Find Bourke Street’s Midcity Center — a tired-looking arcade mixing retail stores with hair salons, phone repair shops, and a ramen restaurant or two — and take the escalator down to level one . Look immediately to your right and spot a singular circular sign floating next to a fluorescent ceiling light and a fire hose reel. All of this is extremely modest, but that’s kind of the point. Because behind the curved wooden door is one of the most exquisite fittings I’ve seen in a while.
“People thought I was crazy to invest so much in this space,” says owner Jeremy Schinck. Schinck is also the owner of Pinchy’s, a lobster and champagne bar that occupies the adjoining room and peach-colored balcony. In fact, Pearl’s only other entrance is through a pink fluted glass door straight from Pinchy’s. Once you cross the threshold, you will understand what Schinck means a big investment in what can only be described as a very small space.
In her previous life, Pearl was a nail salon. There are no windows, the ceilings are low and you will have to walk in single file to slip between the bar and the side seats. But instead of feeling at all claustrophobic, it feels exclusive – almost like being behind the scenes somewhere. If Pinchy’s is pink and kitschy, Pearl is golden and luxurious.
The concept and design of the place are all inspired by Jeremy and his wife Samara’s obsession (and I mean obsession) with oysters. The crushed-velvet stools and wavy underside of the bar are in ocean tones, and circular wall sconces light up the gold accents and mineral undertones of the marble countertop — as if the color exactly matched an oyster shell. Even the butter is served in pats shaped like (yes, you guessed it) an oyster.
And if you thought lobster and champagne were nature’s best pairing, you’d be wrong. Chablis, compared to locally produced Chardonnay, is grown on a limestone-rich terroir in France, literally enriched with fossilized oyster shells. Somehow you can actually taste this. The saline and mineral characteristics of these wines bring out the complexity of the shells. It’s pretty close to perfect.
You will mainly find rock oysters at Pearl. Schinck traveled the country meeting with growers to find the best of the best and learn how to transport and store them. The wine fridges behind the bar? They are not full of wine. Oysters are kept at exactly the same temperature as the water in which they grow. This helps preserve their merroir – like terrior, but for seafood (mer = sea in French) – a tangible sense of place dictated by water temperature, seaweed, currents, tides and minerals from the seabed.
The menu expands to some selected options. Sturgeon caviar from Siberia or Russia is served by the gram, or in a brioche sandwich with a salted and candied egg yolk. Or for just $1,450, pre-order the Pearl Caviar Experience to receive awhole of lobster poached in butter with 200 grams of caviar inside. Duck liver parfait, beef tartare and sea bream crudo are also on offer if your budget is a bit more reasonable.
Luke Campbell is the sommelier responsible for the extensive wine list, including the largest selection of Chablis in the world. Its expert selection allows you to taste the nuances of the Chablis hierarchy, from petit cru to grand cru appellations, in tandem with oysters sourced from all over the country. It is an experience as delicious as it is illuminating. You are guaranteed to walk away with a heightened appreciation of the pairing, delivered straight to you from ground to soul (from ground to soul).