We went to Grand Central Station Tuesday night and, while we were there, ate supper at the Oyster Bar. Grand Central Terminal was one of those must-see tourist destinations we had to check off our list and, if I were here with a bunch of train nerds, I probably would’ve wanted to spend more time exploring the tunnels that branch off in all directions from the great hall but, being here as an ordinary tourist with My Darling B, we just went in, gawped up at the ceiling, took a couple of photos and left.
Luckily, Grand Central is not one of those places where they made us take off our shoes and belt and had to consent to a frisking just to get in and see it. This is only me talking but, if I were going to do the trip to New York City all over again, I would argue for not visiting any place like that. Grand Central’s still just a train station with thousands of people parading through it each day, so nobody’s getting frisked to get in, not yet, although there are soldiers with machine guns stationed in the hallways. I thought that was a little much.
Our guidebook says that the Oyster Bar has the best seafood in town. I hate to be a wet blanket, but if this is the best seafood in town, don’t even bother ordering seafood while you’re in New York. The Oyster Bar has seafood, and it’s not bad, but it’s not great. It’s not even pretty good. It’s good, and that’s about all it is. I’ve been served much better seafood in Madison, Wisconsin. No guidebook on earth has any business telling anybody that this is the best seafood in New York City.
But let me back up a little bit, if I may, and begin at the beginning, because The Oyster Bar’s problems don’t start with their inventory, they start with the service, which is bad in so many ways, the first way being that the host seemed to think it was his job to make us feel that we were about as significant to him as a couple of whiny kids, needing only to be shooed away so we wouldn’t sully the atmosphere for his better guests. As we approached his booth he stepped away to survey the dining room, so we waited a moment for him to return and, when he came back and I asked about a table for two, he pointed over my shoulder across the sandwich counter and gave me these instructions: “Through the doorway marked ‘Saloon.'” Not even a “please.” Just, Go away.
I was confused. I thought we were standing at the dining room and that he, the host, would seat us in the dining room, or at least tell me why he couldn’t serve us. A rude brush-off was not a response I expected, so I asked, rather reasonably, I thought, “Excuse me?”
“You wanted a table for two, right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I answered.
“Go through the door marked ‘Saloon’ and ask for a table for two,” he said.
From his expression I could see that we were dismissed, so I turned and lead My Darling B across the room to the Saloon because she was hungry and wanted to eat at The Oyster Bar, even though I couldn’t understand for the life of me why she would want to at that point.
The Saloon was a bar with a dining room, and we were met at the door by a sullen teenager dressed in the all-white livery of a bus boy who asked whether we wanted to sit at a table and, when we said we did, waved his hand toward the tables along the wall and told us to sit wherever we wanted. And he threw a couple of menus at us. I can’t remember if he brought us water glasses or if the stink-eyed waiter did, but it doesn’t matter. Whoever it was filled our water glasses only once, and after that pretended we didn’t even have water glasses.
The waiter was the worst piece of work of all the staff. When he came to our table to take our drinks order, I was ready with mine but when he turned to B and she said she was still thinking and would like to order in a few minutes, he rolled his eyes at her and stalked off. When he brought my beer several minutes later, he avoided making any eye contact with B and rushed off before either of us could say anything. Ten minutes later he rushed back to our table and literally positioned himself with his back to B, pointedly addressing me and me alone when he asked if we were ready to order now. “I’ll have the calamari to start and the smoked North Atlantic salmon for my main course, and she would like the, ah, I’m sorry, darling, what did you want?” He was forced to twist his head over his shoulder to take B’s order because he refused to turn to face her.
When one of the kitchen staff brought the calamari about ten minutes later, B still didn’t have a beer and she’d already drunk all her water, but she managed to snag the kitchen runner before he could get away and asked him if he couldn’t check on it, please. He must have caught up with the waiter somewhere behind the scenes because Mister Stink Eye appeared another five minutes later with a foamy glass of beer that he left in a puddle on the table before he ran off. B wrinkled her nose at it when she brought it to her lips, took a tentative sip, thought about it for a second before passing it to me and asked, “Does that taste like a lager to you?” The smell alone told me it was an IPA. B doesn’t drink hoppy beers, so I offered her my Oktoberfest, which she accepted rather than wait another ten minutes for something to drink.
The smoked North Atlantic salmon I had was pretty good, but it was only pretty good, and it was served with a lame garnish of about half a dozen scallions on a limp leaf of lettuce. Maybe I’m asking for too much, but even back in Madison, where seafood has to be flown in from the coast, I expect a plate of smoked salmon that cost me nineteen ninety-five to make me want to get up on my chair and sing.
My Darling B ordered a lobster sandwich. They called it something a little more frou-frou than that, I can’t remember exactly what, but it was shredded lobster in mayo on a really cheap white bread hot dog bun. Looking at it, I could almost picture the plastic ice cream bucket they scooped it out of. B didn’t even want to finish it and offered about a scoop’s worth to me. There’s a good indication of how much she liked it: She ate some and threw the rest to her husband. I finished it off just to see what it was like and, again, it was okay. Not even pretty good, just okay.
Go to Grand Central Terminal, I urge you. Look up at the ceiling and go, “Ahhhh.” Take those photos. But if you’re staying for dinner, get a sandwich in the food court. That’s affordable, and it’s just as tasty as anything they’ve got at the Oyster Bar.