The oyster selection isn’t as extensive as Aquagrill’s, consisting of four East Coast and two West Coast varieties. We share two dozen, composed of Wellfleet and Spinney Creek (Maine) from the East and Fanny Bay (British Columbia) and Kumamoto (Washington) from the West, but the real stars here are the appetizers. The Angels on Horseback, oysters wrapped in double-smoked bacon from the renowned Ottomanelli & Sons butcher shop across the street, and the fried oysters with seaweed salad and ginger soy steal the show.
Next, we squeeze into the bustling John Dory Oyster Bar, attached to the Ace Hotel at Broadway and West 29th Street, and are magically seated right away, despite the happy hour rush. The happy-hour special, offered from 5 to 7 p.m., includes a half-dozen East or West Coast oysters or littleneck clams and a glass of sparkling wine or a pint of John Dory’s own Brooklyn-brewed oyster stout ale for $15.
The oysters are fine, if not quite as memorable as at the previous places; selections include Mermaid Cove (Prince Edward Island) from the East Coast and Stellar Bay (British Columbia) from the West.
The dining room is full of nautically themed scenic splendor. At either end of the bar stands an oversize fishbowl containing 100 gallons of water; one is filled with fish from the Atlantic Ocean and the other with specimens from the Pacific. The partylike atmosphere is enhanced by the hotel’s adjoining lobby.
No tour of Gotham oyster bars would be complete without a visit to the granddaddy of them all: the Grand Central Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. Established in 1913, the oyster bar is as iconic as the terminal itself, which opened the same year. We decide to conclude our oyster bar hop here with a seated dinner in the saloon behind the main dining room.
Our server hands us the daily menu, a handwritten broadsheet containing hundreds of seafood offerings, including 30 varieties of oysters, from which we pick a platter for the table to share. This is the only place where we find the wild Maine Belon oyster ($3.95), which is salty, smoky and metallic with a lingering aftertaste of zinc, but a rare delicacy just the same. The Medley of Shellfish platter includes 10 oysters, two clams, two jumbo shrimp, three New Zealand mussels and half a Maine lobster. I order a broiled grouper fillet from the Today’s Catch section of 27 types of fish.
The Old New York surroundings make us feel celebratory, and the meal is a fitting finale to a grand day. In the course of our movable feast, each of us has probably slurped between three and four dozen oysters, plus other shellfish, seafood and raw bar delicacies. And I’m not sure whether it’s all the beer we’ve drunk along the way, but as we wrap up our excursion, I leave the bar with a decidedly heady feeling.