Sophisticated oyster eaters enjoy having choices, and luckily in New York, the seafood wholesale business brings in fine oysters from producers all over the country. While most oyster bars are satisfied with five or six varieties, restaurants targeting the oyster connoisseur have no less than a dozen choices, if not more. The grand daddy of them all is obviously the Grand Central Oyster Bar, serving commuters, New Yorkers, and tourists alike. For a more intimate dining experience, you head to Aquagrill.
To classify Aquagrill as just an oyster bar, though, is not giving the restaurant its due. Aquagrill is a fine dining restaurant serving excellent seafood, and also feature a fantastic wine program as evident by the numerous awards from Wine Spectator. However unlike other fine dining establishments of this caliber, the first thing you see when you enter Aquagrill is the mound of oysters at the bar. It’s not an oyster bar, but rather a bar (for drinks) that has a pile of oysters on it.
During dining hours on most evenings, the restaurant is usually very busy, and the bar always packed. During the afternoon, before dinner service begins, you’ll also find crowds at the bar enjoying an afternoon snack of oysters.
Interestingly, the restaurant serves its full menu not just at the bar, but also at the “lounge area” where people wait for their tables. The lounge area is literally a small coffee table surrounded on 3 sides by sofa benches. Awkward? Very. Yet bizarre enough to make me want to give it a try.
So here we are sitting at a coffee table, and of the 8 people, 6 are eating while 2 are waiting. Napkins serve as table cloths. Leaning forwards and downwards, it’s not the most comfortable eating position that’s for sure.
While we could have had a wonderful 5 course dinner with drinks at this communal coffee table, we opted for a quick meal of an appetizer and some oysters. The wild mushroom soup was rich and flavorful, a great way to start a meal on a cool winter evening.
The white salmon tartare, which the waitress elaborately described (I’d like to think most New Yorkers have seen this fish so many times in the past few years it no longer warrants a narration, but then again she was trying to be helpful delivering food through a mob at the hostess stand into our dining lounge), was a bit on the salty side. However the delicious use of truffle oil and the soy/ponzu tasting sauce was a revelation amid all of the similar tuna tartares around the city.
Our assortment of oysters hit the table not too long after to envious glares. From the selection of the day, my favorites were Cuttyhunk and Lady Chatterly. I was quite impressed by the size of Effingham, which through a popular Twitter account @EffingOyster encourages people to get “Effed”. I have to admit they’re not my favorites, but to each their own.
I feel that Aquagrill’s formal setting, tight spaces takes away from the very primal shucking and sucking of oysters on the half shell, though if you can look past that, the oysters are fantastic and moderately priced. From the limited cooked dishes that I sampled, Aquagrill definitely warrant a return for a full sit down meal…. at a table with 2 chairs.
210 Spring St
New York, NY 10012