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Published: Thursday, 7/15/2010

Restaurant Review: Black Pearl****

Diners familiar with the former HJ's Prime Cut on Heatherdowns Boulevard will feel right at home at the Black Pearl.

HJ's closed suddenly a little less than a year ago, and former staff members reopened it earlier this year. The name is the major change; the d cor and even some of the servers are the same, as is much of the menu. The round, semiprivate dining area still separates the dining room from the foyer.

When I visited not long after the Black Pearl opened, my server explained that the new management intended to respond to market conditions with smaller portions and more budget-friendly items, while keeping some of the favorites, including the signature prime rib.

I haven't seen much in the way of smaller portions; my companions and I generally leave with take-out boxes. But there is a section on the menu called “Best for Less,” with seven entrees for $12.99, including chopped sirloin, liver and onions, chicken alfredo, and beef tips. I gave the beef tips a try; they were tender and moist — a little salty for my taste, but I'm overly sensitive to salt — and the portion was generous enough to save some for lunch the next day. All of the budget entrees are served with tossed salad or coleslaw, and some come with potatoes, some with pasta.

The lake perch dinner is listed at market price. When I ordered it, the cost was $15.99, which seems fair. The deep-fried fillets are tender and sweet, with a light breading that doesn't overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish. Meals come with a tossed, spinach, or Caesar salad or coleslaw. I had the spinach, which I find addictive. And for the starch I chose rice pilaf, which was quite good but not extraordinary. Also available are baked potatoes, steak fries, orzo pasta, or a vegetable of the day.

The prime rib continues to be superb. It sells for $16.99, $19.99, and $24.39, except on Wednesday, when there's a $13.99 special on offer. This is a great deal, which beef lovers ought not pass up. Our server said there were no signs that the special would end soon, but she wouldn't promise that it would last forever.

At lunch on another day, a friend ordered the special, a prime-rib sandwich. He expected it to be shaved beef on a bun. It looked like a six-ounce steak, served open-faced, with au jus on the side, and it came with fries for $6.99. What a deal!

I ordered the homemade chicken salad. The menu says it's “served atop a bed of salad greens, with all of the trimmings and fresh fruit.” Indeed it is. It came on an oversized plate and was a huge portion, surrounded by slices of melon and fresh vegetables. For $8.99, this is enough to share, especially if you add one of the tempting appetizers, such as Cajun mushrooms ($6.99), a jumbo shrimp cocktail ($8.99) or tempura asparagus ($7.99).

The Black Pearl's Web site indicates there's a special menu for lunch, but we were handed the dinner menu, which includes sandwiches, pastas, and seven other meal-sized salads in the $9 to $11 range.

Service for dinner has always been pleasant and efficient. On our lunch visit, service was slower but just as pleasant. Perhaps staffing is at a minimum at lunch or maybe we just hit a busy day.

Across Heatherdowns Boulevard from the Stranahan complex, the Black Pearl offers a full bar and a reasonable wine list. If you tell your server you're headed to a show at the Stranahan, he or she will offer meal suggestions to get you to your seats before the lights dim.

Contact Bill of Fare at:


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