Food is the medium of any great artistic chef.
Being a part-time chef myself, I fully subscribe to this school of thought. While unique and well-balanced flavor combination reigns supreme in judging a truly excellent meal, I have always thought presentation comes in a narrow second place to taste. We’re all impressionable – able to be coaxed into thinking a beautiful meal tastes just a little (or a lot) better… right? For me, a master artist in the kitchen can blend taste and presentation effortlessly to deliver the foodie’s Holy Grail de cuisine: a truly inspired meal.
In that vein, the latest restaurant to wow me with works of art a la carte was Pearl and Ash. Opened in 2013, this LES gem has been getting quite the buzz, so Eva and I joined Naisha for her birthday dinner here to assess the hype. Armed with my DSLR, pissing off other patrons no doubt with my heavy duty flash, I catalogued each beautiful course after each beautiful course. Pearl and Ash also tries its hand at mastering the art of the small plate concept, still all the rage in NYC at the moment (clearly I am a subscriber to this new culinary phenomenon). However, whereas Buvette epitomizes West Village class nestled amidst brownstone charm, Pearl and Ash embodies an edgier, nouveau-hip ambience to match its grittier home on Bowery. The interior is well decorated with interesting wall furnishings to adorn the front seating area. Although the front of the restaurant is rather narrow and faces the bar, the back area opens up quite nicely to a rather spacious dining room.
So the food. In usual “small plate” fashion, all courses are meant to be shared amongst diners and are served as soon as they are prepared. NOTE: Don’t come here if you want to gorge yourself on food as the portions are in no way heaping. I don’t mind though as too large of a portion is a worse offense than a dainty, thought-out bite. For me, the idea for small plates is the achievement of a few delicious bites leaving you wanting more.
Their menu is split up whimsically between raw, small, fish, meat, vegetable, sugar and cheese with items being described solely by the component ingredients. The irony lies in the fact that this barebones menu concept yields intricate flavor combinations that go far beyond the simplistic description provided. The menu screams innovative, playful and chic. It’s all in the details!
The cod course (Cod, coconut, thai basil, lemongrass) stood out, excelling at clean Asian inspired flavors with high quality ingredients that almost beg to be paired together. Also the sweetbread course (Sweetbread, sherry, heart of palm, morcilla) was rather transformative. Maybe it was due to the fact they are fried, however counterintuitive that may sound, but they were not overly fatty as compared to other sweetbreads executions I’ve tasted in the past. The lamb course (Lamb belly, garbanzo, black garlic, carrot) proved to be rather memorable, but it was not the lamb that stole the show but rather the carrot-black garlic sauce. Though often, aren’t sauces with spot-on flavor profiles sometimes more of the showstopper than the cut of meat they aim to elevate?
Surprising even myself, I think the vegetable course (cauliflower, hazelnut, shishito) actually excelled as the best dish we dined upon. The dish put forward such clean yet innovative flavors, we all nodded in agreement that this combination of ingredients elevated the component ingredients.I usually rank the dish that I’ve never tried before with the most out-of-the-box ingredients my favorite on a menu, but then again this plays into Pearl and Ash’s POV: Clean, well-executed simplicity with noteworthy presentation lending to an innovative dining experience.
For the sugar course (Cara cara orange, pistachio, graham cracker) we essentially had a small tart. This dessert served as a fitting, not overly sweet, end to the meal though I will add the caveat that dessert took no-one’s breath away (We actually got cupcakes after dinner since we were not amused). But then again, I’m the most discerning of a critic when it comes to dessert.
Now I’m not going to toot Pearl and Ash’s horn too much more. I’d say they get 9 out of 10 in presentation and 7 out of 10 in truly innovative flavor combinations as none of us were completely floored when leaving the restaurant (We’re bougie and we eat out a lot in NYC). However I’m always looking for a restaurant that offers unique spins on uncommon ingredients, with a nouveau yet classy feel. The plating surely puts P&A on the map but the clean flavors and design concept only add to its accolades. So if you’re in the mood for hip, original, light, yet beautiful fare I give my stamp of approval to Pearl and Ash for achieving just this.
pearlandash.com – 220 Bowery (Between Prince and Spring St) – 212-837-2370 – Reservations available via OpenTable
See more reviews at NYC Restaurants.