Bluffton’s Newest Treasure
THE PEARL gives some polish to the Old Town scene. BY BARRY KAUFMAN • PHOTOS BY ROB KAUFMAN
Perhaps the finest example of what makes The Pearl such a unique addition to Bluffton’s restaurant scene came during a recent visit for dinner. There, among crisp white linens, pristine white walls and a generally cosmopolitan vibe, guests were enjoying gorgeously plated dishes of immaculately prepared seafood and expertly paired wines, when a woman in blue jeans and a flannel shirt rode by the wide front porch on horseback, casually clopping down Calhoun Street. It’s this unique juxtaposition of The Pearl’s trendy and sophisticated atmosphere against the anything-goes nature of Old Town Bluffton that is creating something truly surprising at this new eatery. “We called it The Pearl because it’s a pearl of a location right there in Bluffton,” said Earl Nightingale, who owns the restaurant along with his son Alex. It’s an apt description. The Pearl occupies a prime corner of Old Town real estate, across from The Store in the heart of Old Town Bluffton’s festival corridor. Even when the street isn’t a mob scene thanks to some festival or another, the front porch at the corner of Calhoun and Lawrence is prime territory for people watching or relaxed outdoor dining. Here the breezes off the May River gently roll off the bluff, funneling down Calhoun Street and creating an al fresco paradise. It’s the perfect place for a sophisticated cocktail or, apparently, a horseback ride. And The Pearl has not only been able to capitalize on its location, it’s raised the bar for what a Bluffton restaurant can be. For starters, there’s the menu, a delectable array of seafood favorites that shares a few elements with the menu at ELA’S Blu Water Grille, the Nightingales’ other restaurant. And while a handful of dishes pop up on both menus, the majority of what you’ll find at The Pearl was carefully selected to suit both the restaurant’s smaller footprint and less tourist-driven clientele. The menu, carefully crafted by Executive Chef Matt Valentino, tips its hat to this Carolina boy’s southern roots and 76
the inspiration provided from years of training at the Culinary Institute of Savannah as well as the guidance of some of the island’s top chefs. The Pearl is Chef Matt’s first executive chef position, and he’s taken his passion, creativity, and ambition to another level. “Our chef really took it as a challenge to adapt what we were doing there to The Pearl,” said Alex. “We carried over some of the most popular items, but a lot of this is something special you’ll just find here.” So while you will notice the same truffle fries and expertly crafted calamari with wasabi aioli and red pepper remoulade on both menus, (“That was big for us,” said Alex. “No one out here was doing calamari and absolutely no one does it like we do.”) the menu at The Pearl puts an emphasis on simple dishes prepared with creative ingredients. The baked brie appetizer is a whirlwind of sweet and savory thanks to pear & grapple relish and salted cameral applied liberally to a dome of succulent brie. The pan seared red snapper contrasts the softness of soba noodles against a perfectly textured cucumber noodle salad in accompaniments that dance around a exquisitely prepared filet.