Donny: Yes! We finally made it! After….2 or so years of saying “lets go to Perilla” and “we have to go to Perilla” and “dang it’s almost 2010 we need to go to Perilla” we finally made reservations for a Thursday night to solidify it. I have heard great things about Perilla, he’s like the Kelly Clarkson of Top Chef. Though last year when Howard and I went to one of those fancy NYWFF Midnight Munchies event, we got a taste of the falafel he provided for the event. It was horrible! It was waaaaay too salty. Why oh why?! After the salty falafel incident I was very cautious about my expectations. I understand the difficulties of catering to a big event like that but…….still.
Howard: I was recently lamenting to our friend Matt that although I’d had some good meals this year, I hadn’t had any really great meals. He challenged me to find one before the end of the year. Donny and I had been talking about going to Perilla for a long time; if nothing else, it intrigues me that (as of this writing) Harold Dieterle is still the only Top Chef winner to open a restaurant. On top of all that, Donny had never met my friends, fellow bloggers and Top Chef lovers Jess & Garret of We Heart New York. All of these elements came together (along with our friend Mo) when we met for dinner at Perilla.
We were seated as soon as Donny arrived, at one of the booths near the back of the restaurant. Our server gave us the menus and then explained that there were some specials. There were two truffle-laden specials; and appetizer and an entree, priced way higher than anything else on the menu. The entree sounded good, but $80 for a plate of pasta was just way too much, especially considering the final special was steak for two and was only $70. Of course, the real advantage to ordering one of the truffle specials was that “the chef” (i.e. Harold) would come out and shave the truffles over the dish table-side. Of course Harold is probably the biggest draw of the restaurant, but this dog-and-pony show seems out of character for someone who isn’t really a celebrity chef, and indeed seems to eschew the spotlight. We did see Harold shuffle through the restaurant a couple of times, presumably to deliver the truffles, but he kept his head down and walked straight back to the kitchen when he was done.
Donny: So our reservation was at 7:30pm and I’m sorry for being 10 minutes late after giving Mo a hard time about being on time. Heehee. It was a special night because I finally got to meet Jess and Garret. Jess appears on Eat to Blog quite often! Yes I studied the menu and yes I knew what I wanted. Well….I did think about getting the duck breast but the lamb belly just sounded better. And with the tasting of Colorado lamb, I was able to eat lamb 3 different ways, grilled rack, crispy braised belly, homemade cheese & parsley sausage. As for the starter I got the peekytoe crab and sea urchin salad with American caviar, avocado mousse, toasted rice pearls and ginger dressing. The first time I had uni it was many many many years ago in a sushi restaurant. I remember hating uni and couldn’t stand it. So why did I decide to get it this time? Well it was so long ago that I don’t even remember why I hated it and I like to give everything a second try. Oh at Perilla, instead of giving you a basket of bread, a server comes to you and place a piece of bread on your plate. This I find rather annoying after my 4th piece of bread. I said no to my 5th slice and the waiter took my plate away. Weird. Why Harold why can’t I have a basket full of bread? The bread was nothing special anyways.
Howard: So instead of the truffles, I started my meal with the Fall Baby Vegetable Salad ($13). It was refreshing, light, and delicious; a melange of root vegetables perfectly cooked and dressed, topped with some fresh slices do radish and some baby arugula, sprinkled with crispy lavash. The little cubes of ricotta salata added some nice saltiness to the dish. There were several flavors and textures going on in the salad, but they all worked together well.
Donny: For a fancy pants restaurant, our starters came out rather quickly. So I ordered the peekytoe grab with sea urchin salad. I was pretty hungry then so I dug right in. A spoonful of crab meat and avocado mousse. It was very refreshing. This would be awesome to eat during the summer time. I took a bite of half of the sea urchin. Okay…not as bad as I remembered but I didn’t really taste anything. Yeah pretty anti-climactic. When I was done with the plate I tried to scrape every last bit of the mousse, so good. I had a bite of Mo’s “Hand Cut Tagliatelle maine lobster, guanciale, holy basil & “fra diavolo” sauce” and it was delicious!
Howard: My main course was Kuri Squash Agnolotti ($22), which kind of looks like a mess but was pretty good. The sauce was rich and buttery, and was studded with chanterelle mushrooms as well as hazelnuts (which added crunch) and chunks of halloumi (the Greek cheese that’s usually grilled) which added some chewiness to it. The squash filling in the pasta was kind of bland, but between all of the other flavors on the plate I don’t think another flavor could have possibly added anything.
Donny: Next up, entrees! So I got the “Tasting of Colorado Lamb grilled rack, crispy braised belly, homemade cheese & parsley sausage.” Hm…I really didn’t know if I’ll get full from this meal. 1 sausage, 1 piece of belly and 2 slices from the rack. I went for the belly first. It was pretty good with a nice layer of fat on it. Though I wasn’t too sure what the piece of crispy thing that wrapped around the belly was. The grilled rack was pretty standard, the 2 pieces were cooked perfectly medium rare but nothing too exciting. As for the homemade sausage it was a bit disappointing. It tasted like any old sausage, where was the lamb flavors? And why was it sooooo dry? Overall this was an okay dish.
Howard: I was torn when ordering dessert (all desserts $9). I kind of wanted the sticky toffee pudding but the peanut butter mousse was also calling to me. What made me decide in favor of the peanut butter was one of the components was described as “milk jam.” None of us had ever heard of it, and it sounded impossibly exotic and original. It turns out that milk jam is basically dulce de leche, which is itself delicious, but not what I was hoping for. The peanut butter mousse was excellent, though the chocolate crisp it sat on top of was far too hard. I kept trying to break it up with my fork but I couldn’t do it. Eventually Donny leaned over and managed to break it up for me, but not without some struggling. The concord grape sorbet was good, but nothing compared to the light and airy mousse.
Donny: After the server cleared our table, we were given the dessert menu. I looked through it but nothing really grabbed my attention so I went with the “Vanilla Scented Doughnuts apple butter filling & rum raisin anglaise.” My plate of dessert came with 3 doughnuts and a tiny pile of diced apples. It smelled really great but that was it. I took a bite and the doughnut was a bit bland. Didn’t really taste any of the apple butter filling. And in the end I didn’t feel guilty at all about eating apple butter filled doughnuts. To be a good dessert, it should make me feel guilty about eating it because it so damn good.
Here’s what Mo ate: Hand Cut Tagliatelle maine lobster, guanciale, holy basil & “fra diavolo” sauce and Roasted Speck-wrapped Organic Chicken spatzle, persimmons, chestnuts, tatsoi & pomegranate molasses.
~In The End~
Howard: In the end it still wasn’t a great meal, but it was a very good meal. In some ways — the not quite honed service, the wild mix of flavors and textures on every plate, the less-than-cohesive menu — I got the impression that Perilla isn’t aiming for greatness, but merely aiming to be good. I usually use this blog to to say that good isn’t enough, but in this case “good” felt just right.
Donny: At last Mr. Season 1 Top Chef Winner, you started out strong with the crab and sea urchin salad but you just didn’t wow me after that. Maybe someday I’ll be back but not any time soon.