A venue can really only be as good as the company you’re with. Pearl’s Tavern | 160 N Wacker | with an amazing river view serves seafood dishes meant to be shared. The focal point clearly being the majestic oyster offering both West and East coast varieties.
The space is intimate with an emphasis on its sweeping Carrara marble bar, live shucking station, original wood floors and a gorgeous restoration of the vintage ceiling. Upon entering you step back in time a little. Keeping details of both the 1930s and 50s, the concise presentation on white dishes on white tablecloths, warm greetings, and easy smiles is engaging and it’s a bit exciting. You expect to experience solid seafood very soon.
The Tilapia tacos with a citrus crema, scallops on the half shell, and ceviche with olive, lime and cilantro all display executive chef Chris Lorenz’s passion and knowledge. Above all: ensure quality protein. The swordfish over Sicilian caponata was a hearty, thicker cut was and inconsistently seasoned, so you need to consider ratio of meat and garnish. When I have caponata as savory as this one, I also wanted a piece of crusty bread, just as my Sicilian grandmother would provide.
Tuna Poke was without a doubt my favorite and to me, best showcased Pearl’s talent for subtlety. Using Big Eye tuna, which has a higher fat content than yellowfin and is preferred for sashimi enthusiasts, it’s served with cucumber, nashi pear, avocado foam and taro chips. Light and satisfying. Also, by seasoning with Shio Kogi which is essential in saki, miso and and soy sauce, and is a natural tenderizer, it created umami flawlessly.
We ordered East coast oysters, and the brine and saltiness were perfectly pitched. The oysters were surprisingly smaller than expected for a place paying reverence to it and typically these are thicker and plumper than the West. Growing up in the Midwest I felt sated eating them naked but for those growing up on the coast, they may have found them disappointing since Pearl downplays what we love about oysters. They’re fun and sensual and you have options for each one, creating it’s own little amuse bouche with a variety of condiments. Hot sauce, horseradish or mignonette sauce could be a staple with this dish without much fuss.
The key lime pie is certainly one to split, both decadent, creamy with a mildly crisp crust and an ideal citrusy sweetness. It provided a momentary reprieve from this harsh winter to its Floridian origins, but definitely ask for it. We were unaware there was any final course offerings even after receiving the check, but thankfully Mr. Lorenz came to our rescue.
The experience at Pearl Tavern evokes a warm welcoming environment, reminiscent of one of the best decades in Chicago history, with an expansive bar and tailored wine lists that truly complimented every part of the meal. I’ll be looking forward to dining on the river when the weather warms and I will undoubtedly visit again before winter ends. I have dreams of the mussels in Pernod, and the Scottish salmon burger, and of course, the tuna poke. Pearl Tavern is perfectly named. The oyster’s upending labor to do nature’s duty is both romantic and proficient—two qualities seamlessly entwined into a beautiful venue.
Jamie McNeil Jamie@SCENE-Chicago.Com