Sunday, October 21, 2007


9 Jones St (Bleecker/W 4th Sts)

We had high hopes when we made our reservation at Perilla. It is, after all, Harold Dieterle’s first-born child since he was named the first-ever Top Chef on Bravo’s reality series of the same name. My husband, Gourmando, and I arrived at the restaurant about five minutes before our reservation and, with “what are you doing here so early?” eyes, the hostess told us we could stand by the bar until our table was ready. By the bar, not at the bar, as the bar was already packed to capacity. A few minutes later, some of our predecessors were seated at their table and we were able to score a couple seats in which to wait.

Our dinner at Perilla could be approached from two angles: that of the fairly good food, which ranged from pleasant to excellent, and that of the service, which ranged from decent to dangerously negligent. I will try to tackle both.

As always hard-pressed to pass up a look at a crustacean digit, I began with the peekytoe crab salad with avocado and mango and ginger dressing. The ingredients were fresh enough and combined well, but the whole was predictable; I felt I could have found the same dish prepared equally well at a dozen other good restaurants.

Gourmando had the crispy Berkshire pork belly with pea tendrils, trumpet mushrooms, and Banyuls-vanilla gastrique. It is thanks to Top Chef that we have even heard of a gastrique before, and knew not to fear tummy-shrinking bypass surgery (although how far away can it be—perhaps even double or triple bypass—with regular consumption of such things as crispy pork belly?). It is a thick reduction sauce made with vinegar or wine—Banyuls dessert wine, in this case—as well as sugar and often fruit. Gourmando was, if you’ll excuse the pun, in hog heaven, and named this specimen the MVP of his pork belly all-star team. For him, the dish transcended the limitations of what meat can be and was “more like a custardy pastry that tasted meaty.” He was dazzled by the crust on the outside and the buttery goodness that lay within, although he admitted that the gastrique was “sort of lost on him.”

My main course was the black truffle ravioli with sheep’s milk ricotta, forest mushrooms, and peas, and as with anything truffled that catches my interest, I had to do some fast talking to convince Gourmando to let me be the one to order it. Each of the ravioli had a slice of black truffle inside, visible even before the first bite. The pasta and filling were silky smooth and the light, buttery sauce made me wish I had more bread so that I didn’t have to leave any of it behind. Unfortunately, the bread man never came back, and so I was left to scoop up what I could with the inedible utensils at hand.

Gourmando was successfully distracted from his truffle-hunting ways by the wild boar chop Milanese, with aged Pecorino, pine nuts, and fennel pollen vinaigrette. He enjoyed its nutty flavor, which he was pretty sure came from more than just the pine nuts; is fennel pollen nutty? He was also impressed that the chop’s being fried didn’t make it overly heavy.

When it came time for dessert, I wondered if I had done something to anger somebody in the kitchen, because my butternut squash cake was so very small. The flavor was satisfying and autumnal, though, and combined with cranberry compote, it made me feel as though Thanksgiving had come early. The crème fraiche ice cream that came along for the ride was tangy and a nice touch.

It turned out that Gourmando was the one who should really have been worried. Although his apple rum raisin crisp was almost too much dessert for one man alone and contained a pleasing ratio of crumbly topping to fruit, it was served in a metal dish. There was no mention made when it was placed in front of him of how hot it was, and Gourmando actually burned his finger on the bowl. He was able to secure some ice water to dunk the finger in and some burn gel, but this was a mishap that could so easily have been averted with a little communication. The restaurant didn’t charge us for the dessert but—foolishly, in my opinion—didn’t tell us they weren’t charging us for it, which could have earned them some points in the customer care department.

Perilla’s major failing overall, aside from the nearly intolerable noise level, was an absence of communication. Once our food arrived, our waiter never returned to ask how it was, something that servers seem to have mastered even at such informal eateries as TGIFriday’s. The support staff—busboys and the like—didn’t say a word to us. We were left feeling just short of welcome, as though a restaurant that was so in-demand that we couldn’t get a table before 10pm could really do without our business. And so they may. The food was good—and at moments phenomenal—but I’m not sure Perilla has made a return customer of me.

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