Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Black Pearl, Dunedin, FL

Pull up a stool (okay, let's make that "a chair" just to ensure there are no unfortunate misinterpretations...can you tell I work in a doctor's office?) boys and girls because a magical tale is about to unfold which could take a while unless I fall asleep or run out of exemplary adjectives before I finish the post.   I have now identified the finest meal I've ever had in Pinellas County...and that meal was sensually snorted savored on UD's and my 10 year wedding anniversary at The Black Pearl this past Friday, which is a little gem of a restaurant (and there's nothing remotely semi-precious about it) nestled in the quaint little burg of downtown Dunedin.  Behold "The Precious" (and consider yourself warned, Gollum...don't even THINK about it, 'cause I'll take you down).  Mine. MINE MINE MINE!

This tiny, romantic spot seats about three dozen people at the most. White tablecloths, candles and roses adorn each table. You definitely need a reservation if visiting on Friday or Saturday nights...and be aware that The Black Pearl has an old-school style which still encourages lingering, so allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy your meal.  Food came out somewhat slowly, but each offering was made to order...a fact which was readily apparent in the quality of every dish placed before us.  The service we received was knowledgeable, professional and attentive (while managing to stop short of being stuffy or imperious)... we definitely appreciated its "human touch".  The Black Pearl also has a very charming and eclectic collection of stemware (some of it dating back to the Depression era).  I was quite enchanted when we were invited to wander to the back of the restaurant and select our glasses of choice from the case that housed it all.

Starter time!  The Crispy Pork Belly was sublime and will never be forgotten.  Each smoky, meaty slab was nestled on a little bed of cheese grits perfection and drizzled with a blueberry demi-glace. Underdog verybegrudgingly parted with one of these three bites of heaven...and I'm not sure he would've had he not been trying to romance me on this special occasion. Having enjoyed Thomas Keller's rendition of pork belly before, we both agreed that this version compared favorably.

My Lump Crab Bisque was a more-delicate-than-most version and silkily sweet.  Yielding a generous portion of tender crab morsels, this rich bisque was ratcheted an extra notch heavenward by the drizzle of sherry added tableside.  

The house salad was simple perfection.  Organic greens, currants, gorgonzola cheese and pine nuts were tossed together in a warm vinaigrette (did I taste bacon in that dressing?).  Wow.

Honestly, I was expecting the portions at TBP to be rather miniscule (which always kind of pisses me off when we're dropping $100+ per head).  As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised by their size.  Our server could tell that we wanted to share our selections and very thoughtfully always brought an extra applicable untensil with each course (soup spoon, steak knife, etc.)...but I digress.  Let's take a look at the spousal unit's dinner...which was nothing short of spectacular.

Lusting after the Coffee-Rubbed Ribeye with lobster mashed Yukon gold potatoes, Crown Royal mushroom pan jus, crispy shallots and asparagus, but loathing the taste of coffee with every fiber of his being, he threw himself on the mercy of our server...who immediately assured him that the steak could easily be served blackened instead of crusted with java nastiness.  Furthering his spiral into nirvana, the bigass ribeye (this was no little girl's cut, as for $45 it shouldn't have been) was cooked perfectly to UD's bloody-side-of-medium-rare specs, which is something not even high-end steakhouses seem to be able accomplish all that often.  The crusty-on-the-outside/red-and-juicy-on-the-inside cow chop was served atop what is now my new favorite veggie...potatoes boiled in lobster stock, slathered in butter and cream, and liberally loaded with lobster bits. Did I mention that Crown Royal mushroom pan jus is practically as good as sex?  I'd be remiss if I didn't.   The handbasket we perpetually loll in served as Underdog's sole reminder that he, in fact, had NOT died and gone to heaven.  

After slurping my troth of crab bisque, pilfering my husband's pork belly with cheese grits and surreptitiously unloading the better part of his lobster mashed potatoes while he was in the men's room, I was finally ready to begin feigning a more ladylike appetite. To this end, I was pleased that I'd had the foresight to order one of the lighter-sounding entrees (farm raised PEI oven-steamed mussels with coconut milk, red Thai curry and lime served over pappardelle pasta and garnished with fresh sugar snap peas).  All I can say is, OMG.  I loved how the sweetness of the coconut milk and toasted coconut garnish played with the heat of the Thai curry.  The flavors married beautifully and uniquely with the fresh mussels and al dente pasta.  Look how bright and beautiful it is!   Lurve.

Tackling dessert at this point was a challenge, albeit one we cheerfully rose to since we had already committed to the Tarte Tatin at the beginning of the meal (this is one of two desserts on the menu you have to sign up for as soon as you arrive due to the labor-intensiveness of its preparation and cooking time...and what's not to love about having something as wonderful as this prepared exclusively for you?).  A large and flaky pastry crust cradling granny smith apples cooked in butter, spices and brown sugar adorned with a scoop of rich, house-made vanilla ice cream appeared at the end of the meal...and thank gawd our friends Joe and Buffy converged on the scene simultaneously to aid and abet its consumption while joining us for an after-dinner cocktail....

...because our awesome server also presented us with an order of the Jim Beam Red Stag Bread Pudding (which I had been campaigning for before I gave in to UD's insatiable yearning for the apple tart) as an anniversary gift.  <3  This ridiculously decadent bread pudding (and, believe me, I've had my share), was moist on the inside with nice, crusty edges and was accented with flambeed cherries, black walnuts, meringue and Red Stag butter sauce.  Swoonworthy.

Basking in a state of sheer bliss amidst everything I love, big desserts and my beloved (in no particular order).   Happy anniversary, Dogboy!

$210-ish for all of this plus two bottles of wine (before gratuity).  Not cheap...but quantity, quality, service and atmosphere deliver 100% for the price point. Thank you for making our special day even more so, The Black Pearl...and thank you, David and Frank (proprietors of the most lovely Meranova Guest Inn) for the wonderful restaurant recommendation and for also helping to make our anniversary weekend perfect.  Our experience with both establishments brings a single word to mind...and that word is "exquisite".

Black Pearl on Urbanspoon


  1. Thank you for choosing us for your special night. Happy anniversary!
    Adam LaRoche, Chef, The Black Pearl

  2. Sweet Polly, we moved to the area recently and are grateful that your blog has become our guide to learn the restaurant scene. After reading your ravings, we visited TBP and had a wonderful experience. Also, like you, we learned our dialect in Tennessee and appreciate the occasional twang you use to describe good eats. Thank you for this service!