On a David Lebovitz food, chocolate, wine tour several years ago, Alex Lobrano, former European correspondent for the now defunct Gourmet magazine, joined us for dinner one evening at one of Christian Constant’s establishments in Paris’ 7th arrondissement. David, former pastry chef for Alice Water’s Chez Panisse in Berkley, CA, is the author of The Sweet Live in Paris, Ready for Dessert, and My Paris Kitchen (my favorite).
Alex is a keen observer of the nuances that contribute to or detract from a restaurant. All is fair game. His descriptions often include illuminating quips about chefs, waiters or patrons. If you haven’t read Alex’s Hungry for Paris or Hungry for France, you have missed out on some fine writing.
Read here from the WSJ the fond memories Alex has of the Oyster Bar at New York City’s Grand Central Station and why it played a large part in his “epicurean education.” And enjoy GCS’s recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder. Bon appetite.
The old Oyster Bar was about the food America ate before it became interested in food. Then the restaurant, along with the country, got a bigger and better appetite. Often I’ll sit at the counter for a meal that’s expedient but inflected by the charm of serious waitresses. (These nice ladies aren’t biding their time until a second audition on Broadway.) On a swivel stool, I always go for the clams—Manhattan clam chowder and then the fried-clam sandwich. In the sit-down dining room, I’m more promiscuous. There I’ll let myself be tempted by oysters—their list is terrific—and then the chowder, or the chowder and the dish I order every other year to remind myself not to order it again: the fried coconut jumbo shrimps with coconut rice and pineapple, the awful faux-Polynesian thing I used to order before I learned to love real fish.
I suffered a childhood aversion to seafood, which is why it’s easy to plot the evolution of my appetite against the menu of the Oyster Bar. It was one of the key places where I shed my timidity at the table.
You might say it was the chowder that hooked me. The pivotal bowl came in the late ’70s, during a lunch with an elegantly leonine friend of my grandmother’s, a distinguished retired book editor I hoped could help me get a summer job. “One way or another,” she advised, indelibly, “if you want to work in publishing, you’ll have to be very good at doing lunch!” She ordered the Manhattan clam chowder, so I did, too.
I was apprehensive while we waited, but when the chowder came to the table, it looked pretty much like a nice tomato soup. It wasn’t. To my surprise, the clams goosed it up into something racier, their chewy meat adding bite to the bowl and their juices a delicious undertow of the sea. It was delicious.