The Restaurant at The Pearl1410 Rosecrans St. Point Loma 619-226-6100www.thepearlsd.com
After watching The Pearl go through a succession of chefs since it opened last year, and never having a memorable meal there, I'd sort of crossed it off my list. Then a foodie friend of uncompromising standards urged me to give it another try. He said new chef Trey Hartinger, while young, was proving to have admirable cooking chops and had brought locally sourced and slow food methodology to The Pearl's kitchen—concepts that, though trendy, just make plain good sense.
Though The Pearl tends to draw a too-cool-for-school crowd, it's a good-looking spot with retro-modern style. The location, well off the scenester-path among the faded motels of Rosecrans Street, suits this Gaslamp-phobe just fine, so I thought I'd give it one more try.
Seven cohorts joined me, which meant that if dinner was bad, I'd have a whole mess of people to answer to. The starters menu buoyed my hopes: I spotted three items that looked especially delicious—the trick was getting two of my friends to order the other two. Dilemma solved when one chose the tempting pork belly while another ordered the fresh Chino Farm corn soup. The appetizer that appealed to me most read as though someone had tapped into my brain and learned my weakness for whiskey and organ meats and combined them into one rock-star-sounding dish: Maker's Mark-glazed sweetbreads. Just as I was about to place my order, my eye wandered over to the entrées, where I spied a ribeye steak and sweetbread combination—consider me signed, sealed and delivered.
So I started with the soup instead, a thick but cream-free corn chowder whose sweetness was enhanced by a fried onion and tempered by a lacing of spicy chili oil. The bite I tried of my friend's pork belly was like eating a mouthful of soft pork candy, lacquered in an orange zest reduction sauce. He was lucky that we weren't sitting across from each other because my fork would definitely have snuck over a few more times. Some other friends shared the fair, but not likely to be reordered, Cuban “cigars”—filo-wrapped cylinders of braised pork, ham and swiss cheese, a take on the classic Cuban sandwich.
If you're a picky eater, here's where I'll lose you: the sweetbreads that I'd been awaiting are thymus glands of, in this instance, a cow. I look at it this way: If I'm going to eat meat, I'd better come to terms with whole animal (I've come to really enjoy offal, which isn't, um, awful at all.) The nuggets of sweetbread were firm but moist, and had a rich taste that went well with the salty-sweet, bourbon-spiked sauce. The ribeye is from a grass-fed cow, slightly more beefy-tasting and lower in fat than corn-fed meat. It seems only right that cows eat what they're supposed to rather than some grain that's not naturally in their diet. My only complaint is that I like a good crusty sear on my steak, and this had only a few grill marks, but the flavor was good, especially with sips of a friend's non-vintage Glenrothes, a single malt from Speyside, my preferred Scotch region.
My seat-neighbor's scallop special was well-cooked, and his partner finished every bite of his house-ground beef burger, topped with house-cured bacon. But I had the most food envy for the Kurobuta pork, a double-thick and juicy chop that had probably been basted with butter for the duration of its cooking time. It came with a savory sourdough bread pudding that we all demolished.
Two other friends and I returned for The Pearl's Sunday brunch and its offer of bottomless mimosas. I may be getting ornery in my old age, but I thought the DJ-spun music was cranked up way too loud. Still, we enjoyed our sunny, poolside table and the food, in particular my salmon hash—a jumble of blush-colored house-smoked fish tossed with diced potatoes and house-cured bacon topped with two poached organic eggs and a bundle of fresh farmer's-market greens from La Milpa Organica. I nudged one of the eggs with a triangle of house-made brioche and the yolk burst forth, oozing down over the hash. Talk about food porn—it was kinda hot.
Through June 27 (and on each Monday in July), The Pearl is offering a three-course dinner for the unbeatable price of $25. As of this writing, the aforementioned steak and sweetbread dish is one of those courses. Perhaps I'll see you there?