Friday, January 2, 2009

Perilla: Moments of Greatness

I went to Perilla in mid-November, curious to try Top Chef Season One winner Harold Dieterle’s food. Opened in May 2007, the restaurant had secured a solid reputation in a relatively short amount of time.

Perilla has a neighborhood bar-feel, and is a little cramped, with only 18 tables and 10 seats at the bar, but it’s also elegant, with an air that immediately distinguishes it as something special. It never seemed pretentious.

Service was top-notch. The waiters are casual, efficient, and knowledgeable, and go out of their way to accommodate indecisive eaters. I’ve read many reports of diners trying to decide between two entrees, where waiters would helpfully arrange for two entrees to be combined as half-portions on one dish. On the night of my visit, one of the specials on the menu sounded so incredibly delicious (Black Truffle and Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Ravioli), that the waiter brought the dish out in a “side” portion for my guest and me to share, since our entrees and appetizers had already been decided.

I hadn’t caught on to Top Chef by its first season, so was not aware I had created the faux-pas of faux-pas by not trying Harold’s signature dish, the spicy duck meatballs. Instead, here’s what we ordered:

Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly $12
pea tendrils, trumpets & banyuls-vanilla gastrique
Crispy Rock Shrimp Salad
mizuna, piquillo peppers, red onion & spicy mushroom soy vinaigrette

Roasted Bacon Wrapped Game Hen $22
spaetzle, chestnuts, persimmons & pomegranate molasses
Grilled Prime Hanger Steak $27
sunchoke creamed spinach, red shallot puree & natural jus

Black Truffle & Sheep's Milk Ricotta Ravioli
Forest mushrooms, baby turnips & truffle butter

Vanilla Scented Doughnuts $9
apple compote filling & pumpkin bavarian cream
Chocolate Pecan Pie $9
Madeira marinated cherries & chocolate sorbet

The pork belly was disappointing; it tasted a bit too gamey for my liking, though the gastrique elevated it. The crispy rock shrimp salad had a great tang, sweet, with a little kick.

Our entrees were brilliant and disappointing at the same time. The prime hanger steak had the potential to be the best I had ever tasted. PERFECTLY cooked and seasoned, tender, with a wonderful grilled taste on the outside—I couldn’t ask for anything more… other than for it not to be served room temperature. It was the biggest amateur error of the night, and looking back, perhaps we should’ve said something so it could’ve been corrected. The roasted bacon wrapped game hen also had moments of greatness – the pomegranate molasses tasted like a rich, piquant barbeque sauce (in a good way), and the hen and spaetzle were well-cooked, but the chestnuts added an unwelcome crunchiness, and the persimmons left this really unpleasant, dry aftertaste on my tongue. I’m not convinced persimmons should ever be cooked. I admired what Harold was trying to do very much. On paper, it was the perfect autumn dish, but in the end, it was uneven.

Our side of ravioli was wonderful. If I had to nit-pick,the turnips added a texture/crunch that wasn’t necessary, similar to the chestnuts in the hen dish.

For dessert, the Vanilla-Scented Doughnuts at first reminded me of the deep-fried sugar donuts you often find in Chinese buffets. But Perilla’s are not greasy at all, are as light as a feather, and the pumpkin Bavarian cream is absolutely heavenly.

The chocolate pecan pie was not very memorable. Way too chocolately and rich and not enough pecan.

All in all, this is a place I’d re-visit. I like the fact that Harold isn’t afraid to experiment. His dishes never miss the mark completely, and when he’s good, he’s near excellent. The prices are reasonable, and I dig Perilla’s low-key vibe.

9 Jones St
(between 4th St & Bleecker St)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-6868

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