1410 Rosecrans St., San Diego (619) 226-6100
Driving down Rosecrans Avenue in San Diego always used to take me back in time, back to another era in which the Naval presence that dominated the landscape was marked by the sprawling Naval Training Center, the many military uniform sales and dry cleaning shops, along with the assorted other vendors catering to NTC's needs. Additional nostalgic icons that dressed the Avenue included the famous neon marque of the Loma Theater, as well as the numerous motor hotels dotting Rosecrans, built to capitalize on the rapid growth of the booming 1960s' San Diego tourist industry. The new millennium finds much of this well-traveled thoroughfare transformed. Gone is the Naval Training Center, now the site of Liberty Station, a modern urban shopping and entertainment complex. Gone too is the Loma Theater, converted into a bookstore owned by Barnes and Nobel. But what of all those motor hotels? These period fixtures appear to be frozen in time. Closer examination of one such motel, The Pearl, reveals a startling discovery. This particular motor inn has been renovated in the "late-sixties/early-seventies retro-chic" style made famous by such hotels as The Standard in Hollywood California. To go along with its makeover, The Pearl features a sleek new restaurant, offering upscale Cal-eclectic fare, headed by Executive Chef Trey Hartinger.
Dining service offers several seating options, including the main dining salon,
and several poolside choices, including cabanas that can be reserved in advance.
I started the culinary festivities off with the Ceviche of the Moment ($10).
Chef Hartinger prepares a fresh ceviche daily, based on the best ingredients available from his seafood vendors. On my visit, the star of the dish was spotted sea bass. The lime-cured bass was tender, yet not mushy, being accompanied by cucumbers, cilantro, red onions, and red bell peppers. Served with crunchy tortilla chips, this starter had a lot of pop.
Never one to pass on glandular treats, I followed with an appetizer of Maker's Mark Sweetbreads ($10).
I have no aversion to offal whatsoever, and one of my favorites is the glorious thymus gland, also referred to as sweetbreads. In Pearl's rendition, the connective membrane has been completely removed, leaving you with nodes of sweetbreads. Though small in stature, these morsels were big in texture and flavor, having been sauteed in a house-made Maker's Mark whiskey sauce. On future visits to Pearl, resistance to ordering this starter will be futile. The question really will be, should I double up on this delicacy?
Horrifying update: I just conversed with Chef Hartinger and was told he had to take the sweetbreads off the menu due to poor sales. To quote the Chef, "However every single foodie that ordered them LOVED them, but, those same foodies were the only ones to order them in the first place. I'd love to sell them, we just need (more) people that would order them." Come on folks, we all bitch that we don't have the great cuisine of cities like NYC or LA, but when a local restaurant moves in that direction, and we as customers fail to support them, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I encourage you to call Chef Trey and urge him to bring back "The Sweeties," as he calls them. Then, let's all make an effort to eat up his inventory (shoot, it is only $10 for this incredible appetizer). I promise, you won't be sorry.
Another starter I could not resist was the Candied Pork Belly ($12).
The pork belly had a wonderfully caramelized exterior that gave way to "melt in your mouth" layers of pork fat and meat. Flavored with candied ginger and orange zest, this starter was sweet, yet rich. This taste combined with a luxurious mouth-feel to land a knockout punch. Pork fat lovers rejoice, this appetizer is for us.
As I always enjoy a good risotto, Pearl's Wild Mushroom Risotto ($7) made the perfect side dish for me.
The high starch rice was cooked to perfection, offering up its signature creamy consistency highlighted by slightly toothsome individual grains. What set this risotto apart for me, however, were the wild mushrooms. Chef Hartinger uses a combination of Oyster, shitake, honshimeji, and maitake mushrooms in his preparation, and then finishes the dish off with freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese This generous side dish is a bargain at $7 and should not be missed.
From the entree portion of the menu, I chose the Kurobuta Pork Chop ($19).
The pork chop is served with sourdough boursin bread pudding and seasonal vegetables. My chop was a perfect pink in the center, with solid caramelization on the outside. Chops like these can dry out quickly if overcooked, but mine proved to be juicy as well as flavorful. The celery, carrot, and onion studded bread pudding, made using bread from local bakery Con Pane, served as a nice sponge to soak up the pan sauce from the plate, and was a welcome accoutrement to the dish. The sauteed vegetables provided an attractive color and a fresh, crunchy texture. This offering was really about letting the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.
The Pearl Hotel renovation has yielded a hipster adult playground. Events such as movie nights by the pool, special prix fixe menus, and poolside bottomless mimosa Sunday brunches help promulgate a vibrant entertainment scene. In symbiotic harmony with this setting, Restaurant at the Pearl delivers an upscale and innovative culinary experience for their patrons. Chef Hartinger's attention to quality, freshness, and classic techniques, combined with his unique preparations, make Pearl an exciting dining adventure. Concealed behind its unassuming period facade, The Pearl Hotel Restaurant and Bar is truly a gem hiding in plain sight.
Dinner, Monday - Saturday, 5pm-10pm.
Brunch, Sunday 10am-2pm.