.The Salty Pearl Sells Seafood by the Seashore

Daniel Pirello rebounds with new oyster bar in Jack London Square

Oysters served on the half shell ($22/$40) are listed at the top of Daniel Pirello’s The Salty Pearl menu in Oakland. For two years, Pirello had a loyal following in Richmond, where he ran the Rocky Island Oyster Company. That was until The Craneway Pavilion’s landlord gave him two weeks’ notice last June to make way for a private pickleball club. The restaurateur said the eviction was unexpected. 

“The community was devastated. We were devastated,” he said. “I had to lay off about 50 people because we had employees at three restaurants in the event center.”

Fortunately, Pirello already had been in the planning stages to open The Salty Pearl in Jack London Square. “It was going to be our second location because Rocky Island had gotten to the point where we had a great following,” he said. After securing a beer-and-wine license, The Salty Pearl opened at the beginning of 2024. In addition to the “great location,” Pirello said that the restaurant is situated in a shared space with the Planted Table.

“We sublease from them and have a pretty unique setup,” Pirello said. “We are open Thursday to Saturday, and the other company uses it during the day and the other days of the week.” This built-in flexibility affords Pirello a manageable rent and schedule. “We’re going to add hours once we get more comfortable,” he said.

Rocky Island served oysters with a more informal approach inspired by the clam shacks of New England. “You could grab a lobster roll and a cup of clam chowder and go sit by the water,” Pirello said. When he was looking for a second location, Pirello wanted to open a date-night spot, “something that was more elevated where you could have a nice glass of wine with your crudo and eat a seasonal seafood dish.”

He’d had the name “Salty Pearl” in his head for quite some time. When he saw the space in Jack London Square, he knew it would work there as an extension of the original brand.

Since opening Rocky Island, Pirello has come to see that his connection to maritime cultures is suffused with nostalgia. “People gather with their families to eat these foods,” he said. His grandfather taught him how to dig for clams. “We would dig for steamer clams out in the marsh behind the beach house he built, and we would cook them together.” Eating clams today still transports him back to those childhood memories. 

Oysters, though, differ on the East Coast and the West. “East Coast oysters are typically smaller. They have a shallower cup, and the flavor profiles are very different,” Pirello said. On the East Coast, he added, there are no barbecue oysters. People eat them on the half shell, exclusively, unless they’re having oysters Rockefeller. 

“When I moved out here, I drove up to The Marshall Store, and there were people eating big plates of barbecued oysters with garlic and herb butter and garlic bread,” he said. “I dug a little bit deeper, and I think it’s driven by the style of these oysters.”

An order of a mixed dozen at The Salty Pearl typically includes oysters that have been shipped overnight from Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts. “They’re able to provide incredibly fresh products to places all over the country,” Pirello said. “And I’m serving really fresh oysters from New England right next to some Marin Miyagi oysters from Tomales Bay. And then there might be some from British Columbia or Washington.”

He likes to post little bios about the oysters they serve each week, to educate the casual oyster lover. New England transplants who haven’t had a Cape Cod oyster in decades have also discovered The Salty Pearl. Said Pirello, “They’re so excited to have them and a cup of clam chowder. It really strikes a nostalgic chord so deeply for them, and that’s what our restaurant is really based on.”

The Salty Pearl, open Thu and Fri 4-9pm and Sun 5-9pm, 550 2nd St., Oakland. saltypearl.us.

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