Serious Eats: New York
Apps Only: Pearl Oyster Bar
After last week's disappointing meal at the Fish Shack at BLT Fish, I felt it would only be fair to show everyone that there is such a thing as a great restaurant serving the simple, delectable seafood of New England here in the city. Like Fish Shack, Pearl Oyster Bar is not a place to get a cheap meal, but unlike the Fish Shack, it is well worth it, serving food that's simple, delicious, and comforting, all with a warm smile. I showed up last week as the restaurant opened—it's not particularly big, takes no reservations, and is incredibly popular, with good reason.
New England Clam Chowder with Smoked Bacon ($8) is a good place to start. While there weren't a ton of clams in the bowl, their briny flavor was pronounced, and the serving size was generous, easily shared between two people. It managed to be creamy and rich without getting gummy, and the kitchen showed restraint when it came to the bacon, using just enough to impart some smokiness without ever threatening to dominate the clams.
A small order of Steamers ($12) was also plenty for two people, and I for one could have kept it all to myself and called it a full meal—there were about a dozen in our order. Here's a food as much fun to eat as it is delicious; I can't be the only one who finds something cathartic in removing the outer skin, rinsing in brine to remove sand, and finally dunking into the butter for that last layer of richness. These were so sweet and mild, the drawn butter was practically unnecessary (not that this stopped me).
Salt Crusted Shrimp ($11) consists of three shrimp, battered and deep-fried with the shell on. After dipping in Pearl's superb homemade tartar sauce, you eat the whole thing, with the shell adding flavor and crunch. The shrimp sit on top of a salad of green beans, sliced red onion and red pepper strips: an afterthought, but a delicious one. The Fried Oysters ($13) are a striking presentation, six crisp oysters served in tartar sauce-filled half shells. They are precisely cooked, tender and rich and perfectly tempered by the tangy tartar sauce.
The best value of our meal was an order of Fries ($6). The shoestring fries at Pearl are crisp yet pliant and judiciously salted. They are delicious and piled way higher than necessary, not that we were complaining; we finished the whole plate.
In total the two of us spent $50 on food before tax and tip, $10 over our $15/person target price. But considering that you'd spend the same on mediocre seafood, it seems to me that when a seafood craving hits you, it's best to just splurge and go to a place like Pearl. It's hard to feel anything resembling regret after a meal so special.