Restaurant Love Letters: Pearl
In this new column, contributors, readers, fellow chefs, and casual diners share their “Restaurant Love Letters.” It’s our hope that this series highlights the spirit of hospitality, the importance of restaurants and dining culture to our economy, and more critically, to the fabric of our daily lives. This is our way of saying thank you to the industry, we appreciate you, and we’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.
It’s 5:55 p.m. when I turn the corner onto Cornelia Street. There’s already a line of seven or eight couples ahead of me when I join the back of the queue. My best friend, Stephy, texts me that she’ll be a few minutes late. Ah-ha! I’ve beaten her. I’m usually the one running behind. Victory has been achieved.
At six on the dot, the door to Pearl Oyster Bar opens, and we all shuffle inside. I can tell that most of the guests are regulars like myself because we all fall into formation, going to our respective tables as if we’ve performed this routine our whole lives. It’s as if these tables have been assigned with our names for generations. I take my position in the booth in the window while I wait for Stephy. The host comes around with his familiar smile asking if I’d like a drink while I wait. I order a glass of wine and lean back, admiring the smell of the familiar room and soaking in the warm wooden tables and the sound of orders being fired.
When Stephy arrives, we’re seated immediately, which always feels like a stroke of good luck considering the tiny forty-seat dining room. For the last five years this has been our spot. We never come here with anyone else, and while I live in Brooklyn and Stephy in Jersey City, Pearl has always been our place for birthdays, job promotions, grieving, and for no reason at all. Our longtime server, Jacob, arrives with a chilled bottle of Muscadet before we’ve had the chance to order it and places the laminated menus on the table. He laughs knowingly, like this is a game. We study the menus for a moment and ask about the specials, and in the end, like we always do, we order “our usual.” In the summer, that means a dozen oysters and two lobster rolls. In the winter, we swap oysters for the mustard cream mussels.
We talk about work and the week and drink our Muscadet like it’s an elixir for all of life’s problems. The mussels arrive and we begin tearing into the crusty loaf of bread to dunk into the luxurious sauce. There are few things as soul satisfying as devouring this dish, with its decadently creamy sauce perfectly brightened by the acidic mustard. Before we can even ask, Jacob brings us another loaf of warm bread. Stephy goes ahead and also orders another bottle of wine, since we’ve already polished off the first.
The lobster rolls arrive, and although we’ve ordered them a million times, I still can’t contain the bubbling excitement when they’re placed in front of me. Perfectly buttered and toasted rolls piled high with sweet and succulent lobster meat, all lathered in the ideal amount of mayonnaise and chives next to a mountain of shoestring fries. Jacob brings a bottle of ketchup for me and one of malted vinegar for Stephy. I crunch on my hot and salty fries while Stephy digs into her roll. We each take the piece of Bibb lettuce off, but never ask to have it omitted; it feels like part of the ritual.
Going to Pearl doesn’t feel like going out to a restaurant; it feels like coming home. The food is outstanding and the service is the best one could ask for. But for me, it’s the memories I’ve accumulated through the years—the ones I will keep close to my heart, until I can fill it with lobster rolls again.
Have a restaurant love letter you want to submit of your own? Reach out to us.