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Birthdays, barbecue and Black Pearl

For reasons that are now unclear to me, I thought that attending the anniversary bash of Black Pearl, the classy Platt Park restaurant at 1529 South Pearl Street that celebrates its fourth birthday this month, would be a night off from the typical debauchery that follows me just about everywhere I go.

I was wrong. It started out innocent enough, just me and a girlfriend hanging out at the bar drinking glasses of sustainable wines from Parducci and admiring the citrus-themed ice sculpture, laced with orange and lemon slices, that later featured a tube flowing with Van Gogh vodka -- and attracted a whole crowd of people intent on depleting it.

But after briefly behaving responsibly, we gave up, which is to say that we raided the antipasti table littered with a wonderfully nutty Gouda and beautifully stinky blue, plus wasabi peas, grilled asparagus, heaps of olives and baskets of breads.

And we showed the same lack of restraint with the passed appetizers: tuna and watermelon ceviche on wonton chips; smoked, shredded chicken with bacon and roasted tomatoes on toast points; pork pot-stickers with a soy-ginger sauce; and barbecued brisket with slaw.

Turns out that most of what we sampled will be appearing on Black Pearl's new menu, which rolls out next week. "We're doing a really big menu overhaul, taking off some items that have been on the menu from day one and adding a lot more fresh and light dishes," explained general manager Jeff Musat.

The last four years have been a learning process, he told me: "It took us a long time to develop Black Pearl, but we adapted and we've been lucky. This is such a fun little neighborhood, and we've been able to stay busy because the people who live here want good restaurants."

But it hasn't all been pearls and oysters. "We've had to become more value-drive and value-conscious," Musat told me. "You need to do that if you want to continue to get the neighborhood business."

And add barbecue to the board, which is what chef de cuisine Michael Watkins plans to do every Sunday night, beginning at 4 p.m. For $12 per person, you get brisket, pork shoulder or chicken, a side like warm potato salad, Asian-dressed coleslaw with pistachios, baked beans or corn-on-the-cob and garlic bread. "My smoker looks like something out of Sanford and Son," joked Watkins, "but I think it'll be a fun thing to do in this neighborhood, and I wanted to switch things up a little bit and do something different."

Here's to four more years feeding the 'hood.

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