Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pearl Oyster Bar - Cornelia St & W4th St

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St.

I love going to Pearl Oyster Bar - this weekend marked the fourth time I’ve been back in a year, and each visit is as delightful as the first. Pearl Oyster Bar has all the rustic charm of the Maine coast (where owner and chef Rebecca Charles grew up), but with a dash of polish, courtesy of Manhattan chicness. The long, marble bar and cream- and gray-painted walls evoke the inside of an oyster shell, while touches like old photographs, a hand-lettered sign above the bar, and the daily specials marked on a blackboard conjure up memories of your favorite New England lobster shack. Pearl Oyster Bar doesn’t take reservations (and isn’t open on Sundays), but if you’re willing to sit at the counter, the wait isn’t usually more than half-an-hour.

In all my visits, I don't think I've ever had a bad meal here. The chowder is thick and full of heavy cream, sweet clams, and smoky bacon; scallops and whole grilled fish are well-seasoned and cooked perfectly; and the bouillabaisse is spot-on, full of plump mussels, clams that taste like the ocean, and a succulent lobster tail, all swimming in sweet, salty lobster stock. The two stand-out dishes here, though, are the fried oysters and the lobster roll - without question.

Six to a serving, the big, plump oysters are dipped in batter and fried, then served on a layer of tartar sauce on the half shell, with lemon wedges on the side. I don't like tartar sauce, but something about Pearl Oyster Bar's combination of mayonnaise, scallions, red onions, and chopped pickles makes me want to lick the shells clean! The batter is light, and you’re still able to taste the oyster’s brisk, ocean flavor, even through the other competing flavors and ingredients.

Lobster rolls are a long-standing summer tradition, particularly on the rocky coasts of New England. Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll is one I crave in all seasons, though - large, sweet hunks of tender, pink tail meat are gorgeously piled high on a top-split, toasted, buttered roll. Charles uses a small amount of mayonnaise, along with finely chopped celery, lemon juice, and chives, but the mayonnaise-to-lobster ratio is still high enough to put your napkin to good use. The lobster roll is served alongside a mountain of shoestring fries, which are hot, salty, and begging for malt vinegar.

The incredible delight and satisfaction that comes from devouring one of Charles’s lobster rolls is perfect for any occasion. Finally got that promotion? Trying to shake off a bad date? I can think of no greater indulgence or consolation than an evening at Pearl Oyster Bar. And if you’re lucky enough to still have room for dessert, the lemon-scented blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream is enough to make Manhattan traffic sound like a foghorn sounding off the coast of Maine.


  1. Great review, on our next NYC trip will have to give the Pearl a try!

  2. I think I did lick the Fried Oyster Shells clean!

  3. Sounds yummy! Have you ever had the lobster roll at Ed's Lobster Bar in Soho? It's to die for too!

  4. Terrific review and I couldn't agree more! Love, love, love Pearl. It truly is an all-occasion place. Your write-up is spot-on. And that blueberry pie....oh my. Cheers!

  5. Some cure for the winter blahs - just reading this puts me right on the docks of Ogunquit, Urbanna, St. Michael's - even Quincy Market! Little Scarlet, you know the way to a seafood lover's heart! I'm grabbing my coat and gloves and heading over to Pearl's. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I love the Pearl Oyster Bar- every Spring we go and enjoy- the lobster roll is fantastic as well as the delicious blueberry pie! A tradition for us!