A visit to Essex Pearl in New York City
If you’re a fan of Thai or Vietnamese street food, you’re in for a treat. Essex Pearl, a new restaurant from Chef Daniel Le, is bringing the flavors of Southeast Asia to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Inspired by the street food vendors of Thailand and Vietnam, Essex Pearl takes guests on a journey from the Big Apple through Southeast Asia with its authentic dishes.
The Menu at Essex Pearl
Highlights from the menu include Indonesian Fried Chicken, Crispy Whole Fish with Tamarind Chili Sauce, Cambodian Grilled Pork Jowl, and Crispy Baby Octopus. All of the dishes are made with housemade ingredients like Sambal Belacan, giving them a truly unique flavor. Plus, the seafood is provided by Steven Wong of Aqua Best—so you know it’s going to be fresh and delicious.
“At Essex Pearl, I serve S.E.A. food on the L.E.S., that is to say, food from all over Southeast Asia as well as literal seafood–prawns, octopus, pompano and more–sourced by my partner Steven Wong of purveyor Aquabest, which supplies the likes of Masa and Le Bernardin–on the lower level of the Market Line (88 Essex Street) on New York City’s Lower East Side,” Chef Le said of the menu.
“Essex Pearl’s menu ranges all over Southeast Asia–Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia–and embodies my passion for the region and its ingredients like my homemade Sambal Belacan, a favorite of our Singaporean diners. I use it on our Grilled Prawn Skewer, but homesick Singaporeans often ask for extra to eat with the rest of their meal.”
If you’re looking for menu standouts, there are various choices at this exotic new NYC spot. “For sure, the Indonesian Fried Chicken, which is marinated in galangal, turmeric, shallots, and kecap manis for 24 hours, braised and then deep fried,” Le told us of the menu’s highlights.
“Also, the Cambodian Grilled Pork Jowl, which eats like a Southeast Asian pork confit and features a lime Kampot black pepper sauce inspired by my grandmother. For fall, we introduced a Roasted Golden Pompano, which nods to Sous Chef Francis Maling’s Filipino background. One half is sauced with charred bagoong that he makes in-house, and the other is coated with an herb chimichurri that includes Thai basil, sawtooth cilantro, chilies, fish sauce and lime juice that embodies my background.”
Chef’s Favorite Dishes
“If anybody asks me what they should eat, I always say whatever you start out with is fine, but always end with the Crispy Whole Fish with tamarind chili sauce and fresh Southeast Asian herbs along with water spinach and a bowl of rice,” Le said of his favorite items.
“I grew up eating Garlic Noodles, a buttery MSG-enriched Vietnamese-American comfort food created by Helene An at Thanh Long in San Francisco and later served at her restaurant Crustacean in Beverly Hills to the likes of Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. I serve my version with Laotian spicy pork sausage, salted egg, garlic, butter and oyster sauce.”
The Design of Essex Pearl
The space showcases some of the best parts of Essex Pearl—the seafood. “Since Aquabest is a partner, Essex Pearl is fronted by a live seafood tank with lobster and Dungeness crabs, which customers select themselves, served with choice of salted egg yolk butter or chili sauce,” Le explained. “Our dining room features lush green foliage and a counter facing the open kitchen where customers can watch me and my team work our magic.”