Whenever my parents come to visit, all they want to do is eat sushi. It’s not that I hate sushi, but by the third day of eating sushi, it gets a little tiresome. I ask them if they want to try any other cuisines, like Russian, or Spanish tapas, or Turkish. Nope, they always stick with sushi, except maybe for lunch they will go to a non-trendy ramen shop in Midtown. I’m not talking about those hip new ramen joints where foodies stand in line for an hour- I would never stand in line for an hour for ramen, by the way, heck, I wouldn’t even stand in line for any amount of time for ramen. It’s just ramen, for Pete’s sake. But I digress.
There is one non-sushi place they will try, however, and that’s The Oyster Bar in Grand Central. Do not ask me why. It’s still seafood, but this restaurant has seen better days. It’s a remnant of Old New York, but my parents aren’t very nostalgic for Old New York, at least, not that I know of. In fact, the Oyster Bar has a lot of Japanese tourists, for some reason. Thank God for the Japanese tourists, right? How can Americana survive without them, I mean, Elvis would definitely be dead without their fascination of him. So, yes, I grew up here in America, in Buffalo, where you can’t get more Americana than that. It might seem weird now looking back on my childhood as an Asian girl wanting to be Olivia Newton-John and Judy Garland, but that’s a different story to tell for another time. I grew up watching old black and white movies, and I remember seeing one from the 1930’s where a sophisticated debutante orders oysters Rockefeller. I recently went back to the Oyster Bar, late one night coming back from work, and saw that it was on the menu. I quickly ordered it, having no idea what it is- do you know what it is? Well, first, it’s broiled, then second, it’s served on a half shell that’s stuffed with this creamy sauce and spinach, and somewhere within that goop, there’s supposed to be an oyster. I knew there was an oyster in the morsel that I put in my mouth because I could feel the grittiness of the sand between my teeth. I was picturing myself when ordering this dish of turning cosmopolitan, but if this is how the sophisticated and the wealthy ate back then, then- blech!
And yes, this is the same Oyster Bar that was featured in the TV show Mad Men, but that’s not how the Oyster Bar looks like now. It’s dingy and dimly lit, but clean. It looks like it hasn’t seen a remodel in decades, but some see the charm in that. Its vaulted tiled ceilings provide for loud echoes that amplify the noise to make it sound busier than it is. The torn vinyl seats at the counter make me feel like Walter Matthau will come up out of nowhere and sit right next to me. Most of the restaurant is not filled with Roger Sterlings in three-piece suits, but it’s rather a mix of domestic and foreign tourists in their fanny packs, and some commuters. There are still the Connecticut blue bloods that are grabbing a drink and a couple of oysters before they catch their train back home to Greenwich or wherever, and catching up with their second cousin once removed or their sister-in-law’s Godfather before they leave for Europe for the summer.
But thank God for the Oyster Bar, because it is still a nostalgic place which allows me to go back in time to visit the Old New York, but it also means that I don’t have to eat sushi for six days straight when my parents are in town.