Whether you like Mario Batali or not – I obviously do, if you’ve seen my blog posts – you have to respect a chef/restaurant owner who has four restaurants on Michelin’s 2014 NYC Star Ratings list. What I want to know, though, without him giving shameless self promotion, is what restaurants someone like Mario enjoys for himself. And here it is: http://www.lifestylemirror.com/life/food-drink/1232978581/best-restaurants-in-nyc-mario-batali-favorites/.He, however, eats on a celebrity income; I, on the other hand, pretend to do that once or twice a year. His restaurants, in comparison to other star chefs’, are quite affordable though. As I’m perusing the list of NYC restaurants, it’s “skip, too expensive”, “skip”, “oh, this is a possibility”… I remember Cornelia Street because it’s where Mario’s first NYC restaurant (no longer his) opened in 1993 is located, and it is the first Batali eatery I ever patronized, and thus the catalyst for my sickening Batali dining mania. Po’ was quaint and narrow, and I was introduced to Mario while he was cooking in the tiniest commercial kitchen I had seen, sweating alongside only a salad guy and a dishwasher. He was young in his stardom, recognized from Malto Mario, and hadn’t laid the foundation of the Batali/Bastianich empire yet.
I digressed heavily, so let me open the shell and reveal the Pearl! It is across and a few numbers up the street from Po’. After reading the endless raving reviews about Pearl Oyster Bar having the best lobster roll in NYC, I couldn’t wait any longer and headed there the following evening in the rain and cold. Parking couldn’t have been easier – right around the corner on Bleeker.
I pride myself on preparedness, so I knew that they don’t take reservations and to expect an hour wait. There was no chance of the Wicked Hungry Witch appearing, but her cousin was still trying to show up when the aromas from the kitchen reached my olfactory nerves. We arrived nearly 8:00 on a Friday night, were told it would be 45 minutes but were seated by 8:20. One side of the restaurant is all bar where many ate; the other is all restaurant slightly bigger than Seafood Gourmet in NJ.
Plate after plate was ushered by with a meaty lobster roll and a mountain of shoe-string fries. The fries and the idea of a mostly cold dinner turned my steadfast entrée choice into something completely different and even less expensive. The bouillabaisse grabbed me by the throat and shouted, “Speak my name now to the waiter!” With no hesitation I ordered it ($23), and it threatened my mouth with a good time and succeeded. There was no evidence of sand inside any of the shellfish, and the broth was popping with flavor. It was prefaced with a few spoonfuls of the clam and smoked bacon chowder appetizer- another good choice.
Our waiter was not too knowledgeable of the dishes. When asked what seafood was in the bouillabaisse, he included oyster, which I thought was peculiar. I’m glad he was wrong. When asked about the pot of steamers starter as to whether they were steamed clams or steamers, he replied, “steamed clams,” which dissuaded my companion from ordering them. Soon after, we saw a pot of actual steamers at another table, and my companion quickly educated him. We had two other waiters (which was confusing) that were a bit more experienced, but all were friendly. That would be my only negative criticism.
The apple and sour cherry pie sounded like it had potential for dessert. It just had potential; that’s all. Then again, it takes more than a little effort to impress me with desserts. I’m spoiled by the standards of the Swiss Miss W.