Tuesday, October 22, 2013


When I first arrived in New York in the early 70s, the fabled Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant had become a has-been, and like Grand Central Station itself, a relic of a more gilded age. In fact, New York City was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The city's fabled brownstone townhouses were cheap. Jobs were evaporating. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and an army of saviors, however, refused to let Grand Central disappear, which is what happened to the architecturally significant Madison Square Garden station. Grand Central's Beaux Arts structure became a cultural and historical landmark and was restored to the praise of architecture critics, and the hundreds of thousands of visitors and commuters who passed through it daily on their way to work from their suburban homes. At the same time, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority made the decision to restore The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant to its former glory and chose James Brody, a restaurant executive whose career included the restoration or launching of some of the city's most legendary restaurants (such as The Four Seasons, The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Gallagher's, Mama Leonie's, and the Rainbow Room), to bring it alive again. The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant quickly regained its place at the center of Manhattan's restaurant life and has never looked back--still packing them in nearly forty years after rising like a Phoenix from the ashes,

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of its 1913 opening is THE GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR AND RESTAURANT COOKBOOK (Stewart, Tabori and Chang; October 15, 2013; $35.00;  ISBN: 978-1-61769-061-7) Here is that rare restaurant cookbook that works for the home cook (though its handsome packaging will require careful use). Written by Sandy Ingber, executive chef of the restaurant, and Roy Finamore, a leading cookbook author, editor and photography stylist, the book's retains classic seafood recipes that established its reputation with new favorites that enhance the freshness and great taste of seafood.

I think most will agree that seafood tastes best when it is cooked simply and not smothered with lots of ingredients or encumbered with complicated cooking techniques. After all, the restaurant became famous for its Oysters Rockefeller, stews and pan roasts, fried and broiled seafood and a wide variety of oysters from around the world.  This book lists eleven pages of 253 different types of oysters (along with their sources, sizes and flavors) that have been featured on the Grand Central Oyster Bar menu. Oyster Stew has been on the menu since the restaurant opened. Keeping it classic and contemporary while maintaining the simple integrity of the seafood, each chapter in THE GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR AND RESTAURANT COOKBOOK covers all the bases. Highlights include:

Starters:  From Long Island Steamers with Drawn Butter and Bloody Marty Oyster Shooters to Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail and Caviar Sandwich

Fried Seafood:  Fried Ipswich Whole Belly Clams with Tarter Sauce, Fried Calamari with Marinara Sauce, Lemon Sole Goujonettes and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Baltimore Red Sauce

Sandwiches:  Crabmeat Salad Sandwich, Maine Lobster Roll with Cole Slaw, Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich with Tartar Sauce and Lettuce, and Smoked Salmon Sandwich with Capers and Dill Butter

Cold Buffet:  Cold Poached Whole Maine Lobsters with Lemon-Dill Mayonnaise and French Bean Salad, Shrimp and Crabmeat Caesar Salad and Cold Poached Salmon with Cucumber Dill Salad and Sauce Verte

Soups, Stews and Pan Roasts:  New England Clam Chowder, Manhattan Clam Chowder, Gazpacho with Maine Lobster and Corn, Oyster Stew and Oyster Pan Roast

Today's Catch:  Dover Sole Meuniere, Broiled Brook Trout Amandine, and Shad Fillet and Roe Combo, Tomato and Bacon

Main Dish Specials:  Seared Extra-Large Sea Scallops with Sweet Pink Peppercorn Sauce, Blackened Montauk Swordfish Steaks with Spiced Pecans and Baja-Style Fish Tacos with Southwestern Slaw, Chipotle Pico De Gallo, and Mexican Crema

The dessert chapter doesn't get fancy either, just excellent recipes for the restaurant's favorite sweets, including Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Creams, New York Cheesecake, Rice Pudding and Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

There is also an excellent chapter on Sides, Butters and Sauces. I was glad to have a recipes for Wasabi Mayonnaise and Creole Remoulade.

The book features lots of vintage photos along with the many color photos of finished dishes. The large format book lays down perfectly and is easy to cook from as long you protect it from kitchen mishaps.

Most restaurants celebrating their 100th anniversary have stood the test of time and there are few in that elite club. The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant actually closed about the halfway point in its storied history. Today it is a destination, visited by tourists, its regulars, and plays hosts to hundreds of domestic and business celebrations year round. THE GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR AND RESTAURANT COOKBOOK extends this fabled brand to those of us not close enough to enjoy as New Yorkers do. Here is one restaurant book that you can cook from at home. All you need is impeccably fresh seafood. The recipes take care of the rest.

Oyster Pan Roast, one of Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant's most celebrated
dishes, has been on the menu for nearly a century. 

Oyster Pan Roast

Serves 1

In his book Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food, food maven Arthur Schwartz says that the “Pan Roast of oysters and clams [is] among the oldest dishes still served in New York, dating from the first decade of the twentieth century, when Heinz ketchup and chili sauce were new, cutting edge ingredients.”

¼ cup clam juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon celery salt
¼ teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika, plus additional for garnish
6 extra-select or large East Coast oysters, shucked, with their liquor
3 tablespoons Heinz chili sauce
2 cups half-and-half
1 slice white bread, toasted
Oyster crackers for serving

Put the clam juice, butter, Worcestershire, celery salt, and paprika in a medium heavy saucepan over high heat. When the butter melts, add the oysters and their liquor and cook, stirring, until the oysters become plump and the edges begin to ruffle, about 45 seconds. Stir in the chili sauce and half-and-half and cook, stirring often, until it is just coming to a boil, about 3 minutes.

Put the toast into a warmed soup plate and pour in the pan roast. Garnish with a shake of paprika and serve immediately, with oyster crackers.

Variations for Stews and Pan Roasts

Cherrystone Clam Pan Roast
Substitute 5 or 6 cherrystone clams for the oysters.

Ipswich Clam Pan Roast
Substitute 3 ounces (about ⅓ cup) Ipswich clams for the oysters.

Shrimp Pan Roast
Substitute 6 peeled and deveined shrimp (26–30s) for the oysters.

Lobster Pan Roast
Substitute 3 ounces cooked lobster meat for the oysters.

Sea Scallop Pan Roast
Substitute 5 or 6 sea scallops (20–30s) for the oysters.

Combination Pan Roast
Substitute 2 extra-select oysters, 2 sea scallops (20–30s), 2 peeled and deveined shrimp (26–30s), 1 ounce Ipswich clams, and 1 ounce cooked lobster meat for the oysters.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I recently received two very attractive cookbooks originally published by Hardie Grant, an Australian publisher, which have been recently release in the United States through Rizzoli New York.  GREAT PUB FOOD: Make Home Your New Local by Rachael Lane (paperback w/flaps; $24.95; ISBN: 978-174270451-7) and LE PETIT PARIS: French Finger Food by Nathalie Benezet ($19.95; 978-1742705965) have many fine recipes in them, but they are undermined by in the case of the former, some odd recipes that wouldn't quite qualify them as pub grub in the United States, and one giant boo-boo on the cover of the latter. Let me get that out of the way first.

The tasty-looking cake on the cover of LE PETIT PARIS is called a Canelé, which Wikipedia describes as “a French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust.” It’s distinctive shape—“a small, striated cylinder approximately two inches in height, is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France.” Canelé are a relative novelty to the U.S., though I saw them on display in many pâstisserie shops in Paris this past April. Recipes are very hard to find (probably because you need special molds to bake them in), and I thumbed through many cookbooks in my library of nearly 1,000 volumes, and could only find one recipe. They are not mentioned in Julia Child’s cookbooks, nor in Madeleine Kamen’s encyclopedic The New Making of a Cook and not in the baking books of Dorie Greenspan, Maida Heatter, Nick Malgieri and others.  I am going on at length here because there is no recipe for a Canelé in LE PETIT PARIS. So why is there a photo of one on the cover of the book?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use one of the photographed recipes inside? It's a pity as my cookbook collection clearly proved, we're in need recipes for this pastry. 

Taking a closer look at LE PETIT PARIS brought out the sourpuss in me.  Who among us is going to make very small Foie Gras Burgers, using hamburger buns made from scratch? The recipe for classic Celeriac Remoulade is served on tiny plates. It is a common-enough recipe (as are all of the recipes here) that appears in many books—French or otherwise.  But the height of absurdity is a recipe for Crème Brûlée, which is served on small spoons, sprinkled with brown sugar and blow-torched to a candied glaze! That’s right, folks—one bite for all this effort. This is the sort of thing you might find charming in a little pâtisserie, but a pain in the neck at home. That doesn't mean the recipes are bad, but aside from those of who prefer little plates, what is the point? 

GREAT PUB FOOD is more Australian gastro-pub and than American pub and quite a bit of this kind of cooking is probably not available in your neighborhood pub—but then again, your pub food probably wouldn’t translate well in Australia. Still I don’t anticipate making Greek Lamb and Haloumi Burgers (Haloumi requires a special trip to your specialty cheese store—it’s not widely available). Nor am I a big exponent of deep frying at home, so while I would be delighted to encounter Tempura Fish Burgers with Wasabi Mayo at a restaurant, I’m not smelling up my house doing this at home. Getting rid of the used oil always drives me nuts anyway. There is a nice selection of British-style pies—Steak and Mushroom, Beef and Guiness, and Vegie Curry all sound interesting. The Smoked Fish Pie was an irksome recipe because the fish it calls for are not available here (what the heck are Blue Eye or Trevally?).  At least suggest alternatives. I’m not being jingoistic. Most home cooks are going to see those ingredients and move on. There’s a main course chapter that features food I associate with ethnic or more upscale restaurant dining.  Steak Diane is pure bistro—even old-school Continental cooking. Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Parmigiana and Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni come from traditional Italian red-sauce joints, while Chicken Kiev, Beef Wellington, Veal Saltimbocca, Mushroom Risotto, and Maple and Mustard-Glazed Pork Cutlets with Roasted Apple Sauce, belong more to the higher-end gastro-pub. The next chapter’s fare from Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Chipotle Mayonnaise, Prawn and Chorizo Paella, Rabbit Cacciatore to Moroccan Spiced Lamb Shanks with Date and Roasted Almond Couscous and Osso Bucco, are simply not pub food at all.  So much of this food is very sophisticated. I love Fattoush, a Lebanese salad of stale, toasted pita with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and other vegetables, feta and a dressing of lemon, sumac and garlic. But it’s hardly pub food. Even desserts are primarily from Down Under or across the pond:  Chocolate Stout Puddings, Lime Delicious, Sticky Date Pudding, Bakewell Tart

Was GREAT PUB FOOD originally intended for the American market? Not sure. Maybe an editor decided to try because there are both metric and liquid and solid measurements used here). There is no Introduction from the author to establish the point of her concept, and none of the recipes have headers which could have explained her choices as pub food, or their appeal to her. In the end, the book didn’t work for me. We certainly have more sophisticated pubs that go well beyond serving a solid burger or pile of nachos.  Here in south east Portland, Oregon, we need only to look at Sunshine Tavern to see a neighborhood restaurant that serves sophisticated, well-made food. I guess I’d rather have a pub cookbook featuring recipes that reflect what I can easily find locally.