Last month I stopped here for lunch. While Oriental Pearl has gotten mixed reactions here, the positive review by Patricia Unterman posted at the entrance drew me inside. The wide table spacing and cool gray interior give it a completely different look and feel than other Chinatown restaurants. The piped-in harp music added to the soothing effect. I was the only customer at 11:15am on a Tuesday.
No carts here, dim sum is ordered off a menu, which I prefer to ensure freshness. Most of the standard items are $2 to $2.50, and range up to $3.75 per plate. A mixed sampler is also available.
I made my own small selection to test the kitchens proficiency with different cooking preparations. The har gow, to judge steamed-type dumplings, were flat out awful and were not freshly made. The pinched seam of the wrapper was hard and dry, while the rest of it was mushy as if it had been reheated more than once. The shrimp filling was pasty and stale tasting. The taro dumpling, to judge frying skills, was too greasy. While the fluffy exterior looked frilly and feathery, it was surprisingly hard and the filling was bland. The black bean spareribs turned out to be fine, or maybe I was just happy to find something edible. The black beans were broken up more, lending a stronger flavor, and a larger than usual amount of fresh chilis pumped up the piquancy.
One highlight that I can recommend is the deep fried shrimp ball in Chiu Chow style, 3/$4.50 on the lunch appetizer menu. Balls of shrimp forcemeat with some coarsely chopped pieces of shrimp, about 1 1/4 in diameter, were coated with panko and deep-fried. Unlike the taro dumplings these were not oil-soaked. Crisp on the outside, they had a tender, slightly rubbery texture and were nice and juicy inside. Dipped in the accompanying gingery yellow plum sauce, these were addictive.
Lured by this one success, and because I was still hungry, I ordered the marinade duck in Chiu Chow style, $4.50 on the lunch appetizer menu. This was half a duck breast, sliced, atop a base of marinated and pressed tofu slices, served with the traditional garlic chili vinegar dipping sauce. But, unfortunately, this struck out again. The flavor was one-dimensional, and the duck had been sliced then heated in the microwave, toughening it around the sliced edges.
When my waiter spied two-thirds of my lunch uneaten, he offered containers to take the rest home. I declined.
So, has anyone had dinner here? Im wondering if some of the seafood or Chiu Chow dishes might be better than the dim sum.
Oriental Pearl Restaurant
760-778 Clay St.