The Raw Bar Man
Oh the wind and rain! My umbrella wilted in the deluge that took down New York City on Wednesday so I sought refuge underground in one of my favorite city haunts, the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. I sat at the counter among the tourist couples and Brooks Brothers and read the oyster menu, drawn in by the poetic provenance of brine. Here were pirate coves of Buzzards Bay, Cutty Hunk, and Widow’s Hole among the lyrical French Kisses, First Lights, and Moonstones. I ordered a dozen on the half shell from this bay and that, along with some fried smelts from Canada, and then the real decision was at hand. Oyster stew or pan roast?
Komy Uddin, the veteran raw bar man from Bangladesh, specializes in both. I’ve watched him make hundreds of stews and pan roasts over the years with envious precision. He waved inquiring servers away with his left hand while stirring stews with a metal spoon in his right. The lunch rush ceased; I ordered the stew. Into the battered steam kettle went a knob of butter and ladlefuls of glistening Blue Points and their liquor. Then, seconds later, a shake of paprika and celery salt, more than a squirt of Worcestershire, cocktail sauce, and finally, the rich milk. Uddin stirred, scooped, and scraped as steam rose off the surface of the stew. Satisfied, he spooned the plump oysters into my bowl, unlocked the swivel handle of the kettle, and dumped its contents in as well. Finally, a flourish of paprika and the stew arrived before me in 90 seconds flat. I opened a bag of oyster crackers and nodded thanks to the raw bar man.