Dining » Highlights » Vol. 11

55 Pearl Restaurant

55 Pearl Street, Worcester

By Bernie Whitmore

It’s difficult to imagine Worcester’s Industrial Age glory, when a few men made huge fortunes supplying hardware to an expanding nation. But just consider all those cavernous brick buildings surrounding the city’s core; they were once booming with machines and workers. Those titans may have built their wealth on brick, but when came time to display it, they turned to granite, vestiges of which can be found with the columns of Institute Park, mausoleums in the city’s cemeteries, and in some of its finest homes.

One of those homes, the Bull Mansion on Pearl Street, was built by Daniel Wesson of Smith & Wesson firearms. Its ornate Victorian Gothic architecture is executed in elegant granite that appears indestructible. In reality, these buildings are fragile in the face of wrecking balls. It’s with a debt of gratitude to preservationists that we have the opportunity to dine at  55 Pearl Street Restaurant.

On a Tuesday evening, a friend and I arrived at 55 Pearl Restaurant and easily found parking in an adjacent lot. Once inside, we were greeted and given a choice of dining rooms. We requested the most public area and were led upstairs, where most tables were occupied. Vee, our waiter, presented menus and the wine list. When my friend mentioned that he was on a no-carbohydrate diet, Vee confidently replied, “We’ve got you covered” and made thoughtful adjustments and suggestions thereafter.

As I explored the menu I was surprised to find imaginative cuisine at prices competitive with most of the region’s better restaurants. Appetizers topped out at ten dollars, but for less than that one could order “Salmon and Pearls,” caviar with Nantucket smoked salmon and chive-potato pancake.

But we decided to share the Kobe Beef appetizer, thin sliced Wagyu flatiron beef nestled over bright-green seaweed salad served just warm enough to soften creamy goat cheese and carrot aspic. The beef was tender with rich marbling and served with sliced pickled ginger ~ the dish was clearly the mark of a chef ready to contrast textures and flavors.

On a return visit I’ll try the Waldorf Salad, but this evening we opted for their complementary house salad with Chianti vinaigrette. The mix of baby greens, shredded carrot and half-slices of sweet red onion was served in bowls fashioned from long, thin-sliced cucumber. The slightly sweet tanginess of the vinaigrette, served in little pitchers “on the side,” was so compelling I mopped up the remainder with my dinner breadstick.

Vee remained perfectly attentive throughout the evening, always on hand to expertly answer our questions and refill water glasses. His knowledge of the menu and cuisine exuded calm professionalism. It’s too bad more restaurants don’t recognize the value of these qualities.

None of this sufficiently prepared me for the entrée course. This is where 55  Pearl truly hit their stride. With his first forkful of the Dry Aged Filet of Beef, my friend exclaimed, “Now that’s a filet…very good!” The large portion was pepper-coriander encrusted and normally would have been served over lobster ravioli. But his no-carb variation put it over a medley of baby vegetables.

He may have been very pleased, but I was somewhere closer to ecstatic with their Hawaiian Opah, a firm-textured mild white fish. The chef had skillfully braised two filets light golden brown ‘til they were edged with delicate tasty crispiness. Lesser fish in less capable hands get slathered with sauces and salty crusts, but 55 Pearl’s opah was perfectly moist and fresh. I paired it with a glass of Clos LaChance Chardonnay.

Both entrees came with medleys of spring vegetables: fresh peas, broccoli rab, mushrooms and morsels of deep-green spinach. But spring ramps, which might be described as wild baby leeks with mild garlicky-onion flavor, were exciting treats.

There was a time when just approaching the mansion at 55 Pearl Street might have intimidated ~ and it remains a reminder of fortune lost. Back then, most of us would have formed the ranks of under-paid workers struggling to make Daniel Wesson a wealthy man, but today we’re happily welcomed into his stately dining room for sumptuous dining.

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