Our slice of Manhattan is icon central, from the Chrysler Building to Grand Central’s clock to Iris Apfel. And so it was no surprise — but gratifying nonetheless — to learn that the James Beard Foundation has just given an East Side restaurant, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, its Design Icon Award for 2017.
(Photo above is of the Oyster Bar and its famous tiled ceiling.)
The Oyster Bar has been a subterranean presence in Grand Central Terminal for over 100 years and its patrons can never get over how exotic it is.
Not many restaurants are renown for their ceilings. Should you go the Oyster Bar and look heavenward, you would not be the first diner to wonder how the heck that heavy ceiling stays up. So did the builders, and that’s why you don’t have to worry.
Oyster Bar designers put ceiling through literal trial by fire
In 1901, they put weights over the vault and tended a fire in the space for three days, according to John Ochsendorf, a professor of architecture at MIT. Nothing crashed, proving that the vault was secure. In 1997, the restaurant suffered an unplanned and devastating fire. Again, the ceiling stayed in place.
The tiling style, inspired by Islamic architecture dating to the 12th and 13th centuries, was the work of Rafael Guastavino and his son, Rafael Jr.. At the turn of the century (that is, the 19th to the 20th), train stations and other public buildings and bridges were designed to be beautiful as well utilitarian. Today crowds of tourists visit Grand Central, not to catch a train, but to marvel at its splendor, demonstrating that attention to beauty comes with a long-term payoff.
Meanwhile, let us applaud another East Side restaurant that’s not nearly as old, but definitely old-school and iconic, Daniel, for winning the Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. That chef would be Ghaya Oliveira.
Tunisian-born Oliveira’s desserts are French still-life perfection. And chances are good you haven’t found them elsewhere.
Madagascar Milk Chocolate Crèmeux
Roasted Banana with Selim Pepper Mousse
Lime Confit, Caramel Ice Cream
Hang around, Ghaya. Please.
Daniel is at 60 E. 65th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues.