Monday, October 08, 2007

Foodie Review: Perilla

So, I'm totally addicted to the Bravo show Top Chef. Which, perhaps, isn't so surprising given I'm a self-professed foodie (my Zagat guide is highlighted, scribbled in and peppered with colorful tabs). Sadly, the third season just ended. Happily, I could still look forward to trying Perilla, season one's winner Harold Dieterle's West Village restaurant.

Apart from being pretty distracted for the few months since the restaurant opened, I wanted to try it once the hype had died down and the kinks had been worked out. So, about a week ago, a friend and I went. My first impression was positive. We had no reservations, so I walked in and asked for a table for two. The hostess was friendly and said it was no problem -- indeed the restaurant was only about half full at 8pm on a Sunday night. I sat at the bar for a little while and took in the room. Casual and unfussy, the room has a warm glow that suggests a neighborhood spot rather than the brainchild of a semi-celebrity chef.

The menu is manageable -- just about 8 appetizers and 8 entrees. I had read Frank Bruni's review in the New York Times and so was eager to try the much-lauded spicy duck meatballs appetizer. E wanted the same thing. Our server was informed and pleasant -- but, when the appetizers arrived, I was mildly annoyed that he had failed to mention that there were 6 meatballs per plate, which means E and I could have easily shared since we wanted the same thing anyway. Instead, we had 12 meatballs between us and neither of us is a big eater. The dish itself was good, though I was slightly disappointed, having expected a little more of a kick given that the meatballs were supposed to be "spicy" as per the name. The meat was tender and the quail egg on top gave it an interesting flavor, but on the whole, I thought (and E concurred) the dish fell a wee bit flat. Perhaps they should just rename it.

For entrees, E opted for a fluke and bokchoy special while I got the sauteed skate wing with pastrami, cabbage and warm mustard sauce, which our server asserted was "such a fun, whimsical dish." The skate was well-cooked and tasty and I quite enjoyed the mustard sauce. However, I'm not convinced the pastrami melded well into the dish. As anybody who's sampled the meat at Katz's or Carnegie can tell you, pastrami has an extremely strong and distinctive taste -- and it was a little overwhelming next to the mild white fish. E's dish married flavors better, but she confessed that she thought it merely good rather than great.

Which is probably a good description of my overall impression of the food at Perilla: good, not great. Even the dessert -- we ordered a fairly safe dark chocolate tart with peppermint ice cream -- was executed well and tasted fine, but I wouldn't necessarily order it again. Still, I suspect the restaurant might have some staying power -- it's good value for money and it's a laidback, friendly place. If I lived in the neighborhood, it's conceivable I'd go back to Perilla. But I can say with some confidence that I wouldn't make a special trip again.


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