TREASURE ISLAND — With so many restaurants struggling to stay in business, the priority is to get people in the door. And to do that, you have to get their attention.
Hearing that the Pearl on Treasure Island was offering entrees for $10 as part of an early dinner summer menu got ours.
The Pearl is not a stranger to beachgoing diners, earning praise from critics since opening five years ago. But a dinner for two there — with appetizers, entrees, dessert and wine — can easily strain any budget, even if it's worth every penny.
Certainly the concept of the early bird special is not new, and the Pearl started this with the intention of making it a summer feature to get people into the restaurant between 4 and 6 p.m., when business was slow. But then something happened.
So now, manager Catherine Chiadmi says the deal will continue indefinitely. There are five dishes from which to choose, and at least one dish covers each of the major dining proclivities (meat, poultry, fish, vegetarian). You start with a salad or soup, then get an entree with its sides. For $10. That just leaves two reasonable questions: Is that enough food to suffice as "dinner," and is it good enough to want it to?
The options change each week, so the dishes we tried may have rotated out by now, but the quick answer is yes, with some guidelines.
All of the dishes were substantial enough to constitute a reasonable meal. They aren't the groaning portions that have come to pass for restaurant meals, but for $10, you'll still have money left to stop at the grocery store to pick up something for tomorrow's lunch. Leftovers are overrated. And so is driving home bloated.
The favorite was the chicken cacciatore, and it isn't a big secret how that might happen. The dish was perfectly in line with the flavor profiles from all points around the shores of the Mediterranean that Karim Chiadmi, the kitchen half of the husband/wife Pearl team, plays with on the rest of the menu. In fact, the savory stew of olives, peppers, tomatoes, onions and chicken that compose the dish can all be found in a slightly different context on the regular menu in the Mediterranean pasta with chicken ($19). Sub out the pasta for pilaf, the sun-dried tomato for sauce, nix the feta and cut the price almost in half. The dishes are practically cousins.
The pork loin we tried was cooked at least as much as it needed to be — maybe a tad more — but was saved by a rich port wine reduction and mashed sweet potatoes. A beef stir fry featured tender strips of meat and veggies that were married in a sauce that was a bit too sweet and less savory than I would have expected. Not bad, but maybe it's best to stick with the dishes from closer to the Mediterranean.
The other thing to remember if you are dining for this deal is that a glass of wine can double the bill. We tried the sangria ($8 for red or white, $10 for champagne), and it was filled to the rim of a generously sized glass. So if you decide to make that splurge, at least you won't have to buy two.
Jim Webster can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746. Webster dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.