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Pearl Oyster Bar -- Review

So, after many years wanting to try it and never getting my butt down to that part of town, I finally managed to eat at Pearl. I was desparately craving a lobster roll, and had it narrowed down to Mary's, Tides, Mermaid Inn and, of course, Pearl. It was a Saturday, so I would have to brave the Saturday night crowds, and after reading many hounds reviews, raves and/or criticisms and weighing to pros and cons, I decided on Pearl.

I knew that I wanted to fried oysters and mussels to start, and that I would not be satisfied without the lobster roll, but was somewhat frightened by some of the reviews indicating poor service. On the subway down I issued my SO a warning: although the food should rock, the service probably would not. Boy was I mistaken.

We arrived about 10 minutes prior to opening to see a line of 20 or so Pearl fans, eager to get one of the first tables. By pure luck, we (a twosome) were happy to receive the very last table in the house. We ordered the Sancerre, and although they were out the server very gratiously recommended another white with hints of Peach in the finish. To my surprise, her recommended choice was nearly ten dollars cheaper than my first choice, and we were very happy with the pairing.

The apps arrived (fried oysters and mussels) and we were in heaven. Light crisp breading on the oysters crunched in our mouths and gave way to a creamy FRESH FRESH taste of the sea. The oyster itself was cradled in the shell and resting on the best homemade tartar sauce --- a perfect accompaniment. The mussels were also to die for, fresh plump and juicy, in a light cream sauce that we happily shoveled into our mouths with the bread that the servers not only supplied, but resupplied us with.

Then came the main course: for me, a lobster roll with those great shoestring fries and malt vinegar and for my SO, the boulliabaise, which came with more mussels (which we were not tired of, especially because they were complimented by two very different sauces), two cherrystone clams, a large and perfectly grilled scallop, what we believe was a piece of red snapper, a large shrimp and a half lobster tail. We alternated bites between the lobster roll and the boulliabaise, and probably weirded out our neighbors with our very audible oohs and aahs. Absolutely NO complaints. The lobster roll -- as documented in the past by fellow hounds -- came in a perfectly delicious and fresh buttered roll: soft and a little crisp at the same time, and the butter was an ideal compliment to the MORE than gracious portion of lobster. I had read that Pearl uses too much mayo, but did not find that to be the case. Instead, my roll had more lobster than anything else, which suited me just fine. And the fries, well -- I would go back just for the fries. We also had their house specialty apple crumble and coffee (both equally delicious), and were never once rushed by the servers. In fact, we were checked on (not to rush us, but to see if we were interested in more bread, refills on wine, more coffee, etc...) by not only our server, but the host and, most impressively, Rebecca Charles herself. I thought it was so refreshing to hear her expediting in the kitchen throughout the course of the evening. It was a great feeling to know that she was the one doing quality control.

All in all, we were extremely pleased with every aspect of our first Pearl Oyster Bar experience. If any of you are craving some great fresh seafood in this cold off season, head to Pearl Oyster Bar and you will be transported both time and place to your beach house -- wherever that may be.

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
NY, NY 10014
(212) 692-8211

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  1. I agree with your assessment and would like to recommend to fans of lobster rolls that they also try the ones at the fish market in the Chelsea Market, which are nicely seasoned and more reasonably priced. True, you sit at a table and down it quickly, but we're always happy with that lobster roll and their chowder (which you spoon out of a big pot).

    1. I'm so glad you liked Pearl. As a native new yorker and complete food addict it continues to be one of my favorite restaurants and not really for the lobster roll, but more for her fried oysters, amazing mussels/fries and daily special fish. I have NEVER had a bad meal there....ever.

      1. Yep!!! Still my favorite place to get lobster rolls. I absolutely abhor Mary's (for the service and attitude) and I think Mermaid's roll is good but not yummy like Pearl's.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JoLi

          I find service middling at both, but have usually felt awfully cramped at Pearl's, more so than Mary's--which is saying something.

        2. I love both Pearl and Mary's, neither for the service, but for the food, which has never failed me.

          Glad to hear you had a good time after waiting so long.

          - Sean

          1. I can never get past the mixed seafood cocktail-used to be maybe $12-14 for an icecream sundae glass filled to the top with clams,oysters, shrimp and lobster. I order two and I'm done for the night.

            4 Replies
            1. re: guttergourmet

              Well I still couldn't pass up the combination cocktail (shrimp, clams, oysters and lobster) but its now $16 so instead of ordering two I said what the hey and finally tried the lobster roll. I managed to pick it up and eat it with my hands. An orgasmically good mess. I'm converted.

              1. re: guttergourmet

                Wow - I'm impressed that you could eat it with your hands. I've somehow never noticed that combination cocktail - I always start with the fried oysters. How much was the lobster roll, by the way?

                1. re: MMRuth

                  $27. But I now compare all restaurant prices to my regular sushi omakase experience which usually exceeds $200 just for me. So $16 for the seafood cocktail plus $27 for the lobster roll + $5 for a perfectly drawn pint of guinness= bargain. I will try the fried oysters next time. Love a good po boy.Had some good ones at Barfry around the block but they're gone.

                  1. re: guttergourmet

                    I agree! And that's quite a bit cheaper than the lobster roll at Mary's.

            2. the lobster roll at blt fish(downstairs) also good. i agree pearl is the top of the class.

              1. The Pearl's lobster roll, as great as it is, is not my favorite, yet overall I still like The Pearl better than any of its lobster roll competitors. One of my absolute favorite places in NYC.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Blumie

                  Where is your favorite lobster roll?

                  1. re: JoLi

                    Probably Black Pearl, which just reopened in Chelsea. But, except for the lobster roll, I like Pearl Oyster Bar so much better (exept that the Black Pearl is in my neighborhood and so far easy to get into any time).

                    1. re: Blumie

                      Awesome! I just read about it re-opening, I have to go check it out. Is it also much cheaper than POB?

                2. I tried the Black Pearl roll 2 nights ago, and it was heavenly. And, my goodness, those fries are to die for!!!

                  1. Readers of the NY Times will have spotted Rebecca Charles' delicious little quote in the piece 'He Cooks, She Stews, That's Love' on Wednesday. Something about finding pans flying about one's head in a kitchen.

                    I was in Pearl one night when Rebecca and Mary were lobbing pans at one another. Very funny. The happy upshot is that both of them now run excellent restaurants, even if the staff manners in both joints are sometimes not up to scratch.

                    - Sean

                    1. I am so glad I read your review of Pearl's before my impromtu trip to NY for the weekend.

                      I was pretty sure I wanted Italian, because it's nearly impossible to get where i live, but being underwhelmed w/ Bellavitae, we decided we could eat more...

                      Pearls was mobbed on Saturday night, but the amazing hostess accomodated us when I approached her with "we just want a quick lobster roll...we'll sit anywhere" She put us at the counter, got our drinks herself, and soon we had raw beautiful oysters and a Lobster Roll.

                      HOLY GOD! I had no idea. I had never had a lobster roll before. So good! So, so much lobster! CHUNKS of lobster! Honestly, when I saw all the mayo I was trepidatious...but it was so lightweight and delicious. A perfect combination. Where has this been all my life?

                      Pearl's was such a pleasant scene, I actually enjoyed our short wait. Thank you, Kiworan for turning me on to the best food of our 28 hour eating binge.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: danna

                        You are VERY welcome. I am more than pleased that you enjoyed your Pearl experience as much as we did! I am sorry that Bellavitae didnt work out for you -- I have actually never been -- but thank god the portions were small enough to allow you room for more. I get so much pleasure out of a good meal, and even more out of being able to share the experience with another. Safe trip home and, I am sure, NYC will be seeing you again soon.

                        1. re: kiworan79

                          I went to Pearl's last week (June 07). It was good. But it remember it use to be much better. I use to go back in the day when Pearl's Oyster Bar was only a BAR, no table seating. I had the raw oysters - I prefer Legals. The lobster roll was good, but the roll use to be sweeter and the mayo was a little heavy this time. I just hope it wasn't jar mayonaise. Don't know if it was an off night. Rebecca Charles was not there, but her usual crew was. I have been going to this place for many years. I'll go back and hope the chef had a hangover.

                          1. re: tacobar

                            I'm not in raw oysters, but I like fried. So I dont know. But, I've never had ANYTHING at Legal Seafoods that remotely compares to POB's food. Head to head across more items--POB wins all day long.

                            1. re: Ora

                              Legal's has an exceptional quality control for their raw oysters and clams, which makes them very fresh and extremely safe to eat.

                              1. re: selizara

                                I agree that Legal's has great clams and oysters-- the steamers are far better (fresher) at Legal's than POB's

                      2. Thank you for the review! I went to NYC for the US Open in August and took a friend there for dinner. I wanted to go to Babbo, but could not get reservations even a month in advance, so we decided on Pearl's because we both love seafood and there was so much discussion about the place on Chowhound. When we called ahead that evening , they said it would be a 45 minute- hour wait. But, we went on and only had to wait about 10 minutes.

                        She had clam chowder (which she loved) and I had the caesar salad (DELICIOUS! so garlicky and tasty!!) as apps. We both had the lobster rolls and were amazed at the amount of lobster in the sandwich. And, the meat was sweet and just chilled. The roll. . .buttery and a little sweet as well. Just perfect. I was so stuffed, but I forced myself to finish the entire thing. The fries left a lot to be desired for me.

                        I wanted to try the desserts, but was way too full to even think about it. My only complaint (if you could call it that) was the tables next to us who were so loud (two couples) that we had to practically shout to have conversation. Overall, a great place that I would have never found on my own!


                        4 Replies
                        1. re: SouthernFoodie08

                          I am so glad that you enjoyed your meal! I have to make it back there soon and try the chowder and caesar.

                          As an update: I did do a lobster roll tour, if you will, this summer -- trying the lobster rolls at Mary's, Pearl's and Ed's. After many calories and much pleasure, the lobster roll at Pearl's comes in FIRST place. In fact, the runner up, Ed's, was not even a close second. Mary's lobster roll was a distant third, quite tasteless in comparison. I am officially a Pearl Oyster Bar loyal devotee. :)

                            1. re: kiworan79

                              I'm so surprised to hear you say this! I did the tour as well, last summer, and Pearls was a distant, distant fourth or fifth. Not to mention, embarassingly bad service.

                              Hopefully they've turned things around! I guess it's one customer at a time.

                              1. re: randymac88

                                Interesting - I've been going with my husband for several years now and love the lobster rolls and have always been fortunate enough to have very good service - albeit for a late lunch, or arriving just at 6pm for dinner. It's actually one of my favorite places in New York to eat.

                          1. I love the Lobster Roll (with the fries). This would be my last meal - the ultimate comfort seafood dish.

                              1. How much does a lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar cost? Is it market price or fixed? I couldn't find prices on their website's menu.

                                3 Replies
                                    1. re: phoenikia

                                      $27 on August 1,2008. I would have paid twice that. It makes me grind my teeth to think about how good it was. I'm so glad I don't live/work in that area, my lunch budget would become problematic.

                                1. I guess I'm the outlier with more than one bad experience at Pearl. I agree the food is pretty good (although I do like the lobster roll at Mary's better). One time I was at Pearl, the server knocked over my companions glass of champagne. It poured all over the table and into my lap. While he was mopping it up, he asked her how much was left in the glass. My friend seemed caught offf guard by the question and he told her he wanted to know how much champagne he need to bring her. I couldn't believe it! I had a wet lap and the guy only wanted to refil her glass 1/3 of the way full. Just bring a new glass! Then on top of that, we ordered oysters on the half shell and before we were finished (there was still one oyster left) a busser came by a scooped up the plate. Wait! I paid a lot of money for that! And to make matters worse, we ordered desert with a desert wine and they brought us our check BEFORE the desert wine. Give me a break. We shouldn't have been rushed to give up a table that we just spent $150 at. I don't think the whole experience lasted much more than an hour. Too expensive. Too rude. Too rushed. Each time I've gone it's been a variation on a theme. I've switched permanently to Mary's when I need a fix in the neighborhood.

                                  1. I had my first lobster roll of the season (I equate lobster with the spring/summer) at Pearl last night. And while both service and lobster roll were excellent, I have to say that I do not care that much for the appetizers at Pearl. Last night, I had the steamers. They did not seem that fresh-- they seemed large and old-- and kind of fell apart as I tried to scoop them up. I also am not a big fan of the mixed seafood cocktail which I pretty much think is seafood sacrilege. When you mix all that raw goodness together, you do not get a sense of each pieces's distinct flavor.

                                    1. i often read poetry at the cornelia st cafe across from pearl.
                                      went in last friday after the reading because i didnt feel like rescuing my kid from my parents quite yet.

                                      really yummy

                                      here's a review i wrote on another site:

                                      this is another of those 3.5 star places that deserves the round up over the round down.

                                      I often read at open mike's at the cornelia street cafe right across the street. last night none of my poetry crew showed up, so i was on my own, and not ready to get my kid from my parents house yet. my timing was good, as the next single person had to wait at least 20 minutes for a seat, (couples were being told an hour and a half for a table!) but i got seated right away. granted it was the seat right by the door, but i didn't mind. it was a nice night, i had my book, and was chatting with people waiting for tables, too.

                                      i had a half dozen oysters, which were very fresh and briny tasting, as they should be. they were quite small, but i prefer small oysters - sweeter and a better texture in my mind.

                                      In william kotzwinkle's book "the bear goes over the mountain" there is a character that's a dog. and being a dog, whenever he's given good food, (in his case sausages) he gobbles it down really quickly, without savoring it, and then is sad he has none left, always promising himself that the next time he would take his time and really enjoy the food.

                                      well damn if i wasn't that dog when they served me my lobster roll. it was so tasty, with huge chunks of lobster, not over cooked nor stringy. just succulent and tasty with mayonnaise and light seasoning. i was seriously halfway through it when i noticed how quick it was going and had to pull bag. "don't be the dog, matthew. take a breath have some fries and drink some guinness. OK back to the lobster roll. mmmmmmmm"

                                      speaking of fries, i am generally not a fan of shoestring fries, but these were really excellent. good & crispy w/out being shattering and tasteless overcooked sticks, as is sometimes the case. served w/ a choice of malt vinegar or ketchup. yay fries.

                                      when i was done, with a completely empty plate in front of me (sigh) it was still early and i didn't feel like leaving yet, so i had dessert. blueberry pie ala mode. . not the best best best pie. very solid and proper satisfying end to a good meal. light - i didn't feel stuffed, but definitely sated. The pie was brought to me by the owner/head chef who came to thank me for sitting in a less than stellar seat. That touch alone is worth the round up to 4 stars. (i also noticed her cook book for sale at the bar, which coincidently was called lobster rolls and blueberry pie - so i guess i ordered the right stuff)

                                      they don't take reservations - i'm usually only by there on fridays and it's always packed.. having to wait 1.5 or 2 hours to sit is a star killer for me, but luckily it didn't apply to me. i hear it's less hectic on weekdays - i'll have to see, because i want to explore the menu more. then i'll know for sure if rounding up to 4 was the right thing to do.

                                      1. Just went on a Saturday (last night). Showed up at 5 til 6pm, and got a bar seat with no wait. There was a line when I got there of around 20 people, andd people wiating when I left (only about 8-10). Service pretty good. Had the combination seafood cocktail as a starter, and could tell the freshness, particularly of the oysters. The crab claw was very good. However, I do think this kind of combination takes away some from specificity of seafood tastes that make seafood so enjoyable. Next onto the lobster roll, and as many say, there is a lot of lobster. Actually it seems to be all lobster pieces in a mayonnaise sauce on top of a bread roll with some lettuce as garnish, accompanied by salty fried potato slivers called french fries. (These are very thin about the size of flattened matchsticks as compared to regular french fries and freshly cooked.). The lobster roll gave me the lobster texture I love, but not the lobster taste. Couldn't tell if it was the mayonnaise or something else, but it was just not as flavorful as I had hoped. I'm a lover of simplistic dishes, and this is a rather basic and simple to make dish, yet it left me wanting something more. I'm left with the feeling this is not so much a great dish, as a greatly hyped dish. Overall pleasant experience though, and would recommend POB, but just not at the top of a list.

                                        1. I think marys fishcamp and pearl are over rated. But between the two Pearl is more enjoyable to me. Mooncake's lobster sandwich at have the price and no mayo is better deal , it even comes with good cole slaw and salad

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: foodwhisperer

                                            I used to love Mooncakes lobster sandwich. Didn't they close?

                                            1. re: guttergourmet

                                              Mooncake downtown still open and doing well