After a great deal of anticipation, the newest restaurant to grace The Inn at Longshore, Pearl, opened its doors last Monday. The restaurant’s cosmopolitan appearance isn’t what one might expect in a seaside community. There are coastal elements of course, repurposed bleached wood lines the wall behind the bar which also houses a recycled glass countertop that’s very much reminiscent of sea glass. But Pearl will never be mistaken for a casual seasonal, seaside eatery; it’s much too stylish for such. The atmosphere perfectly reflects the personality of the town, sophisticated without being overly formal. Beyond the clean lines of the interior lies the magnificent view of the Long Island Sound. If you’re lucky enough to be there at sunset be prepared to have your breath taken away.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Michael Hazen on a quiet Thursday afternoon. If his name rings a bell, the innovative chef launched the concept for the Bartaco restaurants. At Pearl he sets out to create a menu that is inspirational and reflective of today’s lifestyle, clean and simple with a modern approach. He offers food that is familiar while pushing the envelope just slightly to offer an element of surprise. Chef stressed the importance offering items that are local and seasonal.
His commitment to the environment is unwavering. He is in the process of fostering relationships with a local oyster farmer and soon the restaurant will have its very own farm in the waters nearby. Additionally, Pearl will recycle its oyster shells to local reefs serving to protect and enrich their natural habitats. “We want to be as green and as sustainable as possible and we want to be able to give back to the community as best as we can.” Chef Hazen sets a definite tone regarding the restaurant’s culture. “It’s got to be about the people,” he told me, explaining his desire not only to embrace the diners, but those working at Pearl. “If we can make it about the people it will be a win-win situation and people will embrace us.”
In talking about the dining experience Chef Hazen said “I don’t want people to feel rushed or hurried. I want this to be a place where people can come to enjoy themselves and relax.” I decided to return on Friday evening to get a sense of what the restaurant was like in action. Although he had described the atmosphere as low-key, the energy that evening was positively electric. There was an overwhelming sense of excitement in the air, and yet we were relaxed. True to his statement about being people-focused, the staff was exceptional – courteous and attentive.
As we settled in at the end of the bar I decided it would be fun to sample some of the craft cocktails in lieu of the wine I would ordinarily opt for. Each cocktail pays homage to the Inn’s historic past with tributes to Marilyn Monroe, John D. Rockefeller and F. Scott Fitzgerald. We sampled the aforementioned as well as the Stumble In. The Marilyn, named after the movie star, and a former guest of the inn, is made from vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, elderflower liqueur and prosecco. It offers a festive, slightly sweet effervescent treat. The 1890, the year the inn saw its first guests, is a refreshing beverage consisting of cucumber vodka, Hendrix gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and basil. The Rockefeller, also a guest at one time, is bolder with mezcal, aperol, passion fruit, fresh citrus juice and paprika. I loved its very distinct sweet and smoky flavor. The Gatsby, who is said to have been inspired by the property, is made with smooth vermouth, gin, rosemary and chartreuse and seems to be exactly what Jay himself would order. Finally we tried the Stumble In - Made with house tequila infused with pineapple and jalapeno, triple sec, pineapple juice and lime, this offered the right amount of sweet to balance the spiciness of the jalapeno. This one might have been my favorite. I’d have loved to have ordered one more, I then might have called it the Stumble Out!
As we sipped our cocktails we sampled the Montauk Tuna where thin slices of gently seared tuna took on the vibrant flavors of the avocado, thinly shaved radishes and olive oil offering a nice twist on a perennial favorite.
It was the Maine Lobster Lux that caught us all quite by surprise and rendered us momentarily speechless. The menu describes it as lobster butter, chives, tarragon and brioche toast, but it is so much more. Served in a deep dish in what appears, at first glance to be a marinara-type of a sauce, it is anything but. This lobster butter isn’t what you might imagine, but the result of lobster, shrimp and other seasonings that have been infused to for over six hours to create a broth that is rich and intensely flavorful, in which you will find the perfectly cooked lobster meat. I’ve never had lobster like this, Maine or anywhere.
Pork Chop (or chicken) Milanese are popular choices these days and truth be told most I’ve tried haven’t been anything to write home about. While this isn’t something I would typically order, Chef Hazen knocks this one out of the ballpark. Our pork was perfectly tender and juicy on the interior while being perfectly crispy on the exterior. The shaved Brussels sprouts and gala apple slaw along with the whole grain mustard offers up a complexity of flavors that perfectly complement each other. How does one top an already near perfect meal?
With a spectacular Grand Oyster Tower consisting of 6 shrimps, 4 littlenecks, 4 cherrystones, 8 oysters and half a chilled lobster. This alone could have been my dinner. It should be noted that I ordinarily pass on mignonette sauce, but at my friend’s urging I decided to try an oyster. Suffice it to say this is like no other mignonette you’ve ever had before. The combination of two different types of rice vinegars, seasonings and fresh cilantro sets this version far apart from all the rest.
Pearl was all that I had hoped and then some. I will happily sing Chef Hazen’s praises.
Come mid-march their menu will expand to offer both lunch and brunch.
Pearl is located at The Inn at Longshore,
260 Compo Road South, Westport, CT