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Cultured Pearl

/ Updated on September 11, 2017

The Cultured Pearl makes quite an impression in its highly visible perch at the corner of Rehoboth and Lake Avenues. Rooftop dining is prime real estate during the summer, and they certainly have their loyal followers.  A recent remodel has placed the sushi bar where the regular bar used to be, and the bar is now one flight up on the restaurant level. Seems like a good idea all-around to have the bar closer to the dining area — certainly from the servers' point of view.

The reception area is nestled at the bottom of a grand stairway suspended above a gurgling koi pond. Ascending past the (very talkative) tropical birds, you may choose to observe the busy sushi makers, or step up to the streamlined bar by the glass-walled dining room (part of which overlooks Rehoboth Avenue, and is divided by running water). or glide out to the beautifully designed rooftop seating area. You forget that you're on the roof as you relax at bar-height tables topped by gazebos and suspended over a 15,000 gallon rooftop lake that is home to various aquatic species swimming just below your feet. There is quite possibly no better place to be on a warm, breezy summer evening in Rehoboth Beach.

In the first several reviews and updates of the Cultured Pearl, I reported on issues with offhanded and borderline rude treatment at the front desk. They acted like you were trying to get into Studio 54 back in the '70s. And readers agreed with me. However, times (and staff) change, and I have been back several times over the last few months. There is no evidence of that bad attitude whatsoever. The people at the front desk are friendly, chatty and very willing to help in any way. They look you in the eye and greet you as if they are actually happy to see you. This was not the case several years ago. Combine this new attitude with the consistently good food, and the place continues to be a winner.

The Cultured Pearl changes the menu regularly (not as much as some RB places, however), and seasonal specials appear and disappear. Though the concept is obviously Japanese; and in particular sushi, there's a whole lot more on the menu. Susan's husband, Chef Robert, keeps regulars guessing with specials and unusual goodies. The restaurant wisely maintains a special “kids' section” where families with young children can enjoy themselves without disturbing other diners or feeling uncomfortable. What a great idea!

I will reiterate that menus change with the wind here in Rehoboth, so hopefully at least some of the following goodies will be on the menu.

I always start with the seasoned Edamame (they have 5 varieties), and the to-die-for Cream of Crab Soup (add jalapeno cheese bread, thank you). I really like the Cultured Salad, too. It has a great acidic/textural thing going on with mandarin orange, cranberries, bacon, blue cheese and pine nuts. I've been known to order two and make it dinner. My regular dining companions get the Warm Asian Chopped Salad with chicken, corn, onions, peppers, sugar snap peas, chilis, chopped soy and chopped peanuts.

We love the Veggie Tempura appetizer, and you can also get shrimp tempura. The texture of the tempura batter is (almost always) crispy and non-greasy. I have to admit that some of the vegetables have come out a little soggy and tasting of oil a couple of times (frying temp too low? Not properly dried before frying?), but the shrimp variety are always perfect (and are also available as an entree). Don't miss the deep fried shrimp, pork and mushroom springrolls and the shrimp or pork dumplings — both are quite good with tasty dipping sauces.

The Sushi selection is huge and varied. I have had the Firecracker (tempura tuna and salmon, wrapped in Nori with bright green jalapenos, cool crabmeat with a spicy Sriracha exclamation point). My regular companions who know Sushi always get the various combinations. There's something for everybody, both cooked and uncooked.

Do try the Flower Trio from the sushi small-plates list. It is an impressive presentation with tuna, salmon and sashimi “flowers” made of yellowtail (ahi). The kicker? It comes with the REAL, 100% wasabi. Most wasabi is actually colored horseradish (wasabi is a type of horseradish), but better sushi joints make the real stuff available to the cognoscenti. Most of the time you have to ask, and there will always be an upcharge.

In the salad department, I always get the Kimchee (spicy pickled veggies) and the tuna avocado. Both are cool and refreshing with a kick. A new addition is the sashimi combo which is as delicious as it is beautiful to behold.

On the entree menu, my favorite is the Cashew Chicken. It's nothing like your corner Chinese carry-out. It's sweet and crunchy with fresh ingredients with a pleasing jasmine twist. The green curry beef and the yellow curry shrimp have both been happily devoured in my presence. The Korean BBQ and the Thai stir-fry are both popular and delicious to view and to taste. The aforementioned light and crispy Shrimp Tempura is a regular staple at The Pearl. Please note, yet again, that like many local eateries, the Pearl varies its menu with the seasons. So some of the dishes I describe here might not be available when you go.

UPDATE: We went to last Monday's “Summer Monday Late-Night Sushi Special” with a party of 6. We snarfed up various combinations of the Kappa Roll (cukes and sesame), the Dynamite (tuna, salmon crab, broiled with spicy mayo) and, of course, the obligatory California (crabstick, cukes and avocado). We all opted for the upsell and paid a little more for the Firecracker Rolls. They are delicious. I wish they would serve more of that fiery Sriracha sauce on the side. I love the stuff. I probably should have ordered some on the side. Duh.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: After many more visits to the Cultured Pearl (including a couple of specialty buffets that were quite tasty), I have concluded that the servers are, for the most part, friendly and efficient. And the food continues to be top-notch.

By the way, in response to your emails agreeing with me about the noise, they have redesigned the layout so the live bands are not up against the horrifically reflective (as far as sound is concerned) glass. This makes for a much more pleasant experience with the live music. I have adjusted the noise ratings accordingly.   But do note that whatever noise problems there may be disappear out on the roof (except for the occasional bus or if you are unfortunate enough to be out there during Bike Week in Ocean City). Give it a try!

The Cultured Pearl is at 301 Rehoboth Avenue at Lake Ave. Look for the Starbucks. Call (302) 227-8493 to check hours and specials or to make reservations. Check out the menus and the fun graphics at their web site. You can also follow them on Facebook. (D., Bar) Price Range: Expensive.

Off-season Specials & Hours

Specials & Moods change quickly. Always call a restaurant first.

pp = per person.
BOGO = buy one, get one.
Bloody = bloody mary.
domestics = American-made beers (e.g., Bud).
imports = foreign beers (e.g., Heineken).
Rails = non call-brand alcohol.
Prix Fixe = one set price.
Mains = entrees.
Margs = margaritas.
Chix = chicken.
AYCE = all you can eat.
Lite = Miller Lite
drafts = draught beer.
Early Birds = arrive before a certain time.
Apps = Appetizers.
bottles = beer in a bottle.
à la carte = order off the menu (no prix fixe).
crafts = micro/artisanal brews (e.g., Old Leghumper Lager)

301 Rehoboth Ave.
(302) 227-8493

Open 4-9
Open 4-9
Open 4-9
Open 4-9
Open 4-9
Open 4-9
Open 4-9
The Rehoboth Foodie

About the Author

"My goal is to promote Rehoboth Beach dining while remaining honest and impartial. I don’t gush unless a place deserves it, and I don’t pull punches, either. With so many good places to eat around here, it just doesn’t make sense to waste the calories — or the money — on anything less." View all articles written by The Rehoboth Foodie

Add Your Comment
  1. Avatar kissangel says:

    I have only visited this restaurant one time, and the reason I refuse to go back is because my husband and I spend $150 for dinner and left hungry. We had to stop at a bar on the way home to share some chicken tenders and french fries. Try feeding me until I’m full, and then I’ll think about coming back.

  2. Avatar fightingbluehen says:

    Simply the best sushi in town. Many lesser sushi joints will serve sashimi without a shiso leaf, but not the Pearl.

  3. Avatar mike a. says:

    Our recent visit reminded me why we haven’t been herel in awhile.
    Whenever we have eaten at the Pearl, we have never really had any issues with the food and have enjoyed our dinner. However, as in the Foodies review and as one can glean throughout the comments there are non-food issues. With or without reservations, the host/hostess consistently behaves as though they are doing us a favor by seating us. There have been seating issues such as being seated immediately next to another table with the remainder of the restaurant being virtually empty. Or my favorite was when we were seated at a table in the late afternoon/early evening next to a window with intense sun glare (pre-shade installation) and they seemed shocked,shocked I tell you, that we requested another table. You could just hear the unspoken tsk tsk tsk. While I like the food at the Pearl there are so many restaurants in town where I am not meant to feel like they are doing me a favor by allowing me to have dinner.

  4. Avatar Tom Schwab says:

    Recent visit was good but not great. I realize they are making major changes, but service was very slow. Front desk was confused, but not too slow as on previous occasions.(We had reservations) Food was exciting as in the past. I really enjoy the yellow curried shrimp.

  5. Avatar Maria T says:

    We recently vacationed in Rehoboth and decided to eat at the Cultured Pearl. We ordered a large amount of Sushi and asked for a special sushi roll, however, when the food arrived, we were told by Krissy(server) that the Sushi chef could not make the special roll, but that, “you have enough anyway”, we ordered a Pasta with seafood dish and kids meal. The sushi was very good, however my pasta was terrible and I did not even make a dent in the dish.The band began to to set up and I realized that our server was far more interested in speaking to a band member than tending to her tables.The busser, was very apologetic,after noticing that my dinner was left untouched, asked if he could assist us, I advised him that I was not happy and that while I would have told Krissy, she did not return to ask. I asked for a manager, who was not helpful, only offered a dessert, which we had ordered anyway, through the busser. I would not go back to the Cultured Pearl again after this experience.

  6. Avatar Erika Wong says:

    We were at the CP for dinner tonight with our girls and all I can say is that we will not go back. The food was bland. The teriyaki chicken was tough and my kids tried it and refused to eat more. They normally LOVE teriyaki chicken. They ate the rice instead. They were still hungry after finishing the rice. I told the waiter that the chicken was tough and we need more rice because the chicken was too tough to eat. CP charged $9 for 3 ice cream scoopful of rice. I normally won’t care but we’ve already spent over $80 on food/drinks and ONLY reason why we need more rice was because the Teriyaki chicken was badly made. This leads to the only conclusion we have – CP is out to get the vacationers. It’s goal is to get as much as it can instead of doing right by the customer. Also, don’t get me started on the service attitude. All I can say is what the other reviewers had said is all true. Needless to day, we will not be back.

  7. Avatar Wayne says:

    We were thinking about giving the Pearl a try this year. I’m pretty sure we won’t now. I’m not going to waste my precious time and money on a place that gets bad reviews for service. I’ll try somewhere else. I hope the owners read reviews.

  8. Avatar Andy says:

    I have also experienced the rude attitude that the foodie speaks of. It seems the general vibe at the Pearl is “We are amazing, and we know it. As a customer you should feel privileged that we allow you to dine here.”

    And I have to say they have earned some bragging rights. I’ve been dining at the Pearl since they opened in their old location in 1993. And over those 18 years I’ve never had a bad meal. Everything (particularly the fish and sushi specials) is always delicious. And the atmosphere at the new location is nothing short of breathtaking.

    However, the increasing attitude (and prices) have left a bad taste in my mouth. And with better sushi sans the attitude right up the street at Stingrays, the Pearl has lost its appeal.

  9. Avatar Chris P says:

    CP continues to impress with every visit. The atmosphere is awesome and the sushi is innovative. Specials are fantastic. A little pricey, but the quality is worth it. We will continue to visit each time we are in town.

  10. Avatar Dorothy Lopez says:

    In June 2011, my daughter and I dined at The Cultured Pearl.The restaurant was fairly empty. Our host insisted on sitting us right next to another couple (the tables were about 12 inches apart). I felt that I had no privacy. There were numerous tables available that offered more room. I asked the host if we could sit at another table. He shrugged and made me feel uncomfortable for asking. I guess that he was following orders and was new. What happened to customer service? The people next to me said that The Cultured Pearl always jams people in.

    The food was very good. For an appetizer I enjoyed seared tuna over a tangy seaweed salad. The salad was fresh and the tuna was tender. My daughter liked the miso soup. We split Eastern Shore edamame. Old Bay, green onion, garlic and lemon coated the edamame. The edamame dish was spicy and tasty but greasy. We also enjoyed the Maryland crab, Mexican and Godzilla rolls.

  11. Avatar CocoBoy says:

    I agree with you about kids in restaurants and their parents’ inability (or unwillingness) to control them. It’s like we are all expected to put up with their little darlings-without-boundaries. But on this one I feel I should remind you that this is the beach, on a holiday weekend, so maybe you need to be a little more forgiving. On the other hand, however, it seems like the Pearl staff (sometimes they can be offhanded) could have made more of an effort to accommodate you.

  12. Avatar Christy H. says:

    Just got home from a delicious dinner at the Pearl but despite the good food and service I will definitely think twice about going back. I made reservations for two and was seated at a table next to a stream with coy fish which were serving as baby sitters for three kids under five and on the other side of us was a family of five that let their kids run around the tables. On top of that the isle next to us was like rt 1 in July for the servers and guests. I asked if we could be seated somewhere else and was told the other seats (there were at least eight empty tables that I could see)were reserved. The server suggested that next time we ask for a table away from any of the water features. I doubt that I will ever go back, I have nothing against kids but I don’t care if Art Smith is making dinner for me and serving it himself, it isn’t worth it if it is being served at Chuck E. Cheese. This isn’t the first time that this has been an issue, diner beware.

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