With some of the new Richmond restaurants cropping up, menus and square footage seem to be shrinking, and there's an emphasis on stylized food with complex flavors. Pearl Raw Bar, the newest sibling in the Richmond Restaurant Group family, does not follow this formula. The space (formerly deLux, in the Fan District) is large and open with minimal decor limited to nautical-inspired light fixtures and a massive lighted "Pearl" sign on the exposed brick wall. The bar is long with TVs and the music is '80s and loud. Both of these things are fine, but incongruous with the otherwise bistro vibe, and it's hard
to tell what the place wants to be.
The sheer number of menu items at Pearl is a courageous undertaking. Naturally, my companion and I go straight for the oysters. There's little nuance among the three Virginia-plucked varieties in our sampler, though they taste fine when doctored with hearty cocktail sauce and horseradish. I love the zip of a mignonette, but the jalapeño-cilantro version turned out to be watered-down red-wine vinaigrette. Sad.
The appetizer list has some basics so we get more adventurous with an avocado terrine and shrimp pot stickers. The former is a pretty dish layered with black bean-and-corn salsa, and roasted tomatoes, but it cries out for a sprinkle of something. Anything. The tender dumplings, stuffed with sizable shrimp pieces and sautéed to a crisp golden brown, are spot on.
While there is plenty of meat on the menu, we stick with fish as we forge ahead. The blackened tuna sandwich cooked to a tender medium-rare pairs well with the sweet heat of chipotle sauce and buttery brioche bun, though the side of fries comes out as mere nubbins. Pan-seared rockfish in garlic-lemon butter is light and flavorful.
A little hit, a little miss, with just a little more attention to the finer points (and better music), Pearl could be a solid meeting place for the neighborhood.
Pearl Raw Bar
2229 W. Main St., 353-2424,
Hours: Monday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday,
10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Prices: Dinner, $9 to $23 (shellfish towers run up to $46), brunch, $6 to 13