Pearl & Ash separates itself from becoming just another small plates and wine bar through their innovative approach to food, wonderful atmosphere and reasonably priced menu. They have found their niche, and foodies are starting to take notice. On a Wednesday night, the tiny Nolita restaurant is crowded, attracting trendy individuals ready for a night of fun adventurous eats and wine, lots and lots of wine. Their extensive wine selection has the New York Times raving, but it’s the food that will continue to draw people back to this popular new spot.
The narrow restaurant is simply decorated with light wooden walls, endless amounts of candles brightening the room, and comfortable benches lining the wall.
My friend, Jana, and I were seated relatively quickly towards the front of the restaurant. Despite the narrowness, it doesn’t feel overly crowded with decent spacing between the tables. The atmosphere is loud, but just enough where it seems fun and happening, without being distracting. It’s much more of a casual fun vibe then many other upscale, stuffy wine bars.
Our waitress was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, recommending a slew of wonderful dishes and helped us to plan a the order of the meal. Jana and I decided to share everything, which is highly encouraged. You are able to choose different portion sizes for the main dishes, allowing for you to have smaller versions of everything. This allows for you to order more variety then you might normally at other tapas-type restaurants.
We started the meal with Diver Scallops off the raw section of the menu.
The complexity of flavor in this dish comes from the dusty sprinkle of the berbere, which is an Ethiopian spice blend. It gives notes of spice through the chiles and dried ginger, enhancing the beautiful, raw scallop. A light salad of charred lily bulb, which is a floral vegetable, has a unique sweetness and tang unlike anything I’ve tried before. The fennel adds a tart element to the dish, hitting all of the notes necessary to highlight the freshness of the diver scallop. It’s a wonderful appetizer and way to start off the meal.
Next, we moved onto the Tea Cured Salmon, which seemed like a whimsical play on a New Yorker’s beloved lox and cream cheese combination.
It’s a light dish playing up the flavors of creamy goat cheese with the cured smoked salmon. It’s a cross between the lox from your local bagel shop and an elegant tartare. The utilization of tea to cure the salmon gives off an earthiness of spice, giving the salmon a really unique after taste. The unusual addition of seaweed worked, creating a balance of flavors and a subtle salty and fishy element to the dish. It’s deceivingly complex.
For our main course, we had decided on the cod.
The expertly prepared cod is one of the better fish dishes I have enjoyed. Big, bold flavors transform this simple white fish into a high end dish. The white bean puree binds all of the flavors together adding to the subtle sweetness of the tomatoes and saltiness from the olives. The flavors are delicious and it’s easily one of my favorite dishes of the night.
Just when we contemplated what to get next, the waitress brought out Skirt Steak and Lamb Belly/Heart dish, compliments of the kitchen. They are a relatively new restaurant and were hoping to try out some new dishes to the menu on a variety of patrons. We were more then happy to help with the tasting.
The soft, melt in your mouth lamb belly was prepared to perfection with a light pink, juicy interior. The lamb heart had similar flavor, while slightly less fatty. The Kohlrabi puree is similar to that of a cabbage or turnip with a bright earthiness and creamy texture. The utilization of hazelnut adds a sweet nuttiness and crunch being one of the most addicting elements to the complex and fabulous dish. I highly anticipate this dish staying as a staple on the Pearl & Ash menu for those adventurous enough to try parts of the lamb that aren’t typically highlighted.
Next, we moved onto the skirt steak, prepared in a prohibition ale.
While skirt steak is often over-looked when it comes to beef cuts, this preparation makes you forget about the seemingly lower-end product. Poached with hay (yes, like straw), for two days, the meat becomes extremely juicy and tender. There’s subtle notes of the herbal, woodsy flavor from the hay being infused into the steak. The beer glaze on the outside gives a sweetness and added depth of flavor. Anything with beer can’t be bad. The cooked down onions adds and a bean puree gives a breath of fresh air from the rich piece of meat. It’s a really well executed, unique take on a steak dish.
At the end of our meal, we were both extremely satisfied, especially with the addition of the lamb and steak to our preplanned meal. The waitstaff was fabulous and the environment was perfect for a fun girl’s night of catching up over dinner and drinks. In addition, the best part about the meal is the high quality of ingredients and presentation without breaking the bank. According to Adam Platt of NYMag, if the raw diver scallop dish was “served at [the famed] Le Bernardin people would go crazy.” It’s that good. Leave your judgments about Pearl & Ash being’just another wine and small plates spot’ at the door and venture inside. When you leave, you’ll be raving about all of the fabulous, high-end dishes you enjoyed and how the price was so right. Now that’s a New York rarity.
Pearl & Ash – 220 Bowery Street – New York, NY
Pearl & Ash
Location: Nolita, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Small Plates, Quality Seafood, First Dates, Girls’ Night Out, Date Night
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Raw Diver Scallop, Cod, Lamb Belly & Heart