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Pascal’s Harbour Lights Restaurant

Jan 24, 2012 11:34PM ● By Anonymous
As you drive through the neighborhoods surrounding this small hotel, you find yourself off the typical tourist map and flanked by water on all sides. While some may continue to drive to one of the more obvious tourist spots on Talbot Street, St. Michaels’ main thoroughfare, this neighborhood hotelfront hides a gem in this small Eastern Shore town.

Walking through the lobby toward this second-floor restaurant, you’ll find traditional décor that tends to lean toward an “offend nobody” approach. There is no centerpiece décor, no architectural statement, no risqué fabric choice in sight. But as you make your way upstairs, the bare wooden tables in this small dining room are lined up next to a row of windows with a view of the harbor that is second to none. If a view is on your wish list—and in St. Michaels, why wouldn’t it be?—you’ll find it in spades at Harbour Lights.

But the view isn’t all the restaurant offers, as a meal here is accompanied by friendly and attentive service alongside seafood that many chefs on the Eastern Shore strive for, but few can actually pull off.

Our evening at Harbour Lights started with cocktails, though they weren’t the highlight of the meal. The drink list was heavy on vodka and fruit juices, and we wished we would have seen more bourbon or gin-based drinks on the cocktail menu. There is no bar in the upstairs dining room and all drinks come from the more casual tavern downstairs. We tried two specialty drinks, The Pascal’s PomTree and Veev Lemonade, which were too sweet for our liking. That being said, a Manahattan was made beautifully and tasted of the cocktail for which we yearned. The restaurant’s wine list is small, but affordable, hovering between 40 and 50 bottles in all, and evenly split between red and white. Many of those bottles range from $30 to $50, with a few outliers in the low $20s and one bottle at $130. That contrast is stark and curious, but the options are plentiful and affordable.

Now although this may not be a place for the young and trendy, what the traditionalists will find here is a consistent and, at times, quite compelling place to eat. The menu is seafood-centric and there is clearly a reason for that, as the best dishes we tasted were seafood driven. An Ahi Tuna ($10.50) starter paired fresh tuna with delicate, well-seasoned wontons and a soy and sesame-based vinaigrette that complemented the subtleties of the dish. In addition, a Cream of Crab soup ($9.50), although large enough to be an entrée, showed deep and robust flavors of crab, with a hearty base and large lump crab meat swimming throughout.

Main courses here aren’t inexpensive, but you get a hearty portion that matches the price tag. As with the appetizers, the seafood stole the show while the traditional meat dishes left a little to be desired. The beef tenderloin ($29.50) was cooked slightly beyond our preference, and lacked the signature tenderness that you usually find in this cut of meat. However, the mixed squash and creamy goat cheese mashed potatoes that accompained this dish were delicate and delicious.

The winning dish, not surprisingly, was the crabcake ($29.50). Served over a white corn and pepper ragu, this dish epitomized an Eastern Shore summer. Bacon lent richness to the otherwise subtle flavors without overwhelming the delicate nature of the crab. The crabcake showcased how much talent exists in this kitchen. That talent was confirmed in a seared scallop entrée ($28.50) that showcased contrasting flavors from an earthy vegetable medley paired with tender scallops to salty prosciutto.

Side dishes range from $5 to $8, and offer a nice variety of options. Lobster and Truffle Mac and Cheese ($7.95) had a healthy portion of lobster meat, although we felt it to be a touch on the oily side. The pomme frites ($4.95), dressed with garlic, herbs, and truffle oil, matched delicate truffle flavor with poignant seared garlic and crispy starch.

Although it may seem difficult once you see the size of your entrée, you won’t be disappointed if you leave room for dessert, prepared in house by pastry chef Pam Zak. A decadent chocolate cake ($8.50) and a vibrant lemon drop ($8.50) were real standouts, demonstrating the versatility of the pastry chef and the ability of this kitchen to showcase different styles and approaches to food.

What you’ll find at Harbour Lights is a traditional yet charming restaurant, and chef David Hayes, formerly of the Inn at Perry Cabin and this year’s winner for Best Chef on the Eastern Shore, really knows how to handle seafood. Come for the view, stay for the crab, and see St. Michaels at its finest.

St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina, and Spa
101 North Harbor Road, St. Michaels

Dinner: 5:30 p.m.–close Wednesday to Sunday
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. daily
Brunch: 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Sunday

Appetizers: $9.50–12.50
Entrees: $26.50–29.50
Side dishes: $4.95–7.95