Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dinner from a Top Chef at Perilla

I entered Perilla with some initial trepidation. Mixed reviews had me pondering whether it was a solid neighborhood restaurant or one that lured unknowing patrons with the siren calls of a reality food television star at its helm. In case you don't remember or simply don't care, owner and Chef Harold Dieterle was the inaugural winner of Top Chef series but was also a sous chef at The Harrison. Through his combination of culinary skills and determination, Harold emerged victorious and true to his word, used his winnings to open Perilla in 2007. I'm happy to report that I found Perilla to be more of the former rather than the later during our dinner experience. Bolstered by a 30% off coupon from Blackboard Eats, Perilla proved to be surprisingly good as I found chef Dieterle's juxtaposition of flavors, textures and temperatures a winning combination.

Though tempted by the tasting menu, our coupon didn't apply towards this option, so instead, MW and I chose a plethora of different dishes for a broader experience. MW started with a glass of the Riesling Kabinett, Bunchen - Mosel, Germany (2007) while I opted for a Sixpoint "Sweet Action" Blond Ale. An area where the restaurant could stand to improve is with their bread service. Instead of a bread basket, Perilla served bread one piece at a time. This practice necessitated servers having to constantly bring new pieces of bread to each table and became rather annoying.

We started with a Selection of East and West Coast Oysters with a Dashi Granite, Whipped Tofu and Toasted Rice Pearls, the rice pearls making another appearance later in the meal. Tonight's selection included three Salt Pond oysters from Massachusetts and three Barron Point oysters from Washington. The savory dashi granite was especially good with the briny oysters as the creamy tofu and rice pearls added a smooth and crunchy element to the dish.

Next was the Crispy Calamari and Watercress Salad with Mint and Peanuts dressed with a Chili-Lime Vinaigrette, a dish that was clearly inspired by Chef Dieterle's experiences in Southeast Asia. My favorite part of the dish was the deep fried watercress, akin to a light tempura that provided a great textural contrast to the salad.

Our last appetizer was Chef Dieterle's famous Spicy Duck Meatballs with Mint, Cavatelli, Water Spinach and Quail Egg. The meatballs were well seasoned and were incredibly moist, with enough kick to justify their "spicy" title. An excellent trio of appetizers to start our meal.

For her entree, MW chose the Crispy Rice Pearl Coated Soft Shell Crabs with Ramp Kimchi, Radish Sprouts and a Spicy Passion Fruit Dressing. Being Korean, I was intrigued by the ramp kimchi but found the intense flavor of the ramps to be overpowering, as they were too bitter for my tastes. However, the soft shell crabs were astonishing. Coated with the same rice pearls used in our oyster appetizer, the crust was incredibly crispy and complimented the sweet flavor of the crabs instead of masking it. The passion fruit dressing provided the necessary sweet and sour element to tie the flavors together.

I chose the Tasting of Wild Boar which consisted of a Grilled Strip Loin, Crispy Boar Belly and a Stuffed Cabbage "Bon Bon." The meat lacked any trace of a gamy flavor that would indicate you were eating wild boar instead of lean beef. Fortunately, the trio of different preparations were so skillfully executed that it more than made up for the fact that the meat itself was rather ordinary. As you might expect, I enjoyed the crispy belly the most of three options. But it was Chef Dieterle's innovative choice to wrap the braised boar belly in a crisped yuba bean curd which I found most successful. MW and I both agreed that the interplay between traditional preparations with Asian ingredients (rice pearls, yuba bean curd) resulted in some truly memorable food.

Required to be ordered at the beginning of the meal, MW ordered the Dark Chocolate Soufflè with a Caramel Crème Anglaise for dessert. The soufflè was light and flavorful, successfully whetting any end-of-the-meal chocolate craving.

I wanted the Chocolate Glazed Doughnuts with Vanilla Custard and Milk Jam. Though I was less than impressed with the so-called milk jam, I did enjoy the vanilla custard. The doughnut itself was a bit too yeasty and while the chocolate glaze was good, it couldn't totally negate the slightly bitter flavor of the dough.

A plate of Ginger and Coconut Oatmeal Cookies were given to us as a parting gift from the kitchen. The cookies were nice and moist without being overly sweet and the ginger lent a great spiciness.

As we paid our check we inquired whether the chef was in the kitchen. We were informed Chef Dieterle wasn't cooking that evening and rarely cooks on the weekends. Albeit absent from the kitchen, I left Perilla quite impressed with Chef Dieterle's ingenious fusion of concepts and ingredients culminating in some straight-forward and delicious food.

9 Jones Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-6868

To see all our pics please click the flickr link.

Perilla on Urbanspoon

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