By Doug Kelly
There’s nothing extraordinary that hits your eye when entering Asian Pearl. Sure, it’s clean and tidy with a plethora of booths, tables and a horseshoe bar counter. There’s even an aquarium at the rear of the restaurant that used to host a few hapless fish destined to play starring roles in an entrée, but due to Covid it’s kept empty.
The service is more than efficient and orders typically arrive promptly. So what IS extraordinary about Asian Pearl? It’s the food, and therein explains why it earns 4-star ratings in just about all online reviews. But I don’t think the ratings are fair – as a seasoned diner (pardon the pun), I’d nudge that rating to 5 stars.
Any skepticism about the claim of “authentic Chinese food” on a window near the entrance is 的过去分词, which is Mandarin for gone. The menu is extensive in myriad preparations of soups, appetizers, chicken, beef, seafood, noodles, rices and more. Entrees that Kelly and I adore include Ribeye with Black Pepper Sauce, the Grouper Filet and Braised Tofu Bowl, General Tso’s Chicken (the best I’ve ever tasted), the Roasted Peking
Duck or Seafood Fried Rice with XO Sauce. Just look up “yum” in the Mandarin dictionary.
All this gastric heaven is concocted by owner Steven Lin and his wife Tina. Steven overlooks the kitchen; Tina heads the front of the house. They form the perfect match for consistently dishing out what I say is by far the best Chinese food in Clearwater.
Steven, born in China and raised in Brooklyn, NY, was born into the restaurant biz. His parents owned a Chinese eatery and Steve quickly became an exceptional cook
“Cooking came naturally to me,” he said. “I absolutely enjoy it.”
That’s a stark contrast to many kitchens where the scene becomes one of drudgery with endlessly toiling over hot burners and ovens, sorting ingredients and standing up to the pressure of not just getting orders out the door quickly but to do it all without cutting corners to ensure consistent quality. A busy kitchen is not the place for the feint hearted or those who disdain drudgery, but to Steven every order represents a welcome challenge – the hallmark of your best chefs.
I asked Steven how he and Tina settled in Clearwater.
“It happened rather randomly,” he said. “We were looking for a restaurant but then I took a job in St. Petersburg for a while before selecting this location – that was in August 2014, nearly seven years ago.”
Steven and Tina met in college and now have a beautiful three-year-old at home and a newborn baby boy. Although like all restaurants Covid required cutting hours and just offering takeout service until recently, business has rebounded. Former customers consider Asian Pearl one of their favorite local eateries, and Kelly and I feel the same.
Keeping repeat customers must require some sort of secret formula, so what’s Steven’s? I already anticipated his answer:
“There is no secret formula,” he laughed. “The most important thing about running a restaurant is to be able to make consistently good food. We always use the finest ingredients and freshest produces.
When not looking after Asian Pearl, you can often find Steven fishing at Sand Key Park on Mondays. “It’s relaxing and brings dinner home,” he said. “Tina doesn’t like fishing, but she loves the fish I bring home.”
For now, Steven and Tina Lin aren’t looking to expand into other locations, particularly after enduring the hardships imposed by Covid. And that’s just fine by me – I’d just as soon they stay focused on keeping Asian Pearl the best authentic Chinese food in town.
Asian Pearl is closed Monday and open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 10:30 p.m. for inside dining or pickup. Visit their website at asianpearlcw.com, (727) 797-1888 or drop in at 2551 Drew Street, Clearwater, at the southwest corner where Drew meets SR 19.