Pulled pork macaroni and cheese, steamed asparagus
Smoked bluefish pate with pickled red onions and fennel, mustard, rye toast
Thai red curry mussels
Seared bay scallops with roasted beets, horseradish cream, and raspberry vinaigrette
Strawberry rhubarb shortcake with rhubarb sorbet and whipped cream
Wow! I mean, WOW!
We both had a three-day weekend for Patriot’s Day, that holiday unique to Massachusetts and Maine that celebrates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was kind of a cold, foggy, rainy day (good for the Boston Maratthon, bad for the Red Sox), so an actual outdoor activity didn’t seem very appealing. I suggested we go out to lunch, and Bridget found CK Pearl in Essex, MA, just a few miles up Rt. 128. There are a handful of restaurants looking out over the marshes in Essex, mainly fried seafood places, so that was what I was expecting.
I was way off. The place itself looks like it was indeed an old clam shack like its neighbors once upon a time, but the chef has high-end experience in some big-name places in Boston, and ii looks like it’s been open in this form since 2017. The menu is still primarily local seafood, but the dishes are all fairly elevated.
We opted to get dishes to share rather than individual entrees, starting with the smoked bluefish pate. I don’t even recall where we first tried smoked bluefish pate, just that we both loved it and are always excited to see it offered somewhere. It came on a charcuterie board along with a little salad of pickled red onion and fennel, two types of mustard (whole grain and Dijon), and lightly toasted rye bread. There was way more pate than you could eat on a couple of slices of bread, but we passed on getting more bread because we had several other dishes ahead. The combo of the mustard, the pate, and the salad on the bread was like Danish smørrebrød.
I also got a cup of the seafood chowder, which was good enough, but probably the least interesting part of the entire meal. There were no discernible chunks of seafood in my cup, and only a couple pieces of potato, but quite a bit of bacon. It came with a huge fried clam on top, which was visually appealing. I can imagine that it’s fine for tourists who show up looking for chowder, but didn’t impress me.
The Thai red curry mussels were incredibly good. I’ve never seen such huge, juicy mussels anywhere. The red curry was nicely nuanced – hot, sweet, a little herbal. I make Thai red curry mussels at home once in a while, but obviously I need to step up my game.
We were both surprised by the beautiful presentation of the bay scallops, served with diced roasted beets and a horseradish cream. The beets were in a raspberry vinaigrette, so each bite was a little sweet, a little tangy, a little earthy, a little ocean-y, and a little hot from the horseradish.Truly the star of the meal.
For dessert, Bridget had a bread pudding and I ordered the strawberry-rhubarb shortcake. It was a bit of a deconstructed presentation. Strawberry compote on a biscuit, with a piping of whipped cream on the side and a block of rhubarb sorbet. I would eat a whole bowl of that sorbet. The strawberry shortcake part was reasonably good, but the sorbet stole the show.
In addition to their dining room, they also have an outdoor patio and a second seating area, so I’ll bet this place hops in season. Even on a cold, wet, foggy day it was busy.