Monday, June 29, 2009

Pearl Oyster Bar: Momma, I’m Home

Grub Street recently took Corton chef-owner Paul Liebrandt on a tasting tour of downtown Manhattan, in order for him to weigh in on his favorite lobster rolls. While Mary’s Fish Camp took first-place honors (Liebrandt totally dug that the lobster was weighed right in front of him), it was rated only one point higher than his second favorite, Pearl Oyster Bar, whose sandwich was, according to Liebrandt, “everything you want in a lobster roll.”

My friend Eileen and I were more interested in Pearl Oyster Bar, a restaurant that had been on our radar for some time, so we made it a point to visit last Friday.

Boy, are we glad we did. A few weeks ago, I declared that Corton, the hot new restaurant of 2009, wasn’t really my scene. Pearl Oyster Bar is most definitely my scene—friendly, casual service; fresh, simple food; and a setting reminiscent of a cozy New England fish shack, down to the antique oil lamps, and a color scheme meant to invoke the beach. (…The irony isn’t lost on me that Corton chef Liebrandt—the “not-my-scene” guy—was the impetus to our visit).

Eileen and I arrived at 5:45 p.m. to a small line (doors open at 6:00 p.m., and reservations aren’t accepted). I kind of felt bad for the already-open, adjacent Le Gigot, especially when our line grew right past its front door. At 5:55 p.m., when there were about 30 people waiting, a hostess from Pearl unlocked the front door and made her way down the line, asking each person the size of his or her party, and if the whole party was present. “I feel like I’m going to a rock concert,” I whispered to Eileen.

Doors opened promptly at 6:00 p.m. The entire line was quickly and efficiently directed to respective tables in the dining room—impressive given the amount of people who needed to be seated simultaneously.

Once seated Eileen and I barely glanced at the menu, or the specials hanging on a chalkboard above us. We knew what we had come for:

Market Oysters ($10)
Kind of surprising that an “Oyster” Bar didn’t offer a selection, but these were fine, and just what we wanted—incredibly fresh and clean, served in their own brine, accompanied by both mignonette and cocktail sauce. Actually, these were more than fine; these were incredible.

Fried Oysters ($16)
Loved the presentation. Each oyster was deep fried in a crispy, hearty batter and then loaded back into an oyster shell coated with a light, chunky tartar sauce. Phenomenal. Eileen and I rotated fresh oysters with the fried until they were all gone. We could have made a very blissful, satisfying meal on these two dishes if we had doubled our order.

Lobster Roll with Shoestring Fries ($27)
What's not to love? Fresh, gorgeous chunks of lobster (Pearl Oyster Bar is not stingy with the lobster), and sweet mayonnaise that oozes out of a bun so deliciously toasted yellow with butter, I initially thought I was eating a potato bun (was I? Who knows, but the bun was terrific). The matchstick fries were well-cooked and seasoned, but I prefer my fries a little meatier. These were silly small, almost annoying.

For dessert, we ordered an ordinary but acceptable Hot Fudge Sundae ($8)
And an absolutely out-of-this-world Blueberry pie ($8):
This tasted as if it came straight out of Grandma’s oven. No over-the-top showmanship here, just the amazing magic of combining brown sugar and butter.

Pearl Oyster Bar exceeded my expectations on just about every keeping it simple. Yes, the lobster roll is every bit as good as everyone raves (as long as mayonnaise is your thing); but the real surprise was realizing I have never enjoyed fresh and fried oysters so much.

Oooh, and pie. Stay for pie.

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-8211


  1. Those fried oysters look amazing. I'm not an oyster fan but I think I would order them.......and of course the blueberry pie.

  2. After a highly enjoyable dinner with Sharon at Pearl Oyster Bar, I took my willing husband Alex to Brooklyn Fish Camp in Park Slope. It is an outpost of Mary's Fish Camp which was rated #1 lobster roll in NYC, next to Pearl Oyster Bar's # 2. Walking in, it looks like a typical Park Slope eatery, clean tables/chairs, candles on the table and an expansive outdoor garden section. The only difference is that it had a nice open kitchen where we could easily see our food being prepared. For appetizers we had Peel & Eat Shrimp, and fried oysters. The fried oysters were good, but nothing compared to Pearl Oyster Bar. Their tartar sauce was mayo with chopped onions & capers; nothing like the homemade goodness of POB. For entree I had the lobster roll and Alex had raw clams which he loved. The lobster roll was very very good. Perfectly seasoned, the lobster was fresh and delicious. The fries were yummy! Comparing to POB, I would say the Brooklyn Fish Camp was slightly better in terms of the lobster itself though it's a small difference. For dessert we shared a hot fudge sundae which was decent, served with gelato from a local gelato place.

    Prices were almost to the dollar exactly what we paid at Pearl Oyster Bar which isnt surprising considering most restaurants in Park Slope and nearby charge Manhattan prices. The peel & eat shrimps were $10 for 1/2 pound, fried oysters were $11, lobster roll was $29, fresh clams were $10 for 1/2 dozen and the hot fudge sundae was $8. I really enjoyed the meal, though if I had to chose to return to 1 it would be Pearl Oyster Bar.......those fried oysters and tartar sauce is difficult to beat!

  3. Hey Miss Good Life Contributing Editor! :-)

    Thanks for the report! I was curious how Fish Camp stacked up to Pearl. One question: you said the fries were "yummy." Were they the same matchstick variety as Pearl's? Cause I wasn't really a fan of those. Not enough meatiness, too much crisp.

    So happy to see your comparison/contrast on here!

  4. Sorry it took me so long to reply to this! I should get a demontion!
    Yes, the fries were the same matchstick ones as Pearl Oyster Bar, and now that I think about it, its reminiscient of the potato stix I loved as a kid....ah nostalgia!