Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top Chef Restaurant Experience - Perilla

NYC Menu Girl shares her Top Chef Restaurant Experience at Season 1 Champ Harold Dieterle's NY eatery, Perilla....

First, lets set the stage. Flashback to - March 9, 2006. I watch the first episode of the first season of Top Chef. I had just returned from Spring Break in the Bahamas (spring break woot woot!) and while on the JetBlue flight, I watched a Project Runway marathon. There were endless commercials for this new show called Top Chef. I sit down to watch Top Chef, and I am thoroughly amused. The season continues and I fall in love with all things Top Chef, and with its very first winner, Harold Dieterle. So cute. Such a good chef. When Harold took the title, he opened a restaurant in NYC called Perilla, in the Village, on 9 Jones Street.

Flash forward to - 3 years after Harold wins Top Chef, and I get my day in the sun. I made an
opentable reservation for last night at 7:15, to celebrate the holidays with my boyfriend. We turned left off of West 4th street and onto Jones Street, residential, quiet, and quaint. And Perilla was smack in the middle. I am always so impressed by restaurants that have such a strong following, regardless of the fact that they are tucked away on these small side streets with no other restaurants in sight. This means that these restaurants create such a strong buzz, on blogs, word of mouth, etc., that they do not need to rely on "passerby" customers. This restaurant will be a full house every night, on its little side street. And for really nice restaurants where you are spending a lot of money, the fact that the restaurant is tucked away means that the bustle and distraction of what is going on outside of the restaurant ceases to exist. The focus is the restaurant you are in, and the experience you are going to have. So calming. Such a relief.

We walked into Perilla. It looked like everything you want a trendy, amazing NYC restaurant to look like. I loved it. They took our coats and seated us immediately at a nice table for two in the back. The waiter asked us if we wanted to order drinks, and we had not looked at the drink menu yet. Then he says water for the table? And I said "Yes, tap" just as he was saying "sparkling or tap?" I love that about some of the nicer restaurants. You even get to choose your own water. We peruse the wine menu. And then, I see him. It is HAROLD!!!! He looks great. Very calm. I was so pleased. Add him to my list of Top Chefs I have seen.

My boyfriend ordered a beer, and I ordered a glass of white wine ($10). The wine was fabulous. The waiter poured a little into my glass first to let me try it. That is pretty customary when you order a
bottle of wine but not as common when you just order a glass. It was a pleasant surprise. And the wine was fantastic. A sign of a really great glass of wine in a restaurant, for me at least, is that just 1 glass gets me through most of the meal, and I have no desire to order another one. The fact that it delightful, nothing I want to rush through, pleases me. It was $10 so it should be very delightful and filling.

Appetizers. Appetizers. Hmmmm. They have some salads. Nah. O wait. SPICY. DUCK. MEATBALLS. Done. We order them and the waiter asks "would you like me to split them for you?" Why sure! They are probably afraid we will make a mess if we reach over to eat them.

While we wait for the appetizers, we each get a piece of bread. So, this debate could go on for awhile, but basically at a restaurant, you can get a basket of bread, or a piece of bread delivered to you. Although I love a good basket of bread, I prefer hand delivered bread. Why? Because I have no self-control. If there are 7 pieces of bread in that basket, and I am with one other person, and that person only wants 2, well, I am going to eat the rest of it. It is there. I am hungry. And I want it. But I know I should not eat SO MUCH bread before an amazing meal.

At Perilla, you get the hand delivered bread. It was good. Small. They pour the olive oil in a little dish. I kind of wanted another piece. A few minutes later, another piece came! Yay! But then, within the next ten minutes, we each got two more pieces - 4 pieces of bread delivered to our table. It was kind of strange. They just kept filling up our bread plates like they were glasses of water. I had to stop eating the bread after the third delivery. From my point of view, hand-delivered bread helps me manage what I eat, but not when you deliver so many pieces.

Spicy duck meatballs arrive. We each get our own dish. This appetizer was the best appetizer in the world. Hands down. I do not like super spicy things, but this had just the right amount. Do you ever watch those food shows and the judges say "you can taste the smokiness that was infused in the meat and cooked in a bag and blah blah blah" and you just think, "what the hell are they talking about?" With these spicy duck meatballs, there was a spicy kick and flavor to it that was just part of the meatball - there was almost something intangible about the flavor, that made it so exciting.

So far, I am in love. I have had some hand delivered bread, am enjoying a lovely glass of white wine, all of the people in the restaurant are just as happy to be there as I am, and I have a spicy duck meatball taste in my mouth. The waiter checked in on us occasionally. He was so cute, and really knew the right balance of "how are you doing?" without bothering us.

Moving on. Dinner arrives. My bf ordered the Hanger steak, and I ordered the Kingfish, which came with braised kale, applewood smoke bacon (YES), and polenta fritters. The kingfish, pictured here (you can see the steak in the back) was delightful. Very light. The polenta fritters looked like croutons, like when you try to tell kids lies about what they are eating. Hey kid have a crouton (mwahaha it is actually polenta). The kale, which was not the main event of the dish, was incredible. With bacon, yes please. Amazing.

The steak was also incredible. I loved it, and usually steak is just fine for me, but not amazing. This steak was amazing. The sauce was excellent. I ate most of my meal. Usually with these small dishes, I devour it. But everything here was so delightful, that I took my time, and was actually pretty full when I had a few bites of fish left.

The waiter asked us if we wanted to see a dessert menu. I was a little full, but I did not make a reservation to finally go to Perilla without dessert. We went with the dark chocolate ice cream sundae with hazelnut praline and marshmallow. Look at it. Homemade marshmallows. Yes. Amazing ice cream. Yes. Pralines, ohhhhhh yesssssssssssssssssssss. We loved this dessert. I love simple ingredients that combine to make something incredible. And I love ice cream sundaes.

The bill came. It was $100. My bf's fun times on a casino trip earlier in the week left NYCMenuGirl with just paying the tip. I wanted to tell you how much it was so you can gauge how your dream restaurant might fit into your budget. This was one of the absolute best meals I have had in NYC. Everything was not only cooked amazingly, but every single thing I ate was so unique. Kale - I have had that. Kale with bacon - never had that! It was so pleasant. The music was great. The waiters were cute. There was an abundance of bread. The energy and ambiance of this place made it a most pleasant evening. For a special Christmas dinner, it was worth a splurge.

If you have a Top Chef Restaurant Experience that you'd like to share with our readers, please drop us a line at alltopchef@gmail.com.

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