December 24, 2009

Grand Central Oyster Bar

There are 4 sorts of Oysters in this shot

Oysters Galore! (Crazy Big XXL Willapa Bay at top)

Grand Central Oyster Bar Menu

Armed with Rowan Jacobsen's A Geography of Oysters, which is now dog-eared and margin-noted several times, B and I walked into the Grand Central Oyster Bar on early Christmas Eve with eagerness. As our holiday treat, we decided to skip the fancy restaurants and go straight for the gold. Gold being oysters!

The cavernous restaurant at 4:30PM was scantily populated by Japanese tourists and cute little old couples who dined on monstrous lobsters and shellfish. Once seated, I studied long and hard at the menu. What once stood like an enigmatic list of old world wines, the names on the raw bar roster felt much more familiar now. At least two-thirds of the selection were noted in Jacobsen's book.

We decided to try nine kinds of oysters (two of each per person), which I can now confirm was over the top. I chose a variety of appellations to explore—some from the east, some west, and others from Canada. Some of the oysters came in two sizes - regular and American XL/XXL. Fortunately, our wise waiter steered us in the right direction, which you can read about below.

  • Belon (wild, Maine): Jacobsen emphasized their bold, unabashed brassy taste in his book. However, I couldn't identify any metallic notes. It laid in a flat shell and wasn't too salty or briny. I thought I had tried the wrong kind or assumed that my two Belons were mischiefs. But all four of the Belons that B and I tasted were middle-of-the-road. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but they didn't live up to their striking reputation. Every year, only five thousand Belons are harvested from Maine and sold, making them quite a rare treat. They were indeed the most expensive oysters on the menu ($3.75 per piece) and presented to us first. It made us wonder whether we received four rebel Belons or fake ones... 
  • Fanny Bay (British Columbia): This was a slender, yet deep cupped oyster had a crisp taste. The flesh was salty, but not overwhelming. Jacobsen and others consider this kind the archetypal BC oyster. I liked the manageable size, the dark flesh that surrounded the creamy middle, and the slightest tinge of green apple. 
  • Island Creek (Massachusetts): Instead of going for the predictable Wellsfleet oysters, I selected two types of oysters from nearby locations. But like all Massachusetts oysters, these were super salty and briny. I would recommend them to salt-lovers. 
  • Martha's Vineyard (Massachusetts): In comparison to the Island Creek, these oysters were less salty. After a bit of chewing, they tasted like seaweed from a savory miso soup. I think this was my favorite of the bunch. 
  • Moonstone (Rhode Island): As I consumed my first Moonstone, I experienced an elaborate flavor story. First, the saltiness hit. Then it turned subtly sweet and full of mineral flavors. It finished with a crisp cucumber after taste. In the book, Jacobsen beautifully describes the lush environment in which the Moonstones may have derived their full flavors from, and also ends with a fun fact about the origin of the name. Has anyone heard of Moonstone Beach, a famous nude beach in RI? 
  • Widows Hole (Long Island, New York): This oyster's thin and slender body held a deceptively large quantity of salt! It was very salty and had jelly-like flesh. According to Jacobsen, these oysters may have been personally delivered to Grand Central by harvester Mike Osinski on Wednesday, so they are ultra-fresh. He literally grows them in his own backyard. 
  • Quilcene (pronounced like "Quill-seen," Washington): Our first West coast oyster came in a small, deep cupped shell. It had a firm texture and tasted fairly clean. There was no sweetness in the meat, but it had a good amount of brininess. 
  • Totten Virginica (Washington): An Eastern oyster raised in the Puget Sound makes a very tasty creature that bursts with flavor. I really liked the medium-firm texture of this type. It wasn't too salty nor briny. If you come across this kind of oyster, be sure to try some! It's a unique East meets West variation. 
  • Willapa Bay (Washington): Curious about the XXL size, we asked our waiter if it would be worth having. He was hesitant to recommend it, but suggested to try a regular size and an XXL for comparison. When the platter came, I immediately understood why the XXL was unnecessary. If you look at the second image at the top, the gigantic monster of an oyster in the center of the plate is the XXL variety. The shell was at least six inches in length and the meat full and fat of glycogen. B somehow managed to slurp his entire oyster up in one gulp, but I could only finish a third of mine. It was just too much to handle, even for a die-hard oyster lover. As for the regular sized Willapa Bay, it was meaty (but manageable) and had more of a metallic taste than its bigger brother. 
If we didn't also have the oyster shooters and New England clam chowder before our collective three dozen oysters in a half shell, our bellies would have been fine. Alas, we waddled out of the Grand Central Oyster Bar sleepy and stuffed.

More pictures can be found here.


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