Nestled among boutiques and bars along Main Street in Dunedin is an oasis of fine dining called The Black Pearl.
It’s intimate and refined, serving thoughtful and inventive dishes showcasing the highest quality ingredients. Classically trained, Chef Chris Artrip creates a culinary experience offering dishes from no less than eight menu sections. It’s a wonderful journey, with an ever-changing menu, starting with an amuse-bouche and ending with signature desserts. There are some very good restaurants in Tampa Bay. There are a few great ones. The Black Pearl is one of the greats and a jewel in the crown of Tampa Bay’s fine dining scene.
An amuse-bouche is a single piece hors d’oeuvre that starts a meal and provides a glimpse into the style and quality of the courses to follow. Even in fine dining restaurants, throughout the Tampa Bay area, it’s rarely seen and underscores the high level of culinary execution, and attention to detail, at the Black Pearl.
Starters include truffled asparagus soup with a port reduction, a swirl of crème fraiche and is studded with focaccia croutons. It’s beautiful and sublime, served alongside house-made porcini mushroom focaccia. The crisp crust of the focaccia gives way to a loose crumb and an earthy flavor. It’s served with butter infused with caramelized onion and Nueske bacon.
Before the main course, the Black Pearl serves an intermezzo, like a small granny smith apple-cider popsicle to clear the palate.
Seafood, lamb, duck, beef and a vegetarian five-grain risotto comprise the entrees at the Black Pearl. A breast of Maple Leaf Farms Duckling is served over grilled radicchio.
Leg confit ravioli, pistachio and a raspberry-leek fumet complete the dish. The skin is crisp, while the breast meat is succulent and flavorful. The grilled radicchio provides just a hint of bitterness to offset the sweetness of the sauce. Every element of this dish is intentional and the combination is delightful.
Pan-seared Diver Scallops crown a quinoa risotto. Alongside is a salad of heirloom tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm and peppered pancetta tossed in a charred scallion vinaigrette. The quinoa gives a surprising crunch to risotto. The crust of the scallops has a smokiness from the grill. The salad brings a whole party of subtle flavors, textures and balance needed to execute this entrée. The dish is light, yet satisfying, and exquisite.
As expected, the filet mignon experience at the Black Pearl rises so high it scrapes heaven. Prime Hereford beef is seared in cast iron for an even crust and tops mashed red potatoes, studded with a Pommes Gaufrettes and drizzled with chive oil. It’s finished with a malbec braised shallot glace de viande. Other places serve steaks with a demi-glace. The Black Pearl starts with a demi, reducing it further to create a richer, more complex sauce known as a glace de viande. The filet is offered with three embellishments, a butter-poached lobster tail, foie gras and gorgonzola cheese. The foie gras is scored, and seared, for an impressive presentation and is luscious on the tongue, with a mild liver flavor. Happiness can be found on a plate and one bite of this dish is all the proof you need.
Next is the cheese course. Humbolt Fog goat cheese is caramelized by flame and placed on a disk of brown butter toast and served with an apricot jam. The toast is so crisp it splinters into shards. Crunchy, creamy, tangy and sweet. Most people would cut this into two or three bites. I took one look at this gorgeous little round of cheese and popped the entire thing into my mouth—one delicious bite and a big smile to follow.
Black licorice root ice cream is a signature dessert at the Black Pearl. Like everything, it is made in house and shows how unique flavors can influence dessert, too. The chocolate cake is baked to order, pulled from the oven while the center is molten, and served in a pool of caramel crème anglaise. It’s finished with a sugar tuile and a quenelle of whipped cream. Pierce the edge of the cake with a fork and the warm liquid center will slowly ooze onto the plate. It’s delicious, familiar, and a comforting end to an extraordinary meal.
The Black Pearl stands testament to the excellence a small, local restaurant can achieve. Only a handful of professionals create this entire experience and serve it to guests every night. And it’s all done under the watchful eye of Chris Artrip, a talented chef dedicated to the craft of fine dining. ♦
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