Pearl, a new Rittenhouse resta-club by the owners of Red Sky, also has a strong nightlife focus. Outlets like this aren’t known for their food, but Pearl’s credentialed chef, Ari Weiswasser, formerly of Striped Bass, plans on plying the dance-floor-bound crowd with serious pan-Asian cuisine. Sampling his dishes will require you to work your way through the overcrowded bar area where lawyers and analysts swarm, buying $14 cocktails for the false-eyelash set.
If you sit in one of the dining room’s cushy faux-suede banquettes, separated by twinkling beaded curtains that are one part hippie, one part Mardi Gras, the stereo’s bass will pulse your chair. Designed by DAS Architects, the room does dazzle from a distance. Place mats sparkle as though they are woven from silver filaments. Servers wear glossy black neckties; managers patrol the room in sharp power suits. The space is suffused with a blue glow from the moody lights.
Close up, though, those place mats are plasticky silicone, and the low-pile rug recalls a Denny’s, especially when a manager whips out a sweeper to spot-clean a spill. Toward the ceiling, gaps in the design reveal bare fluorescent fixtures; look closely, and you might spot the curling black tails of their wires. Under a little sober scrutiny, the whole thing looks hastily tacked together, like it might be a shoe store by day, restaurant by night.
As at Azie, the smaller plates offer more creative and better-executed dishes. A presentation of yellowtail sashimi, sliced thin, kissed with citrus and fine pink salt, tastes clean and balanced. A hefty spring roll capitalizes on duck’s unctuous texture by enveloping it in a crispy shell. Flash-grilled hamachi emerges from the kitchen a bit more cooked than expected, but the accompanying emulsion of nori and cumin rescues the dish. Pork pot stickers are held together with a veil of dough so thin, it’s transparent.
Servers rightly tout these small plates; the kitchen has clearly focused its attention for a club crowd that craves lighter bites, and entrées here feel like afterthoughts. Go with the flow, or you may end up with a salmon pad Thai that combines an overcooked fillet with fettuccine-like noodles and a thin sauce that lacks the complex pungency of lemongrass, tamarind, dried shrimp paste and fish sauce. Flavorful but overcooked five-spice duck breast, served with coins of peppery daikon, fares slightly better but is markedly less delicious than the pork rib appetizer, fragrant with cilantro soy sauce.
After 10 p.m., the crowd is herded upstairs, where DJs and dancing reign. Here, on the dance floor and in private booths with bottle service, is where the club emerges from its restaurant shell. The right mix of people, favorable mood lighting and another cocktail or two might make Pearl seem hip enough to be in Tokyo.
Average entrée price: $20.
Best Beverage Bet: The Morimoto-ish saketini.
Go For: Small plates with big flavor; a chic oasis in the strip-mall-crowded ’burbs.
Average entrée price: $15 for a cluster of “japas.”
Best Beverage Bet: Sapporo beer.
Go For: The private karaoke rooms.
Average entrée price: $25.
Best Beverage Bet: The light, crisp and gingery Kakujo sake.
Go For: Light bites followed by drinks and dancing.