A worldly approach to food takes root at Pasture & Pearl
It takes a stockpot full of confidence to open a new restaurant on Christmas Eve. But that’s precisely what Elaine Dammeyer and her husband, Christian Jego, did when they flung open the doors of Pasture & Pearl. The coy restaurant is tucked into a somewhat hidden nook in The Village Shops on Periwinkle Way.
I cannot attest to how things went during those first nights but three months down the line, the stylish and inventive restaurant runs so smoothly, you’d think they have been at it for years.
And, in a sense, they have. Ms. Dammeyer, who is the executive chef, and Mr. Jego, the general manager, have lived and traveled in Europe and Asia as well as various parts of the United States, running restaurants and inns along the way. They bring their experience and wide-ranging palates to Sanibel along with a desire to use sustainably sourced, organic and seasonal ingredients for what they describe as “elevated dining,” as opposed to fine dining.
That means you can dress casually but dine royally, as we did on a recent Saturday night ensconced in a cozy corner of the former art gallery-turned-dining room with its hardwood floors, peaked roof and décor done in mostly whites and greys, splashes of color provided by oyster artwork created by local artist Lacy McClary.
It is a tranquil and pleasant space, one that encourages guests to relax and focus on one another and the excellent food being served.
Things start off as they will proceed throughout the meal. Breadsticks and crostini arrive with creamy goat cheese and warm marinara for dipping.
Water choices include still or sparkling, with the latter created on site and so is priced at a reasonable $2 a carafe. It is served with a ramekin containing segments of lemon, lime and cucumber with a toothpick adorned with a pearl.
While the menu isn’t large, it is varied enough that I had difficulty narrowing my choices. As befits a place with the word pearl in its name, there are baked cold-water oysters served as an appetizer. My companion went for Grandmother’s Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cakes ($19) after Ms. Dammeyer, who also serves as the gracious hostess, assured him that she was from Maryland, it is her grandmother’s recipe and these were almost nothing but crab and a little seasoning. The cakes were small but beautifully presented and, true to her word, they were full of crabmeat with just a touch of Old Bay seasoning and a smattering of breadcrumbs on top. A lime-ginger aioli did a nice job of enhancing the flavor of the crab without overpowering it.
I tried the Korean style chicken skewers ($13) and was rewarded with two skewers on which were impaled good-sized chunks of moist, well-marinated chicken. While good on its own, the poultry was even better when paired with the ginger-scallion sauce and the zesty kimchee that accompanied it.
Entrees are divided into three sections: Meatless Mains, Meat & Fowl, and Fresh Fish.
My fish-loving companion opted for jumbo sea scallops ($37) while I was drawn to the fresh tagliatelle with roasted mushrooms ($26) to which I added a lobster tail ($12).
Meat lovers, you are well taken care of here, too, with a 32-ounce dry-aged, bone-in ribeye for two from White Oak Pastures, rack of lamb, Thai-seasoned duck breast or roasted organic chicken as well as nightly specials.
Both of the dishes we tried were excellent.
The four large scallops were plump and cooked perfectly. Each was adorned with a dollop of sweet onion confit and beneath them was a layer of sweet potato puree. The contrast of slightly salty shellfish with the sweeter accompaniments and a bit of crunch from the onions made for an excellent entrée.
The tagliatelle was equally satisfying. The broad noodles had been tossed with mascarpone, white truffle oil and meaty roasted mushrooms. While I know all about the white truffle oil controversy, the oil provided a rich layer of flavor to this dish. The lobster had been cut into chunks for easy eating and it, too, was tasty if a bit chewy.
The same attention is lavished upon dessert as on the savory courses. A spiced mango cobbler with bourbon ice cream ($12) contained lots of fresh fruit, a crumbly crust and creamy ice cream with just a hint of bourbon flavor. We would have preferred the cobbler served warm rather than room temperature but that didn’t stop us from scraping the bowl.
Although there were only three women working the floor, including the owner and another woman who identified herself as the sommelier, service was excellent throughout the meal. The staff was intimately familiar with the menu and they all worked hard to make guests feel welcome.
Pasture & Pearl is on the pricey side, even as Sanibel restaurants go, but the quality of the ingredients used in the food is superb. The restaurant is small and no doubt rent is not insignificant. It may not be a place you go on a regular basis but it should be high on the list for special occasions when you want a memorable meal. ¦