Last Saturday afternoon I found myself with friends who wanted to go out for dinner, and without reservations. While I normally avoid restaurants which do not take reservations, I realized that in this situation they were my only hope of getting in anywhere good. My friends and I decided on an early 6:15 dinner at the Pearl Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Oakland. Luckily we snagged the second to last table for four, and ordered a flight of wines to celebrate (three half glasses at a reasonable $17). Pearl's decor is sleek, minimalist, and arguably cold if it wasn't for the wall behind the bar which constantly changes colors and the menu full of small plates which encourage sharing.
A glance at the seafood heavy menu made me happy my friends all liked fish. We decided to start with the tuna poke, the Thai ceviche, and the crab cakes. The tuna poke came first and was devoured very quickly. The fish was fresh, the condiments were spicy, and the julienned cucumber provided an invigorating crunch. While the Thai ceviche was also quite good for many of the same reasons, it was less exciting than the poke and suffered from being served second. Moreover, I was disappointed that the topping of fresh horseradish was too weak to taste. Finally, the crab cakes were cooked just how I like them- stuffed full of crab and only lightly fried. One of my friends commented that the crab cakes were almost as good as the ones he can get on the East Coast.
For our main courses we shared the seared sea scallops and the coffee, cardamom, and cacao crusted sturgeon. The scallops were paired with bok choy and, interestingly enough, a Chinese mustard sauce. While mustard and scallops never struck me as a match made in heaven, they actually were an amazing combination. The sturgeon, on the other hand, was overly seasoned. The tender, expertly cooked fish would have shined more with a lighter dusting of spices. I would still order the sturgeon again just for the creamy sunchoke-cauliflower puree.
At this point the service slowed way down, and it took our waitress 20 minutes to take our dessert orders. Once dessert came, I also felt that the quality of the food had dropped. While it is hard to go wrong with warm doughnuts and coconut-ginger tapioca, the desserts lacked the sparkle and inventiveness of our previous dishes. Admittedly, I may just be bitter because they had already run out of the panna cotta trio. Nevertheless, despite my disappointments, I will definitely be returning to Pearl. There are a number of items on the menu that I am still interested in trying. And, next time, I am going to order dessert first!