Pearly Gates | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Pearly Gates 

The Pearl is a little bit of heaven inside the hellish construction in Central Ninth.

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  • Alex Springer

I don't know if you've spent much time in Central Ninth during the past few months, but it's like the wild west out there. Sidewalks suddenly crumble into dirt paths, ditches crisscross the thoroughfares and heavy machinery occupies every feasible parking spot.

Despite the treacherous construction that is chopping its way through the neighborhood, there are some eateries here that are worth patronizing even if you might have to book it a few blocks through no man's land to get to them. My most recent visit to Central Ninth brought me to The Pearl (917 S. 200 West), a cozy little nightspot with a Vietnamese-inspired kitchen.

A co-venture from Chef Tommy Nguyen, Jacob Sloan Hall, Chase Worthen, Oliver Shea Lewis and Michael Askerlund, The Pearl occupies a special spot in the Central Ninth ecosystem. It's in the same vein as its neighbors Nohm and Water Witch, in that The Pearl is a great place to pop in for a cocktail or two, and it has cultivated a welcoming and casual vibe that has built a strong local following.

While The Pearl doesn't occupy an enormous space in the area, the space it's working with works exceedingly well—their indoor dining area and bar is warm and welcoming. On the outside, a perfectly serviceable patio is there for those that like a bit of fresh air with their meal and, once all this damn construction is finished, will be an excellent place to kick back with a drink and soak in some Central Ninth vibes.

During my last visit, I hung out at the bar while Utah State House candidate Davina Smith's team set up an event for the District 69 hopeful. Based on the ease with which her crew set things up, I'd say The Pearl would make for a nice spot for any public event—which is something they are more than happy to accommodate. I kicked off my own party of one with a cocktail known as the Plum Job, which is a mix of Suntory Toki Whiskey and sour plum ale from Shades Brewing along with a bit of lemon and honey. It's a light, refreshing little drink that was perfect for our toasty summer nights.

The menu at The Pearl is spearheaded by Nguyen, who credits many of his recipes back to his family. Kim's Egg Rolls ($8), for example, are a testament to the deep-fried appetizers he grew up with. At The Pearl, these bad boys are filled with a mixture of pork and wood ear mushrooms, and get served with cucumber slices, leaves of romaine lettuce stuffed with some Thai basil along with some shredded carrot and jicama. The bartender—whose nametag bore the sobriquet of Stranger Things' Eddie Munson—recommended wrapping the egg rolls in the romaine for a cool and crunchy nod to lettuce wraps. I did so, and recommend that anyone else who tries these do the same. Wrapping all that goodness up for a dip in the kitchen's fish sauce is a great way to get things started at The Pearl.

I also ordered up a set of fish sauce wings ($12), which pair the traditional bar snack of chicken wings with a fish sauce and chili glaze that represents an inspired East-West connection. The fish sauce manages to capture the vinegary aspect of buffalo wings, while the chili flakes handle the sweet heat. The wings themselves are also high quality fried chicken; it's all too common to find chicken wings that try to hide mediocre chicken behind hulking dollops of sauce, which isn't the case at The Pearl.

For my main squeeze, I went with the ginger steamed fish ($17), which captures The Pearl's culinary concept in one exceedingly thoughtful dish. The fish in question is a delicate, flaky branzino that gets doused in a lovely brown ginger-and-soy glaze, and topped with some glass noodles, steamed bok choy and a thinly sliced Thai chili pepper. The plate itself is piping hot, since the whole dish gets steamed to perfection together, and the whole dish works so very well as a concept. The branzino itself is as succulent a protein as you can get, and snagging pieces of the filet with a tangle of soy and ginger-drenched glass noodles is a masterclass in blending subtle flavors. Once you get a pop of Thai chili on your tongue, however, the subtleties yield to a citrusy spice that really brings the whole dish together. This I could eat all day.

I'm always a little nervous to check out gastropubs, since you never quite know how much effort they're putting into their kitchen. But I'm happy to say that The Pearl delivers on both their cocktail and kitchen menus. This is a place that fits right into its native environment of Central Ninth, and the staff does a great job of welcoming their regulars and newcomers alike. I know that the surrounding area looks like a warzone, but that's even more reason to brave the madness and support this local establishment.

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