Pearl Oyster Bar, New York
Pearl has been one of my all time favourite haunts ever since the first time I lived in New York over ten years ago. I can still remember my first visit. There was a long line out the door, but when you stepped in it felt like you had stepped out of the dirty dark streets of New York and into a cosy beachside restaurant in Maine. In my mind's I can see the olive green half wall wainscot wood panels, the fisherman lamps casting a warm glow, the grey veined marble counter top and smiles from the staff as they greeted each patient guest. In the back the kitchen was a bustle of activity with lobsters steaming on the grill and oysters being shucked at a nearby station.
The menu has always been short, supported by seasonal specials written up in chalk. I had never tasted a lobster roll before and marvelled at the generous heap of tender lobster that arrived, nestled in a mildly sweet white roll, redolent of the melted butter used to crisp its exterior. The bartender suggested a glass of, was it Pinot Blanc or Viognier? Either way it was perfect.
That year I was often at Pearl, perhaps when there was cause for celebration, or when the city felt a bit much. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone and seated at the countertop, making friends. The food is always very good, sometimes exceptional, and beyond that somehow I always leave feeling like I have been away, now returned, on a trip to somewhere wonderful.
So here's my take on how to have dinner at Pearl.
I don't think I can ever visit and not have the salt-crusted shrimp. They are juicy, sweet and so beautifully fried you can eat the whole lot, shell and all, sprinkled with a little lemon and dipped in their fantastic tartar sauce.
I'm always a sucker for a plate of briny littleneck clams.
Last night we shared a whole roast pompano, stuffed to the brim with slices of garlic, tarragon, oregano and parsley and grilled to absolute perfection. It was all about the fatty, succulent meat still just clinging to the bone and crispy skinned heaven.
I would argue that Pearl's bouillabaisse is more of an intensely savoury fish and shellfish stock than the classic French soup but it's bloody good, as is the rouille toast. The enormous seared scallop, brown buttery skate wing, lobster claw and oodles of mussels and clams almost topple you over into a state of gastronomic bliss.
You always, always have to order the shoestring fries.
Last night Pearl's mythical blueberry crumble pie was on the menu and it didn't disappoint. Think of a buttery flaky crust, bursting with plump blueberries, crunchy caramelised crumble, and that dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
Tel: (212) 691-8211