I love trying new restaurants. It is one of my favorite things in the world. But, like anyone, I have my tried and true favorites. The ones I keep going back to, take my friends and family when I want a guarantee to impress, have the menu memorized to the point that I can name the new additions or seasonal switches at a glance. Perilla is one of those restaurants. I have never had a bad meal, never had a time that was anything less than extraordinary, and never had a complaint. One time my friend and I ordered wine there that was clearly corked, and, not only were we served a new bottle, but our first round of drinks was compt-ed for the inconvenience. In my post about The Marrow, I discussed Perilla owner, and Top Chef season one winner, Harold Dieterle. Perilla was his first NYC restaurant, and because of its smashing success, Harold went on to open two others: Kin Ship and The Marrow. I haven’t been to either and dined on the actual menu (my dinner at The Marrow was a special event, with a fixed Sicilian-seafood themed menu), I have no doubt Harold’s perfect execution lives on in those restaurants as well.
I have tried most things on the menu, but there are certain stand-out dishes. I will start with the entrees, because that is where my favorite dish resides. The Grilled Prime Hanger Steak with hen of the woods mushrooms, sunchoke creamed spinach and au jus. Many people don’t love hanger steak. Some say it’s too tough, others think it best belongs in a taco or fajita because it tends to dry out. Harold, however, makes hanger steak shine in a way I haven’t seen anywhere other than Perilla. I’ve ordered it countless times, and have snagged pieces off my friends’ dishes when I elected to go with another entree, and each time it is flavorful and so tender it melts in your mouth. Having a bite with the earthly hen of the woods and the creamy sunchoke/spinach is the perfect medley of flavors and textures — savory, creamy and sophisticated all at once. Perilla also does great duck. Their duck meatballs, discussed below, are constantly lauded, and the roasted duck breast with sage and cherries on the current menu does not disappoint. The hazelnuts lend a surprising and welcome crunch, and the duck has none of the gaminess people so often complain of with the protein. The fish selection/preparation changes often at Perilla, but there is usually always a Branzino prepared in some fashion and one other fish. I’ve ordered fish a couple of times there, and have always been happy, but it is the meat that sings.
I’ve also frequented Perilla a couple of Fridays during Lent. While I am technically able to order fish during those days, I usually try to order a vegetarian dish. Right now there is no pasta dish on the menu, the vegetarian dish is a tasting of zucchini, but the two times I have had their pasta I was in heaven. One was a mushroom cannelloni in a light cream sauce with homemade ricotta. I cannot remember the details, but I do remember making inappropriate noises and being less than willing to share. I also tried Harold’s tasting of sweet potato this past Lent. It was incredible. The sweet potato was presented four ways, in the form of a sweet potato tart, gnocchi, slaw and brulee. The serving looks large, and it was, but I still cleaned it up with a vengeance. The gnocchi was light and the sweet potato was the star (often I find, with favored gnocchi, that it is hard to really distinguish whatever flavor the dough is combined with). The crust on the tart was buttery, flaky and the perfect foil for the slightly sweet yet savory filling. I don’t remember the specifics about the brulee except that I adored it, although the slaw, while good, didn’t shine.
Perilla also has wonderful appetizers. I mentioned the duck meatballs before, which have a bit of mint in them (I make my meatballs with Italian parsley and mint, so I may be biased), and are served with a quail egg. The runny yolk (you know my love for yolk) adds to the sauce and I end up scooping it with bread after the meatballs are long gone. I also love Perilla’s ceviches/crudos. The one pictured below is hamachi, and the one on the current menu features cobia, but whatever the fish I can promise the ceviche/crudo will deliver a fresh, clean flavor. I am not a lover of fried calamari, but my friends who have had the crispy calamari and watercress salad go on and on about it, so I am sure it is a good bet when you go. Another appetizer not on the current menu is the cauliflower agnolotti, pictured below. Harold makes a great pasta, and the agnolotti were no exception. Topped with homemade breadcrumbs for the perfect crunch, I would most certainly order them again (although right now Perilla has a cheddar pierogi on the menu, which I will need to try sooner rather than later).
One thing I do not have a picture of, but is a MUST ORDER if you go (you will notice I use caps sparingly, so when I do I really mean it) is the farro risotto. Farro is a nutty grain, larger than the arborio rice used to make traditional risotto. Harold’s farro risotto is a side, and is served with artichoke confit, Parmesan and grapes. It may sound an odd combination, but it is not. It’s a great mix of flavors and textures, and everyone I have introduced to it has fallen in love.