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May 29, 2012 07:09 PM

Gotta give Perla some love

I went to Perla last night, the new restaurant from Michael Toscano, for an early Memorial day dinner. For those who don't know, he was the chef at Babbo, then Manzo, and now he has left the shadows of Batali and opened up what I believe is one of the top Italian restaurants in the city. Yes, I said it. In a city full of some of the best Italian in the country, the meal i had there last night was on that level. I don't know if I can say it is on the same level as Babbo yet, but it was definitely better than Manzo (which I also liked but that was after Toscano had already left).

Before I get to the food, the restaurant is situated on the small quiet street of Minetta Lane right down the block from Minetta Tavern. If you aren't looking for it you probably would not even know it existed. And honestly, even though I am giving them big time props I am hoping it stays a secret. But I know it is only a matter of time before it blows up and becomes the "next big thing". The press has actually already discovered it and I think the NY Times gave it two stars.

I was greeted warmly by the staff and shown to a table in the small, yet cozy and warm dining room. The tables near the bar are quite close together, but then there are some red leather banquettes towards the back of the restaurant where the open kitchen is. I really liked the decor and atmosphere. Very laid back, with some eclectic types of music playing throughout the meal. The crowd varied from older couples, to families with younger children. Basically, this is a place where anyone and everyone is welcome.

Every staff member that I came in contact with was super friendly and attentive. My water was constantly refilled along with my bread plate. The waiter came over to check on me periodically (in a non-annoying way) and even engage in some friendly conversation throughout the meal.

Alright now onto the good stuff. The menu is quite large, meaning if you like great food like myself it can be daunting narrowing down your choices. I saw a lot of Babbo and Manzo in the concept of the menu and in many of the dishes. The cavatelli with duck ragu and foie gras soudned identical to the fusilli with the same exact ingredients I had at Manzo earlier this year. After questioning the waiter, he confirmed it is the same dish but just the different pasta. Except for one minor detail. They shave frozen foie gras over the pasta at the table and let it melt into the pasta. Sounded pretty crazy! But since I had the dish at Manzo (and it was great), I wanted to try something new from the menu

It is divided into antipasti, pastas, entrees, and contorni. Going for broke I had to try something from each section as usual.

My first plate would be the seared foie gras with cherries and crispy pork testa.This was so incredible! One of the best foie gras dishes I have ever had. And this was right after I had another amazing preparation at Dovetail 2 days ago. Seared to perfect, pink on the outside and it had a nice sauce that I forget what was in it. The kicker was the crispy testa, basically a pork head croquette. Sinful, fatty, goodness, Fat on top of fat and so delectably delicioso.

Agnolotti al sugo d'arrosto - Little pillows of braised short rib love. Ten to an order. There was also a little escarole inside to cut the richness. Sitting in a sauce of beef drippings. Sprinkled with some pecorino romano. Sounds simple, but the ingredients sing and stand on their own wonderfully. Nothing left when I was done with this pasta. Another similar dish from Manzo I believe.

Saba glazed duck with persimmon, cabbage, pancetta- Such a wonderful dish! It was perfectly executed. The breast was seared rare with a salty crispy skin and the confit leg fell off the bone and managed to have a wonderful crust on the outside in its own right. There was lots of chunky bits of pancetta dispersed around the cabbage. The saba (grape must) added a beautiful and intense sweetness that I love and is the perfect pairing to duck. Very similar to the outstanding duck dish at Babbo. Not surpring since Toscano used to cook at Babbo.

Polenta with asiago and ricotta- Homey, comforting and cheesy bliss. I love polenta and this was the perfect accompaniment to the duck. I will never ever pass up polenta, and the asiago (think Italian blue cheese) and ricotta added a different twist on the classic.

At this point I could have left happy but since the meal was so perfect I solidered on for dessert. More polenta!

Polenta upside down cake with apples and figs- This was a very nice dessert. Think the bottom of a corn muffin baked with the apples and figs on the bottom, then they flip it over after baking like a traditional upside down cake. Then it is topped with olive oil gelato (I subbed it for the vanilla) and caramel sauce. It was remarkably moist, with a sweet corn flavor. The apples and figs were nice and the olive oil gelato was super fresh and also acted as a palate cleanser to cut through the sweetness. Great ending to the perfect meal.

The only funny thing that happened really was not a fault of the restaurant at all. At one point you could feel the ground below you shaking as the train came through! Everyone in the restaurant kind of looked at each other like what is happening? Some out of towners at a nearby table really got a kick of it. They must think that is a norm in New York.

The kitchen is turning out some magical dishes. This is in the running for the best meal top to bottom I've had this year. It has immediately joined the list among my favorite Italian restaurants. Prices are reasonable but can add up of course depending upon how many dishes you order. With all that I ordered the bill came to just over $100 with tax and tip. A relative bargain for the quality of food and service that I encountered.

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  1. Thanks so much for the report, steak. Your enthusiasm makes me think I must give this a try. But how was the noise level? I'm guessing you were there early, and we prefer later, 8:30 or so, so I have been afraid it might be deafening, like Fedora.

    11 Replies
    1. re: rrems

      I was there early but there were 4 or so other tables around me and I didn't find it loud at all. But then again that sort of thing does not bother me.

      1. re: steakrules85

        Thanks for the report, other reports pretty much criticized the place. Your report makes me want to try it, for sure.

        1. re: foodwhisperer

          Great report!

          My wife and I celebrated the day following our wedding with a nice quiet dinner for 2 at Perla (Monday evening - Memorial Day weekend), and we absolutely loved it.

          Had the following:

          Foie Gras tremizzi
          Potato chips amatricana (apologies for spelling errors)
          Salumi mista
          Cavetti in duck ragu and foie gras
          56 day dry aged rib eye for 2

          Everything was sublime. Of particular note was the pasta which beautifully presented and had frozen foie gras shaved over the dish at the table so that it melted and the perfume of foie permeated the air. Also, the char on the rib eye as it was cooked in the wood fire oven (dusted in a dehydrated gorganzola crust) and blackened on the grill was amazing. We had no room for desert unfortunately, but did get a couple of cocktails and can also report they were great.

          The above order including a bottle of red wine (in the sub $50 category) came to $260 incl. tax and tip. Similar to what I would have spent at Minetta Tavern for a similar quantity of food and also at an excellent quality so overall I am very happy with Perla, would highly recommend it, and will definitely be back.

          P.s. was served by Alex - she was excellent.

          1. re: r32nissan

            I am curious what time you had dinner. I tried also going on Monday, arrived around 8:00 and was told that it would be a 45min. to hour wait. After about 90 min. I was told they were ready to seat us, only to be shown to the crowded bar upfront for seating. When I mentioned that we did not want to sit there, she told us it would be another 30 min. for a table. I asked why she did not tell us it was bar seating, and she said we don't distinguish between bar and table seating, and I am sorry I did not communicate that better. Totally unacceptable...and yes she should of!
            Left and had a very nice dinner at The Dutch. Would definitely like to try Perla, but this experience has left a bad taste.

            1. re: raw

              Thats very strange because we arrived not much before 8pm. Looking at my receipt we left a little after 10 and we definitely took our time with our meal. We were told it would be an approximate 1/2 hour wait and we decided to have a cocktail at the bar rather than be contacted when a table was ready. After about 20 minutes we were given 2 seating options. 1. at the small table for 2 right near the front bar, or 2 seats at the Chef's counter in the back area. We opted for the Chefs counter because whilst it was warmer back there, we wanted to see the food going into and coming out of the wood oven, and everything went very smoothly.

              Was it a female in a red shirt/blouse? She seated us and was very pleasant. Sory to hear you had a bad experience, but I'd recommend you give it another go because we honestly did have an excellent time.

              1. re: r32nissan

                It was a female but she was wearing a light colored dress. Well sometimes its all in the timing and maybe we just missed all the seating's for two. We decided not to wait at the bar and instead I gave her my cell number to call when she had a table ready. Don't know if this added to the delay. If we were offered the chefs counter, that would of been a better option, instead of sitting upfront where there is a crowd waiting behind you while you eat. But my biggest gripe is her not communicating to us what the seating options are, especially after waiting 90 minutes. Very poor FOH.

            2. re: r32nissan

              The food and service are really quite wonderful at Perla. Congrats on your wedding!

              1. re: Tommy D.

                Thanks! It was a lovely day on Sunday in the city so we had a great time :)

                1. re: r32nissan

                  Best wishes on your nuptials and I happy that you enjoyed Perla. It's one of my favorites.

                2. re: Tommy D.

                  Oh and forgot to mention Alex brought over 2 glasses of champagne to celebrate our wedding. Nice touch.

                3. re: r32nissan

                  I did not think the quality was even remotely close to Minetta Tavern when I went shortly after opening and had a few cocktails and small plates. Spent $150ish for what seemed like hardly any food—would have much rather have gone to Joseph Leonard and saved $50 and gotten a real meal.

          2. It doesn't surprise me that the food at Perla is delicious since the three meals we had at Manzo with Toscano helming the kitchen were excellent. However, two things will probably keep me from going to Perla. Acc. to the "NY Times" review, only 6 tables are available to be reserved, which petty much equals a no reservations policy. Also, like rrems, I'm very noise phobic, so I'd have to know more about that before I'd even consider attempting to get a reservation.