Fine fresh seafood in the Loop at The Pearl Tavern

Chicago is not necessarily renowned for its seafood, but there are several superb restaurants scattered around that offer excellent fresh seafood.  One of the best is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Loop on the shores of the Chicago River.  The Pearl Tavern sits at 180 Wacker Drive in the farthest northwest corner of the Loop (between Lake and Randolph) and serves up some of the best seafood I have tasted in Chicago.

Because of the location, The Pearl is slammed busy at lunch.  What many people forget, however, is that the restaurant is open Monday-Friday until 2 a.m.  Forgo the lunch crowds and try out The Pearl for dinner or late night cocktails/bites after a show or concert in the Loop.  The restaurant is in a beautiful, vintage space reminiscent of a 1930s bar.  According to their website, “The hardwood floors are naturally kept, in addition to the vintage ceilings and the craftsmen style millwork that have been restored. The 1930s style wallpaper and ceiling murals of mermaids honor Pearl Tavern’s emblem. Guests will dine at ornate bistro seating with Carrera marble, gold brass lighting and the Chicago River as the backdrop.”

The Pearl is justifiable well-known for its wonderful Oyster & Crudo Bar.  If you’re just in the mood for a light bit, try some of their fresh oysters.  Most people agree that “oyster season” begins in September.  These days – thanks to modern technology – we are able to enjoy premium oysters year round, but technically they’re at their peak during months with a “r” (September – April).  While this idea comes from the days before refrigeration, from May to August, oyster beds in the waters of the Northern Hemisphere warm up and oysters spawn. This makes them more watery and less tasty. As fall/winter arrives and the waters cool, oysters settle down and are at their peak of flavor.

I was recently invited to bring a friend and sample the food and cocktails.  I always enjoy pairing oysters with something sparkling, but for a nice change try pairing them with the superb rosé.  The slightly off dry fruity wine is a perfect complement to the briny oysters.  Speaking of brine, you may wish to try the Dirty Pearl – a ‘dirty’ martini made with vodka, dry vermouth, and oyster brine.  Nestled in the bottom of the coupe sits a full oyster on the half shell.  When you are done with the cocktail, slurp down the delightfully boozy oyster.

The Pearl has an excellent selection of crudo.  Try the Ceviche (halibut, scallops, shrimp & cherry peppers) for a lovely inventive take on the concept of ceviche.  The Tuna Poke (avocado, pear, shio kogi & crispy taro root) was intriguing and definitely worth a try.  The standout, however, was the Salmon Tartare (crispy wontons, caper-cucumber, relish, olives & olive).  Not only was this the best thing we tasted all night, but the portion size was amazing.  I have had less salmon in entrée portions at other restaurants.  If you are a fan of salmon, then you must order this!

The starters were equally memorable.  The Grilled Calamari (peppers, marinated olives & caperberries) had a Mediterranean flair and the caperberries added a perfect salty complement to the grilled flavor.  The Seafood Empañadas (red snapper, shrimp & lemon-caper aioli) also drew on that Mediterranean flavor.  Unlike many empañadas, these had a light flaky crust.  The ground seafood was a happy surprise, so eating this was not at all messy.  The Pearl is also one of the few restaurants in the city to offer Oysters Rockefeller and theirs are wonderful.  If you’re not full after crudo and starters, check out the entrée menu.  Everything was excellent, but the standout was the Scallops served with crispy pickles, cherry peppers & homemade 1,000 island. 

The Pearl Tavern is located at 180 Wacker Drive.  They are open Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.  You can reach them at (312) 629-1030.  You can get more info on their website, follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook.









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