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Friday, July 29, 2011

Where Do Mad Men Eat in San Diego? - The Pearl Restaurant

THE PRICE: MODERATE ($15 to $25 entrees)

They say if you remember the 60's you weren't there, but I WAS there.  Of course, I was just a kid so my memories are less of sex, drugs and rock and roll and more of the groovy images I saw on TV.  Just watch any episode of Mad Men - you'll see what I mean.  The Pearl is like those images, a young and hip eatery along side the pool of the very young and very hip hotel.  The setting is crazy loud like a Vegas lounge but the food is taken seriously.  As for the dining experience, well, this ain't your mother's mid century.  Or maybe it was and she's not telling you about it.


They also say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas and I think that rule should apply to The Pearl as well, especially for the guy who dropped down to his boxers and jumped into the pool.  And this also goes for the gal who jumped in after him with her dress on.  No one batted an eye, like this was pretty common stuff.   These sort of things don't normally happen when I go out to eat so excuse me if my mouth was hanging open.

Wally, close your mouth and get back to the menu.  OK, time for a drink. 

I like it that cocktails have made a big comeback.  Did you know that wine is for squares?  It's true.  When I was younger cocktails were for the old folks and wine was hip, but talk to anyone in their 20's and wine is for old people and cocktails are the rage.  Funny how that works.  Anyway, what looks good?  Hmmm, a Dark 'n Stormy is dark rum, fresh ginger, lime, mint, soda, let's get that one along with a classic Manhattan.

The Dark 'N Stormy was cool and refreshing and the Manhattan made me feel like I was in with the In Crowd, which is way better than being in with the IT Crowd.  Drink too many of these and you might end up in the pool.  Maybe that's the point!

The scene around me was classy ladies doing a night on the town, cool couples, young business people sipping their drinks.  Is that Get Smart playing on the big screen over the pool?  Hey, that shoe phone was a good idea.  Maybe Apple could make it.  The Pearl isn't a fancy restaurant, this is poolside dining.  The best spots might be the taller tables that overlook the pool area.  The worst spots might be those tables right on the edge of the pool as it looks pretty darn easy to take an accidental dunk to me - If that happens, just yell "Whooo Hoooo!" as if you meant to do that.

Anyway, let's get on to the food.  For starters we went for the bacon wrapped figs with fondue dipping sauce.

They look sort of weird, but bacon wrapped anything tastes good and the sweetness and creaminess of the fig complimented the saltiness of the bacon perfectly.  The dipping sauce was a bit odd, like the sauce you use in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but tasted pretty good with the bacon figs.  A creamier sauce would have been better, but I'm not complaining.  I give this dish a B+.

Next up were Carlsbad Mussels made with smoked porter and gouda cheese.  Now I've been telling you that Carlsbad has the best mussels for a long time and these rated at the top of the list for best prepared mussels.  Super fresh and the sauce had a lusciousness to it that's hard to describe.  We ate every bite and sopped up every drop of the juices, that's how good it was.  A+.

The pork chop came with pickled peach, mashed potatoes and veggies ($22) and was a standout, super moist and delicious.  Big, fat bone-in pork chops are the way to go, as long as you don't overcook them and this one was a winner.  A solid A, could have scored higher with a pinch of finishing salt at the end. Just a pinch.  My wife who ordered this disagreed, but who is usually right?  You decide and get back to me.

The special of the night was the sea bass done in a lemon sauce.  I love sea bass for it's flakiness and melt in your mouth texture, but my fish was sadly overcooked.  Dry on the edges, better in the middle, it was a shame as the flavors were spot on and the sauce delicious.  If they had pulled off the heat a bit earlier, this would have been a solid A, but overcooked drops it a notch or two.  Really too bad, this dish had great potential.

Around us people were raving about the burger, aptly named the Best Burger in Town with grilled onions and smoked gouda cheese.  I'm not above bothering people during their dinner to get you a shot.  Hey you, what's that you're eating?

Why, it does look like a Best Burger in Town contender.  It looked fantastic and the people I bothered were loving it.  And fries, man those looked good.  Please offer me one, please, please.  Ahhh, no such luck but they looked great, hot and fresh and hand cut.  I...Want...Those. 

You can actually get the fries a la carte, which brings up a really good idea.  I'm thinking a plate of those mussels and a side of pomme frites would be a killer dinner for under $20.  Make a note of that idea and you can thank me later.  OK, get the burger, too.  In fact, while the more expensive entrees were great, I think a place at the tall tables during Happy Hour, some appetizers and a cocktail, well, it's pretty hard to beat that.   

And a trip to The Pearl isn't complete without a trip to the restroom where the sink looks like a giant oyster shell.  That's pretty cool!  I just let the water run and stared at it.

We also heard that Sunday brunch is a riot with bottomless mimosa's and people actually planning ahead by bringing swimming suits and staying all day in the pool while sipping their cocktails.  I can so see that happening.  And guess what, no one seems to care so if you're looking for a place to hang out on a Sunday and don't mind being part of the show, jump in.

As I left The Pearl the party around the pool was still going on and Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 were still on the big screen.  I think this could be a very fun place to dine as long as you know what you're getting yourself into.  Bringing Grandma out to dinner?  Hmmm, maybe not.  Romantic poolside dining?  Ummmm, not really.  But party like it's 1966 at a pool party where you expect Sammy Davis Jr. to slide up next to you and buy you a drink, baby?  Well, this is the right place.  With above average food, a party scene atmosphere, and its mid century Mad Men vibe, The Pearl achieves its goal of capturing the vibe of a bygone era for today's hip crowd. 

Now please excuse me while I get my wife out of the pool.


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