New Kid on the Block: The House of the Red Pearl

There are three ways to look at the new Tin Building, the new food court extravaganza from famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten: a branding masterpiece, where no detail — down to the snow globes at the candy store and the wrapper on the chopsticks — has been left to chance; an elevated and somewhat sanitized marketplace; or a destination dining experience, for the six full-service restaurants it has within the remodeled historic building.

I’ve been seduced by all three so far, for better or for worse, having purchased an adorable Tin Building-themed paint can of cheese crackers and a $15 box of bagged tea plus loads of takeout for this summer’s outdoor concerts; in going for the latter, for a first stop I chose The House of the Red Pearl, the Chinese-inspired speakeasy tucked in the northwest corner of the building behind the Asian emporium, for what seemed like the most interesting menu among the six. And while it may be (definitely is) silly to go to a Chinese restaurant from a French chef when you are only steps from Chinatown, if anyone can make it worthwhile it’s Jean-Georges. (And yes, he was there making the rounds when we went.)

The space is almost fully enclosed — it’s dark in there; unlike the vegan restaurant Seeds & Weeds and T. Brasserie on the ground floor, the Seaport setting is not a player in the decor. This had to be intentional, but it’s a bit of a loss in my book. (Of course maybe it *is* interior? And there’s something in that northwest corner that doesn’t allow for windows??)

We sat at the bar for lunch before they were taking reservations and had *the* best bartender — he was somehow poached from the kitchen at one of Danny Meyer’s places, and we really enjoyed him. The place is super glam and predictably red, and the bar takes full advantage of that. But the food is really a treat — we ordered a ton and left very little behind. It’s seemingly simple until you take a bite. The spring rolls came with a scallion green sauce and thin and crispy wonton skins; the steamed eggplant (skin removed) was tender and just the right amount of salty/garlicy; somehow the monkfish was crispy without breading (well, we learned the secret: corn starch). I can’t get enough of bok choi or that fermented black bean vinaigrette so that’s what I would go back for.

It’s been three decades since Jean-Georges starting running his own restaurants; right now he has 44 across the globe, with 12 in the city, counting the Tin Building as one when it’s really more like a dozen. Of course there’s been thousands of words written about him and how he does it all. For the back story, read this fun profile from the Times; for the minutiae on how he opens a restaurant, told with The Fulton as the example, read this.

He’s been in Tribeca before: we had 66, his Japanese restaurant at 66 Leonard, which opened in 2003, transformed into Matsugen in 2007 as a soba restaurant and closed in 2011. And he now has The Fulton, Pier 17’s seafood restaurant. And while I am not a student of JGV, I believe this is his only Chinese-inspired restaurant among the dozens. I would put it high on your list for out-of-towners who want to try the latest. Leave time before or after for a stroll around the building and the pier and it’s a great night out.

The House of the Red Pearl
96 South Street at Fulton
Monday to Saturday: noon to 10p
Sunday: noon to 8p