Country-fried hamachi collar with buttermilk ranch and garlic chive oil. Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Twenty-two years before Taylor Swift turned “Cornelia Street” into a song, Rebecca Charles slung genre-defining lobster rolls from the tiny back-of-the-room kitchen at Pearl Oyster Bar. Charles shucked her last oyster as a professional in 2022 and retired to Maine, but the storied space is now about to get a second life of its own as Figure Eight.
It is, per the team, a New American Chinese restaurant, just like Figure Eight’s sister spot Silver Apricot, which opened in 2020 and is one door over. There, chef Simone Tong’s menu features riffs on classic Chinese dishes like a scallion puff and a Peking duck grilled cheese, whose deliciousness is eponymous and self-evident. Tong, who moved to Texas during the pandemic, is not involved at Figure Eight. The restaurateur, in this case, is Emmeline Zhao, Silver Apricot’s sommelier and co-owner. She grew up ponging between Shanghai and North Carolina, and she says the new restaurant is informed by that peripatetic upbringing, as well as the overlap between her twinned homelands: “The coastal food culture of North Carolina penetrates deep into the Piedmont, where I’m from,” she explains, “while the Yangtze River runs through Shanghai, another coastal city.”
Chef Calvin Hwang unmolds his hush puppies, which feature diced lapcheong and cheese curds folded into the batter. Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Not that Zhao is in the kitchen — that responsibility falls to Calvin Hwang, who is neither Chinese nor southern. “I’m a Korean guy from New Jersey,” he says. “I have a cousin in Georgia I’ve visited a few times, but that’s about it.” Hwang has worked at restaurants such as Crown Shy and Osteria Morini, and though he spent time in Hong Kong before joining Figure Eight, he’s excited to subvert the lingering misconception that white chefs are welcome to cook all of the world’s cuisines while everyone else must be limited by their own biography. “I’ve cooked Italian, and I’m not Italian, obviously,” he points out.
Soy-poached chicken. Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
From the opening menu, Hwang is especially proud of a country-fried hamachi collar, a Hong Kong–style egg waffle “with a pretty well-seasoned hush-puppy batter,” and pull-apart, pineapple-bun Parker House rolls filled with creamed corn and pickled jalapeños. Hwang calls them “the most adorable thing ever.”
Zhao explains that the restaurant’s focus on coastal regions will bring a heavy emphasis on seafood, and that raises an inevitable question: Given the address’s history, will there be a lobster roll? It’s not on the menu right now, Hwang says, “but just given the space we’re in, it’s something I definitely want to do.”
Figure Eight moves into the space that was previously Pearl Oyster Bar. Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet