, spread over like rubble from a rockfall.

On another night we visit the Momofuku Bakery and Milk Bar that sits just behind the restaurant and find ourselves exposed to a world of insanely decadent treats. There are sugar-cereal flavoured milks, ice creams with uncommon flavours like ‘donut’, ‘fireball’ and ‘Bavarian cream’ and outrageously caloried cookies, including a cornflake, marshmallow and chocolate chip cookie, which I barely finish. The Bakery is worth a stop on its own, although I’d advise a date of the gym the day before and after, lest you get one step closer to becoming a contestant on “The Biggest Loser”.

Momofuku Ssam, 207 2nd Ave (and 13th St), New York, NY, +1 (212) 254-3500
Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

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