It’s phenomenal, classic Italian food, with a twist. And it’s the twist sets Perla apart from all others, ranking among the best newcomers in the lucrative New York City dining scene.
It’s the addition of yogurt, pickled mushrooms and quince that will leave your mind reeling. Michael Toscano, head chef at Perla, seemingly reinvented the wheel. He pushes the culinary limits with such success that you feel guilty for ever thinking, “will these combinations really work?”
I was drawn to Perla, not just because of rave reviews, but also because of my fondness of Little Wisco, Gabriel Stulman’s restaurant group. As a self-proclaimed Wisconsin girl at heart, after having spent four fabulous years at school in Madison, I have been newly drawn to the comfort of Midwestern culture and seek it out wherever I can in New York. The staff at Perla is mainly made up of Midwesterners, who show off the simple kind hospitality and extreme knowledge of the restaurant, menu and the culture of Little Wisco.
The one caveat about Perla is the limited reservations, with the rest of the tables being first come first serve. On a Saturday night, one can expect to wait in the upwards of 2 hours, for a table at the bar. Fortunately, they will take your name and number down and call you when your table is ready.
This past Saturday night, my friend, Amber and I, headed to Perla early, fully content to wait for a table and enjoy a cocktail at a nearby speak-easy, Little Branch, while we waited. To our pleasant surprise, the phone call came from a blocked number about 45 minutes later, when we had expected to wait at least 2 hours for the call. I finished my drink and we made our way back to the quaint Minetta Lane in the West Village to enjoy one of the better dinners I have ever had in a while.
We were seated at the bar area, shortly after the phone call. Although we were at the bar, we felt separated from the hustle and bustle of the crowds waiting for their table. Hip-hop music blasted out of the Bose speakers above our heads, creating a more fun, unexpected element to the night. It was unusually pleasant environment, with backs to the chairs and hooks in front for our bags. We hardly noticed our seating arrangement.
The bartender, Andrew, was beyond attentive, answering any of our questions, with lots of recommendations and drink suggestions. During the course of the meal, I learned the true definition of a Daiquiri, putting to rest the image of blended tropical drinks and colorful umbrellas forever.
This real Daiquiri was my ideal drink, light, slightly sweet, with the acidity of the lime acting as the star. I love dark liquor drinks, avoiding the likes of vodka and gin, so this drink could not have been more perfect. Although, I suspect the next time I try to order this at a regular bar, I’ll be given a look before the bartender whips out a blender.
We pined over the menu for a while, sipping our drinks in deep thought. Ultimately, we decided to have two Antipasti, one Primi (pasta), and one Secondi. We toasted to a great meal, when the waiter brought over fresh Focaccia, Olive Oil and Sea Salt.
I found the bread to be a bit dry, unlike the usual flaky renditions I have had, and actually made, before. It was very easy to ignore the bread in anticipation for the read meal.
Next, they brought by a little amuse-bouche, which was instead a delicious crostini.
This little bite was sweet and tart all at once, with a subtle spice from the black pepper. I strongly dislike black pepper, and had been nervous when the crostini was presented, but realized, that the subtle spice can actually enhance a dish, rather than kill it.
Shortly after, our antipasti arrived, beautifully presented, with the sweet smell of olive oil making my mouth water. I dug into the beef tartare, with pickled mushrooms and potatoes chips.
This dish was unlike any tartare I have ever ordered, mainly due to the unique flavor of the pickled mushrooms. It added such a light acidity and packed such a punch, without ruining the integrity of the high quality meat. The pairing of the tartare with a potato chip, rather then crostini, was unusually and mind-blowing all at the same time. The chip was so lightly fried and sprinkled with a little bit of cheese, adding tartness to the dish. I found myself wishing there were more pieces of light potato chips to use as a vessel for the delicious pieces of raw beef.
Next, I enjoyed the seared bay scallops, which are currently in season and a personal favorite of mine.
The scallops were cooked beautifully, with a slight crunch on the outside and a silky interior. The other elements on the plate elevated this simple seafood to a new level. The white sauce on the dish had a light tartness, which I ultimately learned to be yogurt. It was so unusual, but made complete sense, balancing out the decadent and light scallops, along with the sweetness of the blood orange and pine nuts. This dish put a new spin on already delicious bay scallops.
Perla is known for their incredible house made pastas. The difficult choice was deciding which one. We ultimately chose to go super simple, with gnocchi in a spicy tomato sauce and ricotta. The waiter split our portion in the kitchen, allowing us to both dive in without any restraint.
The ideal gnocchi is left to its own devices, simply put, each piece are beautifully made. Light and fluffy, each melts into your mouth with a sweet simplicity. The simple tomato sauce enhances the beauty of the pasta, with the stealth flavor of chili coming through at the end of each bite.
The half portion was plenty, since the dish was surprisingly filling. If you are planning to get a secondi course, as well, I would highly suggest splitting this dish with a friend.
Finally, the secondi course, seared duck, arrived.
I have a weakness for duck, being my favorite protein. This was a unique take on my favorite dish, with the addition of sweet quince, which I usually pair with cheese. The cabbage seemed overly sweet, soaking up the saba and quince. A few pieces of the duck were overly fatty, a result of the bird not being cooked long enough to render out all of the fat. However, the slices of duck, without enormous amounts of fat, were juicy with the crispy skin that draws people to the bird. While this dish was unusual in flavor, I would have preferred some kind of spicy element or a starch of some sort to cut through the sweetness of the dish.
After such a rich, fatty dish, I ended the meal with my favorite drink, an espresso martini. I watched them add the shot of espresso, a sign of a great version of the drink. Amber enjoyed The Aviation, some kind of fancy vodka cocktail from Andrew’s imagination.
We toasted to a great meal, while spending extra time at the bar, plotting our evening and keeping shelter from the now snowy night. Our waiter was still extremely attentive and at no point during the end of our meal did we feel as if we were over staying our welcome.
Dinner at Perla was a wonderful experience, beginning with the knowledgeable wait staff to the delicious food and unique cocktails. I would recommend a meal here to anyone, and as I learned after the fact, it’s a favorite restaurant of Morning Joe/The Today Show’s Willie Geist.
The dishes will leave you in a state of pure culinary bliss. The antipasti dishes put a radical spin on classic combinations, transforming the way I will look at simple dishes. The gnocchi was some of the best I have enjoyed in a long time.
For special occasions or just a night out with friends, Perla will fill your needs, time and time again.
Perla – 24 Minetta Lane – New York, NY
Location: West Village, NY
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Girls’ Night Out, Date Night
Reservations: Recommended via PerlaNYC.com
Favorite Dishes: Beef Tartare, Bay Scallops, Gnocchi