When I entered the doors of Pearl & Ash for the first time, my eyes filled with apprehension. Wine lists can be intimating. Ingredients like cloumage, morcilla, melba and amaranth on the menu only add to my state of panic.
However, my inhibitions quickly dissolved as I traveled through Chef Richard Kuo’s vision. There were savory, earthy undertones. The spices were easy to detect, but impossible identify. The wine knowledge imparted by the front of house was enlightening, never forceful. The pretension and conceit often associated with wine connoisseurship were left at home that day. Although the restaurant gives off the perception of carelessness and haste based on its decision to bring in communal tables and crank up the rock music, the food and wine are far from negligent. It’s enchanting. Pearl & Ash might be one of the most exciting places to eat in New York City right now.
Small plates give diners the power to knock out a good portion of the menu without having to feel gut-wrenchingly full. Three to four plates per person is a fine range here.
Hangar tartare is one of my favorites here. The spiciness from harissa triggers memories of beef jerky. Beef jerky was never this good. Crunchy bits of cocoa and splinters of melba toast float ever so freely in a pool of egg yolk. Smooth sailing.
The sweetbreads dish is also a gem. Crispy pieces of thymus are dusted with excellently-musky dried blood sausage (morcilla) and tiny beech mushrooms. The sweet combination is plated with a cream of heart of palm. It’s nutty and comforting bite after bite.
Then, the octopus! It’s the star here. 15 East may hold the crown for one of the best octopus dishes in the city, but Chef Kuo’s take is just as tantalizing. The tender inside and torched outer layers of the tentacles are plated with a paste of sunflower seeds. Octopus is very high on the food pyramid at Pearl & Ash. The pike with pickled ramps isn’t as good. The taste of turnip root is colorless and insipid, not tantalizing like many of the other dishes on the menu.
The great notion of consuming oversized pieces of meat is a false construction. Soft small pieces of lamb belly and heart with hazelnut bits and vibrant kohlrabi are more like it. It’s musky, it’s sweet. The skirt steak with tomato and basil is also quite good and perhaps a better selection for the faint of heart. The beef is topped with summer squash and crisp pine nuts. Chef Kuo doesn’t shy away from adding texture to his compositions. We’re all on board.
Desserts are refreshingly delectable as well. Although a plate of blueberry shortcake with crème fraîche cake and milk foam conjures up the not-so-appetizing memories of going to the space museum in grade school, the lemon meringue pie is an absolute delight. Pastry Chef, Serena Chow, prepares a lemon bomb of cake, powder, custard, curd and sorbet. The sweet brown butter offers the sweetest touch.
Although Pearl & Ash gives diners the power to turn their small plates into entrée sized portions, the law of diminishing returns should remind us that too much of a good thing is, indeed, too much. Nonetheless, it’s extremely gratifying to see that the kitchen gives the diners to choose their size preferences when we live in a time and place where substitutions are frowned upon in restaurants.
The solution to having a great meal at Pearl & Ash is quite evident. Be intrepid and tackle lots of small plates. Get octopus. Get lemon meringue pie. Ask lots of questions about wine and have faith in their knowledge. Go.
For my entire meal at Pearl & Ash: pearl & ash, new york on flickr