Sea and be seen
Bright and casual, Pearl feels as straightforward and inviting as the menu itself. At this time of year, oysters come from the Pacific Northwest (Mirada and Golden Mantle) and Maryland (Blue Point) and executive chef Ken Kelleher’s menu ($3.25-$18.95) includes many other options like chowders, pan roast, burgers, chicken and steak ($9.95-$18.95) for the non-Neptunes. It’s almost an instant classic because this spot replaces the former, well-established Fairchild’s Oyster Bar, and it feels more traditional with a true “bar” to eat these bivalve mollusks.
I’m a big fan of seafood and getting it fresh, especially raw, is always a challenge in Reno. Pearl goes to a great extent to make sure fresh is a certainty. I started with the seafood melody ($14.50), consisting of a four each of jumbo shrimp, crab claws and shucked oysters. A cocktail sauce, good, straight horseradish, and a jalapeño tomato salsa were for dipping. Very fresh, not overcooked crab or shrimp, and the sauces were spot-on adding whatever kind of “spicy” lift I wanted to the trio.
A dungeness crab cake ($13.75) was next, and this was a hunk of crab the size of a burger. Simple seasonings, chives, a little Old Bay—a widely used seafood seasoning with mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger—then naturally coated with Panko, then pan-fried to golden brown. It was served atop a bed of Asian ginger slaw with wasabi aioli and sweet, hot vinaigrette.
This was easily a light meal in itself. The crab meat was very generous and moist, and the vinaigrette was light, made with rice vinegar and featured flavors of soy, sesame and ginger. The slaw was a great bed, with tart, crispy oriental flavor.
I had to experience a pan roast since that’s one of my all-time favorite seafood delights. I usually prefer something so rich and heavy in colder weather, but I carried on. There are six on the menu. I had the ultimate combination pan roast ($18.50), with crab, scallops, mussels, clams, oysters and shrimp.
The sauce—butter, white wine, paprika, celery seed, clam juice, a squeeze of lemon, Worcestershire, Tabasco, cocktail sauce and, the kicker, heavy cream. This liquid velvet drenched and coated the seafood adding just enough bang to the many textures. The rich flavor had a bit of salty-tartness that was quickly displaced with the creamy butter theme. Extraordinary, but an occasional treat because it is so rich and has calories in the six digit range.
A congenial staff dressed in the traditional oyster bar white, mid-waist coats. There are high top and standard tables set with proper linen napkins. There’s a full bar with seven signature cocktails ($5.50-$7.75), a half-dozen craft beers ($7-$18), a half-dozen oyster shooters with assorted, infused vodkas, and a modest, but well thought out, list of a dozen wines. All but one were available by-the-glass ($5.25-$16).
My eyes went right for the Ferrari-Carano 2010 Bella Luce ($6.75), a unique, white wine blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Canelli. This fragrant and light white wine has refreshing acidity that is made from varieties that complement one another in aromas, flavors and texture. Bella Luce has delicious layers of Muscat, honeydew, orange, lychee, pineapple, peach and apple, along with lingering cream, vanilla, lemon and a floral finish. It holds up to all this assortment of seafood.
At the end of the day, what Pearl has done is present some very decent shore food that has connected the diner with the chef, the oyster grower, winemaker and fisherman, making it a true dining gem.