Pearl & Ash: a new gem on Bowery
Pearl & Ash, a new restaurant helmed by chef Richard Kuo, sits on a block of the Bowery that includes miscellaneous kitchen supply stores, a Japanese looking boho boutique and the Bowery House Hotel. However Pearl and Ash shares no similarities with these neighbors, other then their nearly identical gritty address.
This restaurant came my way not by the usual suspect of reviews (Pete Wells, Adam Platt, Eater, you know who you are) instead I heard, actually overheard, two men talking about it while I was dining at L'Apicio. Thank god I was eavesdropping because the food at Pearl & Ash is impeccable.
When you walk in the door of Pearl & Ash the first thing you will notice is the large wall of blond wood cubbyholes filled sporadically with candles and darling little ceramics. If you look in the other direction you'll spy a bar that looks like it wants to be the focal point instead. And then, you may notice that many of the chairs are backless. I can attest to their comfort, but I can also to my slouch gaining curve as the evening wore on. Slouch beget more slouch.
But the food, let me talk about the food. We shared six small plates (you can also go the big route and get full-sized plates). Our two starters, live scallop with fennel, lily bulb and berbere, and octopus, atop a sunflower seed puree and shiso, were at opposite ends of the flavor spectrum. The live scallops dusted with berbere, a spice mixture common in Ethiopia, arrived on a bed of pickled fennel and lily bulbs, tasted of the sea and earth, the lightly acidic tangle of greens complimented the delicate scallop with finesse. The octopus dish packed more of a punch with a spicy red heat which had absorbed into the meat of the octopus, and the sunflower puree, like a richer hummus, was a perfect foil to the pungent bite.
Our next dish were mussels (shown above) with hen of the wood mushrooms and pumpernickel. The first thing I loved about this dish is that I didn't have to take the mussels out of the shell. It was like having a mussel sherpa. The mussels ocean brawn popped out as you ate the oval globes and the side ingredients flipped you back onto the ground, taste the earth now they said. Along with the mussels we had the obligatory roasted brussel sprouts side dish. They were served mixed in with pearl onions and what may have been mustard seeds. They were rich and buttery and nothing like every single other roasted brussel sprout dish I have been bombarded with. These are the brussels to beat people.
Was it all perfect? No, but it was close. The one dish that was just okay was the skate, rubbed with chermoula, sprinkled with sautéed leeks and a dollop of cauliflower creme, was weaker in its taste profile. A simple little wedge of lemon would have brightened it right up. I should have asked for one.
Later I came home and looked up the lily bulb, a typical Chinese ingredient (known as baihe) that I've never encountered. The bulbs, a white skinless ball, contains starchy, stiff, leaf like sections, almost like scales from garlic. According to this site, they have a "slightly perfumed smell, crunchy texture and a refreshingly sweet taste." It made sense that they were mixed in and camouflaged with the fennel. Next up? I'll have to search them out in Chinatown.