Perla – New York City, NY
When I come to the city for pleasure, which isn’t often, I make the most of it. This means following Eat a Duck’s patented mantra, do your homework! My mother would be proud. Now I keep an ever-growing list of restaurants with me that I feel call for a visit. On this particular day, I chose the wonderful SoHo tapas bar, Boqueria, and a slick Italian joint hidden away on the diminutive Minetta Lane, called Perla.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the über high-end A Voce’s and Marea’s of the city, but don’t want to sacrifice in quality and taste, Perla is the answer. Located just off 6th on a quiet street, this little gem has all the qualities you’d look for to have a romantic, relaxed and truly memorable Italian meal.
As with most restaurants I visit, I was drawn to Perla by rumors of a dish that had my name written all over it. Cavatelli with duck ragu and grated frozen foie gras. Are you kidding me Perla? Anyway, we hadn’t made reservations but we’re flexible young people, so after a short wait, we were seated at the bar with a fantastic view of the restaurant. One of the most refreshing aspects of Perla is its laid back environment. Make no mistake, the staff are the epitome of professionalism when it comes to knowledge of the menu and dealing with diners, but they keep things fun and comfortable. It didn’t hurt that everyone was in jeans and madras shirts, with a soundtrack of Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Zeppelin setting the mood. I have to say it was a departure from most restaurants serving this caliber of food.
Our bartender was friendly and warm and made us feel right at home, setting us up with a couple of glasses of hearty Montepulciano. After a quick look over the menu, we chose a couple more dishes to go with the aforementioned Cavatelli. A Razza Piedmontese beef tartare with Parmigiano Reggiano and black truffles, which, as the name suggests, uses the fantastic meat of the Piedmontese cattle. Due to a unique genetic trait, it produces meat with less marbling and less connective tissue, leaving you with smooth and tender meat which is especially conducive to a great steak tartare. The truffles managed to stay in the background and served as a great compliment to the sweet meat. Of the many steak tartares I’ve sampled, this was one of the finest as far as quality of ingredients.
The second dish was the orecchiette with sweet Italian sausage and ramp pesto. First of all ramps, I love these things, they’re a cousin of onions and garlic that gives you the addictive aroma we all crave without the eye-watering spiciness that comes from raw garlic. Let me say, Italian sausage was a brilliant addition to the pesto. I’m slightly embarrassed that I haven’t thought doing it myself, especially since pesto is almost a weekly dish at our house. The key here is the fat of the sausage and how that mingles with the flavors of the basil and ramps. This resulted in a creamy, unctuous texture that coated the tongue and definitely gave the pesto a more luxurious personality.
After we devoured the first two courses, I made eye contact with the bartender, I had a concern. When I ordered the cavatelli, I didn’t see anything about grated frozen foie gras on the menu. When I mentioned that I had chosen this restaurant upon hearing about a pasta covered in foie, his response. “don’t worry, you ordered it dude!”. I let out a sigh of relief, that was a close one. Shortly after this exchange, my cavatelli arrived. Despite its inviting appearance, I held my fork until I spied a girl approaching with what looked like a medium-sized salami and a cheese grater, my frozen foie was here no doubt. She began grating…and grating…and grating. She went on grating longer than most restaurants grate your cheese, I wanted to hug her. It was like a dream, it was snowing foie gras on my plate, which instantly melted when it hit the piping hot pasta, mixing with the sauce to create a duck foie-gu. Sadly, despite the length of grating, the foie flavor was a bit lost in the ragu. Of course I could taste it, but I’m greedy, and probably a bit ridiculous wanting pasta with a foie gras sauce. I’ll have to save that for my death-bed.
I knew I ordered the right stuff when I noticed the couple sitting next to us at the bar practically drooling over our food. They asked what I ordered and promptly followed suit. I had done my good deed of the day. It was the perfect finish to a perfect day with my wife, everything cooked to perfection, delicious wine, great atmosphere and friendly staff. I’ll definitely be heading to Perla again at my earliest convenience. Maybe next time I’ll sneak in my own torchon to satisfy my foie fever!