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Pearl or Grand Central: Which Oyster Bar to choose?

My wife's aunt, who lives in Tokyo, and is flying in on Sunday, 8/27, saw a Japanese TV show singing the praises of the Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar. Now, she really wants to try it. I hear a lot of great things, however, about the Pearl Oyster Bar down on Cornelia. Having never been to either, and being admittedly ignorant on the topic of oyster bars in general, you can all see my conundrum.

Which, oh which, to take her to?

PS: I would like to get a sense of the prices, and, also, which place serves the better Lobster Roll.

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  1. I love Pearl Oyster Bar, and their lobster roll is excellent. But, if you want to try a lot of oysters, be aware that on a given night, POB will serve only two types of oysters, one of which will be on the half shell, and the other fried (delicious). Lobster roll is about $22 -25 - check for two with appetizers, two lobster rolls and a bottle of wine, and maybe a desert, may run around $120 - $130. Haven't been to GC for years, but I believe they serve a wide variety of oysters. Aquagrill is a favorite of mine for oysters - in Soho.

    1. For variety and historical significance-Grand Central Oyster bar. The back tavern room is a bit cosier and more softly lit.
      If it's just about the quality of Oysters, I think Blue Ribbon on Sullivan street is the most consistent.

      1. There's a branch of Grand Central Oyster Bar in Tokyo, so there's probably a bit of excitement about that specific place.

        I say take her there, as much for the selection of oysters and other sea creatures as for the room and ambiance. GCOB is about as NYC as you can get without being shot by P-Diddy in a dance club.

        Pearl's is great, but completely and totally different. It could be on any really nice little street in a really nice part of any American city.

        1. I'd vote for Grand Central as a classic Gotham experience.

          1. The Grand Central Oyster Bar is the New York experience. Stick to simple food; stews, panroasts, etc. Ask your waiter about which oysters he likes THAT DAY. Eat in the saloon, which has a great selection of beverages.

            Pearl makes a better lobster roll, but it is a New England beach front shack crammed into a Greenwich Village storefront. I prefer Mary's Fish Camp to Pearl's, although opinions differ widely on this board.

            1. Agreed...even though there is one in Tokyo, the OP's wife's aunt will likely be more thrilled by going to the GCOB than she would be at any other place in NYC (i realize i'm generalizing a bit, but having taken many Japanese to many different oyster bars in the city, the GCOB has always proved the most popular)...in fact, the GCOB is so popular w/ Japanese tourists that i sometimes go there partially to practice my Japanese language skills, as there are always a couple Japanese tourists sitting at the oyster bar ooohing and aaaahing over the different varieties and trying to figure out what a cherrystone clam is...

              On recent visits, the oysters from Alaska were particularly great...and i also recommend sitting at the oyster bar as opposed to the tables...and, i adore their fried oysters too ("GCOB no kaki farai wa totemo oishii ne")...

              1 Reply
              1. re: Simon

                I agree. I have taken so many Japanese friends & clients to Grand Central Oyster Bar and I've always received positive responses. They all seemed to enjoy New England Clam Chowder especially.

              2. I'm a huge fan of Pearl, but I agree with the sentiments of the board. Especially because she already expressed an interest in Pearl, I'd go there, especially because it is so beautiful. But she should know that it isn't a place to eat cooked fish. Raw oysters are terrific, pan roasts are delicious although I get tired of them midway through (sort of like drinking too much hot chocolate).

                GCOB has a wide selection of fresh fish, but I'd trust the one or two selections at Pearl much more. If you have a spare lunch with your "aunt-in-law," take her to Pearl for a pan-fried fish sandwich, a heap of french fries, and a butterscotch parfait or sundae. I think she'd enjoy it.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  Based, so far, on responses, GCOB is probably where I'll take her. She would definitely be into the quintessential NYC experience. Regardless, I would definitely like to check out Pearl someday. Thanks to all who have weighed in thus far. Lots of useful info.

                  Bear in mind that the meal in question won't take place for at least another 4 days or so, so anyone wanting to tip the scales in favor of Pearl, well, there's still time...

                  1. re: Polecat

                    Pearl for the lobster roll, there's just one kind of oyster, they are fresh and good but small and unexciting. GCOB at the bar for oysters. I hope you can do both!

                    1. re: kenito799

                      Not likely Kenito, she's only here for three days- a whirlwind tour that started in LA. But thanks. I'm looking forward to trying both, so as to be more informed for future visits.

                      1. re: kenito799

                        I don't know if an older Japanese lady would appreciate Pearl's lobster roll as much as we do, because they are used to different kind of lobster, like Ise-ebi lobster, and they tend to find Maine lobster not having much flavor and don’t seem to appreciate it so much...which upsets me everytime I get that response because I love Maine lobster!

                  2. You could start at the GCS Oyster Bar, have a few appetizers and a few glasses of muscadet, and then head to Pearl for their lobster rolls. That way, she can compare for herself.


                    NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

                    1. I like the way you think, NYCnosh!