The Pearl a true gem on Bluffton's Calhoun Street
Location, location, location.
The Pearl Kitchen & Bar, on the corner of Lawrence and Calhoun, has it in spades. When it cools off a bit, good luck trying to score a table on the front porch on Farmers Market Thursday for the best people-watching in Beaufort County.
But for now, with inside seating for only 50 or so, weekends can get busy, and reservations are a must.
The Pearl, open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. seven days a week, offers a sophisticated dining experience featuring Executive Chef Matt Valentino's inspired coastal cuisine - inventive, often adventurous and nearly impossible to label.
"What we envisioned, Matt had the exact vision as well," said co-owner Alex Nightingale, whose family also owns ELA's Blue Water Grille on Hilton Head Island, a steak and seafood restaurant overlooking Broad Creek.
The Pearl is named for Alex's father, Earl Nightingale, whose nickname is "Earl the Pearl." It has a sleek, SoHo-like vibe with cool, clean, contemporary lines and all-white walls and tables.
The menu's "Firsts," from $8 to $16, include Tater Chips with a balsamic glaze, gorgonzola, caramelized onions and fennel ($8); Calamari with a wasabi aioli and red pepper remoulade ($12); and Beef Carpaccio of filet mignon, arugula, lemon & truffle oil, capers and parmesan ($16).
Soups and Greens, $7 to $9, feature Carolina She-Crab and Popcorn Chowder, made with Palmetto Kettle Corn, potatoes and fresh she-crab roe, or a Traditional Caesar that is anything but, with grilled romaine hearts, croutons and generous shavings of parmesan.
If you're the kind of diner that judges a restaurant by its bread, the plentiful supply of crusty ciabatta accompanied by bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar will make you happy, and your attentive server will be happy to replenish it for you.
"Mains," from $22 to $42, are served on large rectangular white plates in a presentation as pleasing to the eye as to the palate. Pan Seared Diver Scallops are perfectly seared, garnished with a sprinkling of toasted almonds and accompanied by whipped potatoes and slender grilled asparagus, $29.
Chicken & Waffles are made with free-range fried chicken breast over a cornbread waffle with jalapeno syrup, roasted corn and red pepper salsa, $22.
The Ember Grilled Filet Mignon is 7 ounces, finished with a cabernet demi glaze and crimini mushrooms, accompanied by whipped Yukon potatoes, blistered cherry tomatoes and spinach, $39.
Chef Valentino's daily specials are ambitious, out of the ordinary and artfully executed. If you're lucky, they might include osso buco (braised veal shanks) or fresh halibut.
Desserts, $9 to $11, include Mason Jar S'mores, with dark chocolate, marshmallow and graham crackers, $10, best polished off with a serious "Night Cap," such as Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port or Sambuca Black, each $9.
For reservations, call 843-757-5511.
Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.