Perilla

by Susan on October 31, 2007

[Food:3.5/5]

While I did not watch Season 2 of Top Chef in which Harold Dieterle was victorious, I’ll admit to being a bit star struck last night when he provided water service for our table as we dined at his restaurant, Perilla. Donning jeans, a turtleneck sweater and a blazer, Harold helped out the wait staff by filling water glasses, delivering food, and whisking away bills topped with credit cards for payment. While this is surely a sign of the great confidence he has in his kitchen staff, I would have much preferred to see him emerge from the kitchen, chef’s coat spattered in sauce and oil, for a single walk through the restaurant. I’m not naïve enough to think Collichio is chopping veggies in the kitchen at Craft, nor Flay searing steak at Bar Americain, but after only being open for six months, I would have hoped Harold would still be in the back getting his hands dirty.

Harold’s confidence in the kitchen, however, is not misplaced. We did have a noteworthy dinner at Perilla and I would not deter anyone from eating there. If you invite me to come, I’ll probably even join you. Portions were generous, food prices were reasonable, wine list prices were even more reasonable, and really, how can you not cheer for Harold?

Hues of orange, over-hanging lamps, and votive laden tables cast a warm light and feeling through the space. It achieves an atmosphere intimate enough for a date, but lively enough for a larger party. The staff was friendly and professional. The service was attentive. The two women at the door wore genuine smiles.

For an appetizer, we of course, ordered the spicy duck meatballs. The meatballs were moist and while there was enough kick to warrant spice in the namesake, it was not overpowering. The firm gnocchi provided a good contrast to the ground duck, but they didn’t have enough personality to stand on their own. At five medium sized meatballs, the portion size was generous for a starter. We also ordered the apple salad, adorned with walnuts, and blue cheese placed on a couple pieces of Bibb lettuce. The ingredients were fresh, but their typical combination did not provide any surprises for the palate.

For our main courses, the table ordered the roast duckling, guinea hen, and black fish. The duckling arrived in two large slices, each with an ample layer of fat, although the skin could have been crisper. The duckling was cooked a perfect medium rare. A piece of corn pudding wasn’t too creamy or salty and highlighted the meat well. The dish was sprinkled with pomegranate seeds which add a burst of fruit, without being too sweet, when they pop in your mouth. The guinea hen, served de-boned (with the exception of one thigh bone), was also cooked very well. It retained all of its moisture, though similar to the duckling, the skin could have been a bit crisper. It was accompanied by a spaetzle, persimmon and chestnut mix. The homemade spaetzle was browned, but not too buttery. I’m pretty sure I could have eaten an entire side of the chestnuts alone. The black fish was the most disappointing of the group. Caught off the shores of Long Island, our waiter equated it to a sea bass, though after our first bites we all disagreed with his assessment. It was missing all the flaky and light characteristics of good sea bass and instead was quite fishy and a bit over salted. Similar to the starter courses, portion sizes were generous for all the entrees.

The side dishes looked too appealing to pass up and we also ordered a faro risotto and edamame falafel. There was no shortage of cheese in the faro risotto, resulting in a creamy and rich side that went especially well with both fowl. The falafel was very good, but they weren’t dissimilar to the standard chick pea variety, which is probably why we all agreed that the dish wasn’t special. Nevertheless, all five pieces were gone by the end of the meal which might be due in part to the dipping sauce, a slightly addictive tahini. The dish might be better positioned as a starter, rather than a side.

The flavor of peanut butter in the peanut butter parfait we shared for dessert was immense. One of my fellow diners likened it to sticking one’s spoon in a jar of peanut butter. We polished it off, including the accompanying chocolate wafers and a scoop of gelato. But, like many of the other dishes, it was just as billed. No surprises. No unexpected flavors. Perhaps after a season on Top Chef, I wouldn’t want any surprises either.

Perilla
www.perillanyc.com
9 Jones Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-6868

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