A contemporary, uber-cool interior and décor mirror a chic California-coastal inspired kitchen in Point Loma at the Restaurant at The Pearl. Chef Todd Bencivenni combines his passion for local ingredients with an diverse culinary background to create flavorful, memorable dishes. Eclectic dishes come from a variety of regions across the U.S including a magnificent Mac & Cheese appetizer made with Spring Hill Cheddar and a Grilled Pork Chop with potatoes, apple chutney and fresh farmers market veggies for a solid main course. Whether you’re dining inside or by the pool, in a cabana or beach chair, weekly movies from The Pearl’s private collection are shown outside on a 10 by 13 foot screen. Seating is first come, first served so make sure to get there early for happy hour and movies and enjoy wonderful wines and specialty cocktails. Dinner is served 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily and drinks are poured until 11:00 p.m. during the week and midnight on Friday and Saturday night. Whether it’s for a meal or a movie, the Restaurant at The Pearl is the place to be.Read More ...
A great restaurant lets the product do the talking (to people’s stomachs that is) and word-of-mouth advertising about the fantastic food, service and atmosphere spreads like seed citywide. I’ve heard a growing buzz gastronomically about a place I need to check out and also a place many have been admiring aesthetically for the past few years that was around the same area of San Diego. I didn’t have any idea that those friends and chefs just so happened to be talking about the same spot: The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
So from what I hear, if you want to grab some dinner before a concert at the Valley View Casino Center, you’ve been swapping your wares all day at the Koby’s Swap Meet on the weekends, after a long day out on the yacht or possibly after spending the afternoon at the beach, The Restaurant at the Pearl will have you covered. This dinner only, with a Sunday brunch, establishment focuses on local sustainable ingredients with a modern-60’s retro vibe. From what I hear, food and fun abound and luckily for me, I am going to find out first hand if that’s true.
So pulling up to The Pearl, not far from Shelter Island on Rosecrans, a large painted glass and bamboo wall keeps me from seeing what’s going on while I hear rustling and conversation on the other side, so curiosity along with being hungry, leads me quickly to find the entrance. So, as I walk in the glass door, a neon sign saying “Yes” glows above. Since I’m not walking into a magic 8-ball, I’m guessing that is in reference to the limited vacancy at The Pearl on this mild Tuesday night. It might also be in reference to the question I had in my mind walking into this former motor lodge turned hip, down-right cool establishment: Am I going to have a great time reviewing The Restaurant at The Pearl? As I meander to my right and sit down at the L-shape bar, I notice all the eye catching details. Shag carpeting in the lounge area where you can sit on an elevated floor and play everything from chess to Connect 4 brings you back in to a time when skinny ties and pencil skirts reigned supreme. Small vibrant cobalt blue tiles on the walls, and thin, stacked-stone reminds me of my grandfather’s vacation house. The mirrors on the ceiling in the lounge and even in the restrooms make this visually packed place seem more open (Check out the restrooms, sounds odd, but the sinks are really cool).
Looking around the dining area, there are a lot of different types of people, from young couples coming in for the cool décor, food and drink, to the older couple having a bite and visiting sunny San Diego. Hipsters with skinny jeans and Jordache jackets sit alongside ladies and gentleman in Hawaiian shirts enjoying colorful drinks. It is a very encompassing gang of people at The Pearl which, I’m guessing, is another big draw. The lighting was more than adequate to scope out the group of ladies at the bar but dim enough to give you a slightly romantic setting if you come in for a date. The main dining area was filling up in this 63-seat restaurant area and there is a medium level of noise, but nothing that prevents you from having a normal conversation with the person sitting next to you.
Clean lines and cool colors keep me scoping the entire dining room and bar where the modern and the old meld. The Pearl was originally built in 1959 and prior to its modern transformation it was the Sportsman’s Lodge until 2006. But since the end of 2007, the cool crowd has found a new hangout. So being uber cool, I am led to the pearl inside The Pearl…the pool. Not many restaurants have dining right next to a body of water but outside the folded double doors this big bowl has a fire pit on the right, cabanas in the corner, a succulent plant wall and tables and hammocks surrounding the other social areas. If you can’t find something awesome at this place, call yourself Debbie Downer. With so much going on, it is quickly reaffirming the “Yes” answer to my previous unstated question because such a cool place has to have the food to match. So once I take a seat I eagerly await the great grub.
Shortly after sitting in the chrome-legged 60’s seat cushion, the kitchen general, East Coast transplant and Executive Chef Jaison Burke, comes and introduces himself. He offers up his life ingredients about his education, his philosophy on food and what he likes to cook. And fortunately for me, he likes to cook a lot of food I enjoy eating. While I wait for a fellow foodie to join The Pearl party, I ask Chef Jaison to take the reins and lead this epicurean excursion and he excitedly claps his hands together and says “Get ready” and, off he goes. But before food, drinks were in order, and once my friend shows up, our awesome blue-eyed server Jaimie gets right to it. She astutely recommends a few house specialties developed by the craftsmen behind the smooth white stone bar. I’m not a big drinker when it comes to cocktails mainly because it brings me back to the days back in college where getting sick off less than stellar “tell me when” roommate-made-drinks was the norm. But I was invited to try three, and all three, might have started something new for me. We started off getting the Marie Antoinette which is a Pearl plum vodka, champagne, lavender syrup, grapefruit juice and a colorful lavender sprig to top it all off. I have a pretty sensitive palate and this was a very well balanced drink to whet my appetite. So while sipping on the specialty cocktail, the first course made its way from farm to straight to the table.
Chef Jaison and his staff start off this memorable meal with his sense-appealing Organic Kale Salad. The sautéed kale visually contrasts with the bright and crisp julienned carrots peeking out within the wilted deep forest green leaves, a healthy amount of cubed deep burgundy beets and diced red bell peppers with baby radishes and sesame seeds meld seamlessly with the light and tangy vinaigrette. I’m what most would call an adult (at least when you’re counting age) so eating mushy baby food isn’t appealing, and you can get that when you don’t prepare food properly. The kale had a tiny bit of firmness, I got a medium crunch from the peppers and radish and the beets are tender and earthy with every forkful. I rapidly finish this roughage because it tastes great and I want to move this taste train along to the next stop (yes that sounded cheesy, but if you knew what the next two courses were, the last sentence is appropriate).
I love bacon. I love cheese even more. So when you mix the two, I’m all in. So when a ceramic bowl of Blue Cheese Bacon Wrapped Dates scoots across the soft wooden table shortly after the salad, my pupils dilate. I am reminded of a funny story, “Do you have any raisins?” No is the usual response. “How about a date?” This line was used on my sister and when she told me about it and I died laughing. The California Medjool dates are sweet, the bacon is salty and the blue cheese is creamy and tangy. The smoked almonds and the house pickled veggies (carrots, onions and jalapenos) give some added flair to whatever flavor profile (light spice or smoky) you enjoy more and want to add to the delicious dates. Other than the dates, The Restaurant has a solid assortment of smaller plates like Cornmeal Calamari and an artisan charcuiterie (high quality, usually in-house made meat) plate to get you started. As this date plate is cleared, there is one date left, so I snag it up because I don’t want it to go to waste. Little do I know what Chef Jaison still has in store.
As I stated before, I love cheese. It’s my favorite food group. (Yes, I said group, if you saw my fridge at home, you’d allow it.) So when a melty, heaping, cauldron of Mac and Cheese quickly comes out of the silver double doors of the kitchen and lands on my table, again my jaw drops. The chef has an ever changing and creative daily Mac special and today happens to be my favorite combo: House-made bacon, jalapenos, cheddar and a little Sriracha topped with toasted bread crumbs. I can’t help stuffing my chipmunk cheeks full of this dish. Every penne noodle was creamy and cheesy which keeps the jalapeno from getting to hot to the tongue. The smoky and salty bacon in every bite makes me grunt in goodness, I feel like a caveman. But with so much food ahead of me, we allow Chef Jaison to replace my so-far-favorite with our first entrée.
During the slight food intermission, Jaimie brings us our second drink of the night and something singularly unique to The Pearl. The House Verdita Shot which is Sauza Blanco Tequila in a shot glass, and in another, is the blended pineapple juice, cilantro, mint and jalapeno. Jaimie said it’s our choice to do either shot first so I take the green liquid first, followed by the tequila and as the menu states; you get a “euphoric” feeling shortly thereafter. I’m guessing because of the flavors going through your brain all at once during the shot. It was damn good and you get to keep the shot glass, how cool is that? So after this drink, our senses are ready for some more stimulation.
The Market Fish just so happens to be a pescado I personally prefer, Corvina. This light but firm, flakey sea bass is cooked superbly. The searing on each side allows the fish to stay moist on the inside and have a great texture. Underneath is a bed of black trumpet and oyster mushrooms, tender fingerling potatoes, a light walnut vinaigrette and circling the plate is a walnut pesto, and this light but flavor-packed dish has me impressed. I used to not be a fan of fungi but over the years I’ve grown to love mushrooms and the cooks sauté them perfectly so as to keep the slightly chewy texture but to definitely not have you chomping on a bunch of rubber bands. The potatoes are soft and properly seasoned as well. Food is something I thoroughly enjoy, and this meal is sincerely making me and my stomach happy. While the fish is a standout, the Grilled Pork Chop, Stout Braised Short Rib and the Best Burger In Town main plates will not fall short when it comes to flavor or filling your belly. So just when I think we are done with the entrees, something my Mom use to make just so happens to find its way to the table.
My mother cooked Swedish meatballs and meatloaf really well. But this better-than-Mom-use-to-make Meatloaf comes atop two of my favorite sides: Mashed potatoes and green beans. The nicely seasoned garlic mash has farm fresh green beans and carrots so the really juicy ground meat compliments it all. I’m almost full at this point in the night so maybe a night cap is in order and with the service so swift, Jaimie ends up at the table with our last beverage.
The Greenhouse Effect is a pretty smooth sipper. The ingredients are jalapeno infused gin, muddled basil, fresh lime, soda and cucumber. There isn’t an overwhelming smell of gin mainly just the cucumber and the basil. Once I take a drink though, it has a little kick from either the gin or the jalapeno and finished well; I can’t be for sure because of my unfamiliarity with cocktails. But the balance of the flavors and the spice helps keep me from falling into a self-induce food coma. That’s a good thing because now, we’re told by Chef that it’s onto dessert.
The Rosemary Crème Brûlée with some fresh berries is a unique dessert. Most would associate rosemary with beef, or maybe even the aforementioned papas, but in dessert, that’s different. And by different, I mean great! I hate eating food, especially when the major ingredient is described on the menu, and you can’t taste what it says you’re eating. Or, on the opposite end, you get something that blows your head off with that flavor and you can’t taste anything but “it.” So rosemary is a distinctive herb, but this super smooth dessert is at such a nice balance I literally said, “Wow.” Chef Jaison comes out of the kitchen to check on us and explains that properly steeping the rosemary with the vanilla bean in the cream to 160 degrees creates the environment for flavor. Each spoonful of the smooth custard, after breaking the caramelized sugar crust, leaves such a smooth finish and again, just the right amount of rosemary on the palate.
As the night comes to a close, Chef Jaison makes time to sit down and ask us about our experience and our comments are as nice as the food. You can get tired from having fun, so I’m ready to rest up after this amazing meal. Get Smart plays on the large flat screen while I get going and can’t help but to recap the night while walking out: the drinks compliment the food and the décor keeps our eyes as busy as our taste buds. So if you’re looking for an overall encompassing experience with food, drink and atmosphere, look to The Pearl and get ready to be impressed.
Insider Tips: When the cooks have time, they tinker. They tinker with new appetizers, entrees and desserts so special dishes happen almost on the daily. If you like variety, then you’ll enjoy what’s coming out of the kitchen. Another huge draw is the big screen where every Wednesday night during the summer The Pearl plays great movies like Pulp Fiction and Office Space. Sunday brunch is also a big deal with a DJ pool side, great food and you get 50 percent off your bill if you ride your bike.
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