Buzzy new Bowery restaurant Pearl & Ash is suffering a bit of an identity crisis. There is a lot going on here, most of which we really like. But there are also a few things that make us confused. Let us explain.
For the most part, the food at Pearl & Ash is excellent. Almost everything on the menu here comes with a certain amount of wow factor, usually thanks to some perfectly employed secret ingredient, like uni in the longbeans, berbere on the scallops, or smoked lime yogurt with the shrimp. It’s one of those places where, even if you don’t like it, you won’t soon forget it. And that’s all thanks to chef Richard Kuo and his diverse background that includes but is not limited to: Thailand, Australia, Wylie Dufresne, and most recently some success as one half of the popular Scandinavian pop-up restaurant, Frej. Kuo has picked up intel far and wide, and the result is a tasty repertoire that’s uniquely his own. His food is light, yet it tends to offer deep flavors and dueling textures in each bite. We like that. We also like the insane wine list at this place, which our wine enthusiast friend tells us is basically full bottles from some collector/investor’s personal cellar. There are all kinds of things to be drank that you won’t find anywhere else, so come here and drink them with someone who will appreciate them.
Now for the things that we don’t like. First of all, if you’re going to serve delicate, intricate food that showcases the chef’s considerable talents, then don’t sell him short. We get that Pearl & Ash is all about trying to serve refined dishes in an unpretentious environment, but simply plopping a plate of quail on the table with zero explanation is a little anti-climactic. Like we said, there’s wow factor in those dishes, but for some reason you probably aren’t going to hear about it from your waiter. Oh and speaking of hearing things, we need to talk about the music in this place. It might have been the most shockingly bad mix of songs that we’ve ever heard, and it was playing full blast throughout our whole meal. We were convinced it was the result of an unfortunate Pandora malfunction, only to later find out from their website that their “music consultant” is the editor from Wax Poetics (a seminal hip hop mag). So he’s the guy that told you to play Biz Markie into Air Supply into “Sweet Home Alabama?” Holy sh*t I hope you didn’t pay him. As a matter of fact, here's a playlist from the music editors at The Infatuation, and this one’s on the house. Feel free to thank us when people start drinking more with their dinner.
Aside from a few other gripes, Pearl & Ash is ultimately a restaurant we like. The best way to a successful meal here is to come with a relatively large crew and order damn near everything on the menu. You’ll probably absolutely love some things and some things you may not love at all. But at the very least you’ll be impressed by what you see. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be impressed by what you hear. Hopefully they’ll fix that and some of the service issues soon. That’s when Pearl & Ash will go from good to great.
Ok, so this is technically a side dish at Pearl & Ash, but these long beans are so f*cking good that we had to talk about them first. They're charred just right and tossed with sea urchin and chili, and we ended up getting three orders by the time our meal was finished. You do the same. Seriously.
Tiny, sweet, raw shrimp that have been given the business. The flavor combination of smoked yogurt and bee pollen is a home run.
Pearl & Ash's take on a steak tartare is out of this world, and is one of our favorite things from this menu. Just know that it's unique (as are most things here). The egg yolk is drizzled on the plate instead of being placed on top of the finely textured steak, and dried cocoa and crunchy melba toast crumbs are added for crunch and bonus flavor. It's different, but it's excellent.
Another one of our favorites, these raw scallop slices are brought to life with the help of Chef Kuo's secret bag of ingredient tricks. You see, the scallop actually looks seared, but it's not. It's raw and dusted with berbere, a super flavorful African spice. And it's awesome.
This dish actually led to a discussion at our table about the fact that you can often tell a good restaurant by how they cook a piece of octopus. It's not an easy thing to get right, and when it's good it's great, but when it's bad it's f*cking disgusting. Luckily, this place octo-slays. It's one of the best octopus dishes we've ever had, perfectly charred and still all kinds of tender and juicy.
Somewhere in between a salmon tartare and a variety pack from Russ & Daughters, this salmon was solid, but not one of our favorites.
Seafood seems to be the star of this menu, but don't sleep on the meat dishes. We loved the duck confit, which had a nice fried outer ring and some delicious gummy creation made out of red cabbage. Order it.
A well prepared skate dish. The fish held onto its oils and came out nicely blackened and plenty delicious. Not stealing the show, but definitely worth an order.
This rich piece of fleshy white mackerel filet was cooked very nicely. There was also a sleeper ingredient on the plate - a faint taste of cucumber which worked well with the fish.
The cod probably counts as our favorite of the fish options at Pearl & ash. It's served with a white bean puree, tomato, and a black olive relish. The flavors are big and bold and you should order it.
A stew of shelled mussels, mushrooms, and pumpernickel. It's different and creative, but also a bit on the slimy side. We enjoyed a few bites, but will probably skip it on our next visit.
Quail is a dark meat, but the treatment here seems to lighten it up. Medallions of the lightest dark meat you'll ever eat are surrounded by an outer layer of crispy fried chicken skin, and the results are glorious.
This was definitely a little strange. The cheek meat had some delicious glaze on it, but the texture was a little too rubbery, rather than tender like the animal cheeks we're used to eating. Do we eat a lot of animal cheeks? I suppose eating more than none seems like a lot.
A well cooked skirt steak in a beer glaze with onions and beans. Simple and well executed. Nothing more, nothing less.
Pearl & Ash does a fine job with the sides. This play on patatas bravas was nearly as delicious as the long beans, probably thanks to that chorizo. If you're looking for some starch to go along with your skirt steak, this will do the job.