Saturday, July 6, 2013

Perla - a gem in the dirty oyster that is west 4th

Perla was on every top 10 new restaurants last year, and finally I had to go and see what's going on.

It is at the end of Minetta Lane right where the quiet row of famous restaurants meets trash trucks and neon color shops for drunk bar hoppers. Its giant black sign with soft swirly white letters defines the divide between the refined and crazy of New York City. It says at once "we have good food", and "we have a hot scene." And so it does.

The menu had just about everything I would want to eat from plain old chicken to charred beef tongue. We decided to take the in between route.

While we were waiting with our drinks (watermelon and tequila!), we were offered some bites:

Fried egglant and tomato sauce balls 7/10: Great way to start, but it was a little hot! and between the hotness and scratchiness, I cut the roof of my mouth. 5 minutes later, it was pretty darn good though.

Toast with ricotta, honey, and olive oil: 7/10 Very clever. I've never had honey and olive oil. Between the stickiness and whatever-the-opposite-of-stickiness-is, the spread ended up being a very interesting texture. It must have been a very mild olive oil, because I would only taste it in the finish. I'm definitely using this for a summer party on the terrace.

Charred octopus: 8/10 It was one of the better charred octopi I've had. The seasoning really stuck to the skin of the octopus, and the inside was tender all the way to the ends of the tentacles. The tomato sauce was simple but complementary.

Steak tartare with bone marrow and crispy tendon: 8.5/10: The steak itself was absolutely divine. The crispy thing that looks like flaming Cheetos is actually a chicharron made from beef tendon. (This is how you do it, Atera!). The dried and fried beef tendon was properly seasoned, and everything was wrapped up nicely by the mild flavors of the mushroom and the dabs of sauce. My only complaint is that they made the mayo-like sauce from bone marrow. I think one of the best things about bone marrow is the texture, and I would have rather had pieces of bone marrow on the tartare.

One other complaint: The dish was much too small!!

Gnocchi in red sauce: 8.5/10 The gnocchi were perfect. It was the second best gnocchi I've had in the past few weeks only because the sauce was not as interesting. The gnocchi themselves were probably as good if not better. They looked very homey because they weren't all quite the same shape and size, and you could see the ridges where they were rolled off the tines of a fork. The red sauce had a little kick and was interesting to eat, but the presentation seems very sloppy at such a nice restaurant. I would have preferred having a basil leaf on top or something.

Duck with mustard seeds and savoy cabbage: 7/10 beautiful duck, perfectly cooked. No complaint about the flavors. The pickled plums gave a really nice kick... don't eat it all at once though!

Lamb 2 ways: 7/10 Both ways were delicious but the steak was better than the belly. The belly was overcooked, and the sinews did not stay moist. The sauce was a great pairing for the dish, and really brought out the rich flavor of the lamb.

Tilefish with pea shoots 8/10: The fish was tender; the pea shoots were fresh (though not as fresh as the ones from my windowsill!); and carrot puree went surprisingly well with the dish. Once again the protein was perfectly cooked, but I think the mildly sweet carrot puree really brought the dish to another level. All of the vegetables tasted like spring, but somehow the carrots weren't grassy, the radishes weren't bitter, and the pea shoots... well they were better than peas.

Pork chop with pesto and tapanade: 7.5/10 Once again perfectly cooked, and all the sauces went very well with the meat. There was a "tapenade" on top and pesto on the bottom. I love the rich flavor of the olives and pine nuts. This is one of the more tender pork chops I've had, which is pretty impressive given the thickness of the chop.

Praline semifreddo with salted caramel sauce: 8/10 The salted caramel sauce was absolutely heavenly. The texture was gooey but not sticky, and had just enough salt so that it registered that there was lots of salt, but wasn't *salty*. It coats everything that comes into contact with it, so that you have the lingering taste of the caramel long after you've eaten the ice cream.

Ricotta cheesecake 6/10: I like ricotta cheesecake because it's lighter, but I wish that they had whipped it up a little more so that it wasn't so obvious to my tongue that I was eating ricotta.

In the end, there were still so many other dishes that I wanted to try, and the menu changes relatively often, so I really felt the pressure of dishes passing me by. Perla incorporated the latest and greatest flavors and ingredients with the utmost technique, but I feel that it has not yet found its style. There is not one defining must-have dish or a special scene that forces people to return. When they find it, I will be back.