Sometimes I get quite jealous when I read other people's blog posts. It's usually when they have wonderful connections in the food industry that I wish I had ("Why, I just had the most fabulous afternoon shopping at the Farmer's Market with Alice Waters!" etc.) I can't even name any restaurant where I know someone working there well enough to say it would make any difference on my dining experience.
Well, these days are over my friends. Hooray!
One of our best friends, T, from cooking school now works as the oyster shucker at Pearl Oyster Bar in New York. Since we were going to NYC mainly to catch up with her and lament that we no longer live in Paris, we of course had to check out her restaurant. Not that we needed much prodding: it is the famed Pearl Oyster Bar after all. I couldn't wait to try Chef Rebecca Charles' food and see how it compared to the New England seafood scene here in Boston.
The place isn't large, with an open kitchen, long bar, and some tables. I almost felt like a celebrity: we didn't have to wait in line because we were T's friends, and we were introduced to the chef herself, very gracious and inviting. We also got the best seats in the house, the last two bar seats closest to the kitchen. You can see all the action there: Chef Charles at the pass, inspecting and garnishing every item leaving her kitchen. You get to see the oysters being shucked, the seafood being fried, the lobsters being steamed, the lobster rolls being stuffed. A few times we got to chat with the chef and also watch her do even the most mundane tasks like putting away clean glasses.
Chef Charles and our friend T
The energy level in there is incredible. The staff has very little turnover and buzzes around so efficiently you wonder if you ever have to ask for anything because they will anticipate it. I haven't seen this much youthful energy in a restaurant since we went to Au Pied de Cochon in Montréal.
Of course we had to start with raw oysters, 6 on the half shell. My one critique of the menu is that there is only one selection of oyster offered each night, so it seems to contradict the name "Oyster Bar." But they were delicious, briny, and came with a great cocktail sauce and mignonette sauce.
Chef Charles sent us a little treat next: a taste of her fried oysters. They were amazingly light, crunchy, and full of ocean taste inside. I also really enjoyed the homemade tartar sauce, rich and with the relish cut slightly larger so that they offered a nice tart contrast to the oysters.
I never had steamers until I moved to Boston. These are clams that have little feet on them. You have to peel off this black layer of skin around each one, then swirl it in some clam broth to remove any remnants of sand. Then the whole thing is dunked in melted butter before it goes into your mouth. Such a weird thing, and I never would've guessed how you're supposed to eat them- for some reason they assume you know how to eat them. Thank goodness I have native New Englanders to indoctrinate me in their wise ways! The steamers here were the largest I'd ever seen, but juicy and full of flavor.
Salt Crusted Shrimp
Next came another small plate, 3 gigantic salt crusted shrimp. They were deep fried with their shells on, just like in many Asian cuisines. I love the taste and texture of fried shrimp shells, and they are purported to help you develop strong nails. I just like them because they're tasty.
Skate with Fresh Corn, Peppers, and Snow Peas
A bit of advice: always check the blackboard menu to see what the special is. We had a hard time deciding between the cod or the skate, but went with skate because it's not often seen on menus. This was a huge portion, fried in highly seasoned flour and garnished with only a wedge of lemon. The vegetable medley sang of summer: crisp, steaming hot, and simply prepared.
Unfortunately, we didn't try the famed lobster roll. We'll save that for our next trip. We had their famous apple crisp for dessert, but I guess I was too excited about it to take a photo. Either that or food coma was setting in.
For New York, the prices were quite reasonable, with entrees around $20 unless you got something with lobster in it. I love the fact that you can share tons of things and not have to take out a second mortgage.
We hung out after they closed to wait for our friend to break down her station, and all we did was dreamily nurse our glasses of wine and chat with the other staff about the celebrities that come through the door. What more could you ask for?
Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St.
New York, NY 10014