Something fishy about Black Pearl

by Brian Clarey

chow.Something fishy about Black Pearl The Black Pearl Grille & Oyster Bar 3706 High Point Road, Greensboro 336.855.0079

I grew up on an island, I’ve worked at a few great seafood joints and I once ate about nine dozen raw oysters while watching a Saints game at the Acme Oyster Bar. So I know a little something about the swimmy things. So I was pretty excited about dining at the Black Pearl Grille & Oyster Bar, which underwent extensive renovations after standing fallow for a year or so, when its previous occupant, Mama Maria’s, went the way of the Betamax. The place looks great, with tans and chocolate browns on the walls, tables the color of Guinness Stout, a fishtank and a fireplace over by the bar and a muted nautical theme. There’s also a great patio, which should thrive when the weather turns for the better. But you know me: I’m about the food. And my only experience with the cuisine here was a buffet put out during one of our networking events. It was pretty good. But a full-on, sit-down dinner is the only way to really size up a menu, and to do it right, you need to bring some friends. So I hit the place up with three dining companions of different tastes and proclivities to give the place a workout. Of the three guests, one is a fish-head vegetarian who was grossed out by the idea of rare tuna until she actually tried some a few years ago. Another is a semi-adventurous seafood eater partial to fried shellfish. The third is a steak-and-potatoes gal who does not like fish. And me… well. I’ll eat pretty much anything. Except maybe marzipan. I never cared for that stuff. We start things off with some appetizers. Pearl shrimp, a house specialty, sees battered and fried shrimp coated in a sweet curry sauce and dusted with coconut shavings. The sauce, mild for a curry but still a flavorful little number, does well with the crispy shrimp and is versatile enough to make several appearanves in the menu. Shrimp spring rolls are artfully prepared, with shrimp tails poking out of the ends. A 10-spice fried calamari is also expertly cooked into tender, tender ringlets. But the spicy batter is most interesting; featuring brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg feature prominently in the blend. Each is served with a red-cabbage slaw, with the crunch of tortilla strips and a sweet vinegar bite. And of course, we need some oysters. A sampler platter yields two each of oysters Rockefeller, Buffalo-fried oysters and Bangkok oysters, which come with the sweet curry sauce and coconut. The oysters Rock, one of my favorite dishes in the world, is an interesting variation, relying on creamed spinach and a light touch of Parmesan against good bacon chunks.

But it is the Buffalo oysters to which I am drawn the most: spicy, crispy and with just a touch of cornmeal, I could put a couple dozen of these babies on a loaf of French bread and just go to town. In deference to my guests, I do not order any raw oysters. Nobody else is even remotely interested in them and the word “slime” comes up once or twice. The entr’e sections include some interesting listings: lobster mac and cheese; “jambalasta,” a jambalaya with pasta instead of rice; lobster tail; a few simple, high-quality steaks; pork chops; some chicken dishes. But this is a seafood place, so we order an Asian tuna, rare and practically purple in color, crusted with black and white sesame seeds and served atop fried rice noodles. Nice colors, nice flavors. An order of shrimp and scallops is everything it should be — broiled, not fried, and with just enough seasoning to bring out the fullness of these fruits of the sea. I myself order the Cadillac of fish filets: Chilean sea bass, augmented with just a simple lemon butter and light seasoning. Once known as the Patagonian toothfish, the Chilean sea bass underwent a PR makeover about 20 years ago, and its succulent white flesh is exactly what I have in mind when I think of a piece of fish. But while it’s not exactly an endangered species, it is a fish that, according to our friends at Wikipedia, “consumers who are sustainability-minded should avoid.” Ah well… that’s life at the top of the food chain. The dessert menu takes a few classics and gives them unique twists. The cr’me brulee is flavored with sweet potatoes. The pecan pie has bourbon and chocolate in it. The most interesting, perhaps, is a traditional Greek dessert called “kormo,” made from imported vanilla cookies dipped in a milk-cognac mixture and then absolutely plastered with dark, rich chocolate. A feast like that should be enough to satisfy anyone. But the next time I go to the Black Pearl, it’s just going to be me, a cold beer, a televised football game and several dozen cold, raw bivalves straight from the shell.

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Broiled shrimp and scallops come lightly seasoned. Ten-spice calamari bears flavors both savory and sweet. Shrimprolls are artfullly presented and seriously crispy. And Asian tuna,with black and white sesame seeds, boasts a colorful palette. (photosby Jill Clarey)