Monday, March 24, 2008

Pearl Oyster Bar: Crustacean revisitation

Lobster roll, Pearl Oyster Bar
Just as I had finished posting a status message on Facebook saying that I was "in the mood for an excellent meal," BH sent me an IM asking if I was up for dinner that night. Though I hadn't seen him in a while, I also had some other options on the table, so I hesitated. Then he popped the deadly question: "Want to get lobster rolls?"

I had my very first lobster roll two or three years ago. I went with TC and RT to Pearl Oyster Bar, and I remember that all three of us just stopped talking once our plates came out—we had been that blown away by what we were eating. About once a month for a year afterward we talked about returning, though we never did. In the meanwhile, I had tried a few times to recreate the experience elsewhere—in Boston, Massachusetts at Neptune Oyster, in Portland, Maine at Becky's Diner, and a few other places. Most I tried were good, but none compared to what had become a serious taste-memory holy grail.

I had introduced BH and JSK to this New England classic while we were in Maine, and at the time I had spoken of the great, luscious lobster rolls that could be had in the West Village. I think BH had remembered my pronouncement ever since. And so the decision was made: we would have lobster that night.
Oyster crackers, Pearl Oyster Bar Bread and butter, Pearl Oyster Bar
After discarding the idea of checking out Mary's Fish Camp (those I consulted said they liked its rival better) we arrived at Pearl Oyster Bar a little before they opened at 6 pm. There was already a small line at the door. Once inside, BH and I settled ourselves at the bar, where packets of oyster crackers were waiting at our settings. After we ordered we were given a chunk of crusty sliced bread and some butter.
Mussels, Pearl Oyster Bar
As an appetizer, we split an order of the Prince Edward Island mussels in a wine, mustard, and cream sauce. The shellfish were plump, and their creamy sauce was perfect, its richness complementing the briny flesh without being overwhelming. But as you might be able to tell in the picture above, the serving included a disconcertingly high proportion of empty and/or cracked shells. We did find a few stray mussels at the bottom of the bowl, but not as many as the empty shells we were given. One or two were also a bit sandy.
Lobster roll, Pearl Oyster Bar
Then came our lobster rolls ($27 each that evening). Two huge piles of lobster salad in buttered, toasted buns, accompanied by equally huge piles of shoestring fries. The lobster was cool and sweet and creamy with mayonnaise; the bun added a nice salty, buttery element. Despite my overall preference for thicker fries—the thin ones always seem so fussy and insubstantial—the shoestring fries were good, full of crunch and potato flavor.

Nothing seemed different from the first time I had eaten at Pearl, but as I continued eating, I realized that I wasn't finding the experience as transcendent as I had remembered it to be. Each bite I took became heavier and heavier. I grew sick of mayonnaise. Maybe my tastes had changed, or maybe I had elevated it all too much, or maybe it was all simply too much food. Whatever the reason, what had started out so deliciously just made me feel inert and bloated by the end.

I was glad for the chance to revisit Pearl, and maybe I will go again sometime (or maybe check out Mary's after all). But in the meanwhile, I am all lobstered-out.


  1. wait ... when i went to pearl oyster bar for lobster rolls (several years ago) it was a secret spot at a divey bar in the east vil. lobster rolls were cheap and good. and of course PBRs were $2 a can.

    now i want a lobster roll. with kimchi.

  2. Hmm, are you thinking of Black Pearl? Used to be in the back of Julep? As far as I know Pearl Oyster Bar has always been where it is. I'm still on the hunt for cheap and good, so if there's a place pass it on!

  3. I like the lobster roll at Mermaid Inn. I haven't been there for almost two years so I hope it's still as good.

  4. i can only read your blog in the afternoon after i ate already....and then i'm still hungry sometimes. haha

  5. yes yes. that's right. black pearl. the black sheep of the family of downtown lobster roll joints.

    i think black pearl moved though. it used to be over on 2nd and B (down the street from blackout central (waikiki wally's)). now i think it's closer to astor place or something.

    ohhhhhh ... have you eaten the truffle oil french fries at gudtfood in chelsea? over on 23rd and 8th. it's a "european street food" place. they might deliver to your office actually! so good.

  6. ooh look a blog! i knew all those flickr food photos mustv been for something..
    .. that DOES look like way too much mayo in the pic. i'm of the opinion that the less one does to a good lobster, the better.

  7. Amazing I want lobster rolls!