The book begins with a prologue that introduces Leo at a family wedding in July. Fast forward to October of the same year where the Plumb siblings are gathering for a family meeting at their go-to lunch spot in the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Each one has chosen to brace themselves for the occasion somewhere on the periphery of the Oyster Bar. Melody is at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on 42nd Street, secure in the knowledge that she wouldn’t run into the others there, they having rejected her suggestion to meet there instead. Jack is having a hissy fit at the Campbell Apartment, a little known upscale bar in Grand Central, also secure in the knowledge that he won’t be seeing his siblings before the appointed hour. The Campbell is too expensive, too staid – with a dress code, even. Jack, convinced that the mint in his drink had not been properly muddled, was sending it back. Beatrice was happily ensconced at Murphy’s on 43rd St. where she was something of a regular, as her husband, Tuck, had been friends with Garrie, the owner, back in Ireland. The first two are real places, although the Campbell Bar, closed now, is set to open again in May 2017 after a change in management. The Grand Hyatt is alive and well on 42nd St. A Murphy’s, however, is on 2nd Ave. at 52nd St., and it is an Irish Pub, so even though the genre of bar matches, the geography in the book is suspect. While all this is going on with three siblings, Leo, the eldest, is in Central Park for a “meeting,” when he realizes he’ll have to scramble to get a cab so as not to be late for lunch. Opening the book in this way gives the reader a quick, anecdotal sense of who the characters are, and an intimation of how they relate to one another. I was hooked from the first: Manhattan as the backdrop for a dysfunctional family showdown among four distinctively different personalities. Gold!
Grand Central Oyster Bar
The food had to be oysters, but because it also has to appeal to my palate, they had to be cooked, so I researched and found the cookbook from the Oyster Bar with their signature “Oysters Rockefeller.” This may seem like an awful lot of work, and it was, but for me, the hardest part was finding raw oysters, which surprised me, seeing as how I live in NEW ENGLAND, and we have oysters aplenty here. I found a seafood market in Beverly just before the Salem bridge that I had forgotten about and they had some pretty ugly oysters that tasted very good. Next time, I hope to secure oysters with flat shells so they’ll broil more evenly. It was delicious and festive and we ended up having just them for dinner bcause we were full. Definitely worth the effort. However, I would make the Vin Blanc Sauce a day ahead of time. The Hollandaise recipe included here is one that works for me. I was not successful with the more complicated Oyster Bar recipe.
12 oysters on the halfshell
Position an oven rack in the top position and heat the broiler. Remove the oysters from their shells. Place the shells on a rimmed baking sheet and spread 1 heaping tablespoon of the creamed spinach into each shell. Set the oysters on top of the spinach. Broil until the edges of the oysters are just starting to ruffle, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the broiler, top the oyster with about one tablespoon of hollandaise sauce, and return the pan to the oven. Broil until the sauce is brown 1 to 1½ minutes. Using tongs, divide the oysters among 2 plates and serve.
1 lb. frozen chopped spinach
1½ C vin blanc sauce
pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of ground white pepper
Place the spinach in a clean towel and squeeze out excess water. (I used frozen spniach and just squeezed out the excess water wth my hands.) Transfer the spinach to a large skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring often until spinach is warm. Stir in the vin blanc sauce, then season with nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir again. Keep spinach warm until serving it.
Vin Blanc Sauce
Makes about 1½ cups
1 C dry white wind preferably Sauvignon Blanc
2 T minced shallots
1¼ C water
¼ C heavy cream
2 tsp fish base or granulated fish bouillon
3T salted butter
3T all-purpose flour
Combine the wine and shallot in a saucepan and bring to a full boil. Reduce by half. Add the water, cream and fish base and return to a boil. Meanwhile melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring until it smells toasty, about 1 minute. Don’t let the roux brown.
Add about one half of the boiling liquid and stir well to dissolve the roux. Stir in the rest of the liquid and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and keep warm until serving.
Makes about 1¼ cups
1 C unsalted butter, melted
4 large egg yolks
½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 T lemon juice
¼ tsp Tabasco sauce or to taste
½ tsp kosher salt
Melt the butter. In the container of a blender put the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, Tabasco and salt. Set the blender on high speed and pour the butter into the egg mixture in a thin stream. It should thicken almost immediately. Keep the sauce warm (about 120º) until serving by placing the blender container in a pan of hot tap water.
My ugly shells with delcious oysters!