Most people are satisfied when they go out for a special dinner and their food tastes delicious, but Lindsey Hasz of Issaquah, Washington got much, much more. Like a secret treasure, hidden within a clam in her seafood dish was a beautiful, rare and valuable purple pearl. Hasz and her husband were accustomed to going to Montalcino Ristorante Italiano for special occasions, but nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened before. On this evening, Hasz ordered frutti di mare, a pasta dish with shellfish, and as she bit down on a piece of clam felt something hard against her teeth. The couple took the small object to Ted Irwin at Northwest Gemological Laboratory in Bellevue for appraisal, and it turned out to be a gem-quality purple quahog pearl worth about $600. Irwin estimates the odds of finding a valuable quahog pearl in such a manner is one in a few million.
What makes Hasz’s find even more amazing is that quahog pearls are found in quahog clams, which originate across the country on the Atlantic coast of the United States. Diners occasionally come across them on the east coast, but it is much rarer for one to appear in a restaurant on the west coast. For the pearl to be gem-quality is even less common. Pearls are generally formed when shellfish protect themselves from parasites by surrounding them with calcium carbonate, but most pearls are misshapen and without luster. Since Hasz’s discovery of her valuable pearl, Montalcino Ristorante Italiano in Issaquah has been having such a run of customers coming in and ordering the frutti di mare pasta plate that the owner has christened it the “thousand dollar dish.”