It’s about time.
Ever since moving from Philadelphia to the NYC area, we’ve struggled to find restaurants that in some way approximate the eclectic, yet sophisticated mix of cuisine and attitude to which we’ve become accustomed in that city of brotherly love.
But in the past few months, we’ve found a couple places that tap into that Philly flair.
The first (pictured) is Perilla, a great little restaurant nestled into the back streets of the West Village. We arrived there very randomly one night, having made a reservation in haste when I realized some out-of-town friends were coming into the city for the night. After a whole lot of web browsing and a few phone calls, we ended up with an 8:30 reservation at one of many NYC restaurants I never knew existed before that night.
You know how sometimes things just work out? Well, from the restaurant choice on, this was one of those nights.
Although we arrived a little late, there was ample street parking and we pulled right into a space just outside the restaurant. Our dining partners were already seated (at the table closest to the camera in the above picture) and had ordered a splenderific red for us to share.
Like the best Philly restaurants, Perilla is both serious and laid back at once. The atmosphere wasn’t too stuffy, but the staff was overly courteous and professional. And the food? It’s what we’ve been waiting for: well-prepared, flavorful and filling.
Though this gastronomical adventure took place more than a month ago, I’ll do my best to summarize the edibles. The first thing I remember were the chickpea fries. Much in the same vain as mozzarella sticks, these lengthy little morsels were crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. In a way, they were like fried hummus, if fried hummus tasted better than it sounds.
For an appetizer, the wife and I shared the Lady Apple & Red Romaine Salad (maytag blue cheese & spiced walnut vinaigrette), which was delicious in its unadorned simplicity. There were similar raves around the table for the Seared Diver Sea Scallops (parsnip puree, pumpkin seed pralines & orange-hearts of palm salad) and the Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly (pea tendrils, trumpets & banyuls-vanilla gastrique).
As for entrees, my Striped Bass special was another winner. I can’t quite remember what came with it, other than major flavor, but my mouth continues to water just thinking about it. Both ladies went with a salmon special that, while good, did not seem to live up to the bass. In keeping with his carnivorous theme, my other friend ordered the Grilled Prime Hanger Steak (sunchoke creamed spinach, red shallot puree & natural jus). I don’t usually like hanger steak (it tends to be a little tough whenever I order it), but this was levels beyond anything I’ve tasted before.
For some reason (probably because the second bottle of wine made us giddy), we ordered a few desserts for the table. While everything was good, my favorite was the Vanilla Scented Doughnuts (apple compote filling & pumpkin bavarian cream). Truly, there’s nothing like warm, homemade doughnuts in the late fall and winter. Try these and you’ll understand.
From random reservation to the best meal we’ve had yet in New York, the whole experience was a pleasant surprise. Maybe we should eat all our meals with these friends. After all, they were also our dining companions for the best meal in Philadelphia.
GAZELLE CAFE (Ridgewood, NJ)
Not nearly as nice or delicious as Perilla, Gazelle nonetheless brought us back momentarily to our Philly restaurant roots. Except for the food, which was a bit underwhelming, Gazelle has a few things going for it:
- It’s small, making for a cozy, social atmosphere.
- It has an open kitchen, which I love for no particular reason.
- It’s BYOB, which helps with the bill.
Because it’s been so long since our meal, I feel almost guilty trying to review the food. But, what the hell, I’m going to do it anyway!
I know we started with a salad, which was fairly standard. From there, my wife and I diverged significantly. She ordered a fish dish that I cannot distinctly remember, except for the fact that she was unimpressed. I remember it as being well-cooked, but bland, which seemed to be the case for many dishes, at least in presentation, when I looked around the tiny dining room.
I, however, fared better with my barbecue pork tenderloin. Although it was spartan in presentation, it was long on taste. The dish also had the distinct advantage of coming with sweet potato sticks. These thick almost-wedge-like fries mixed the right texture with the right taste, a combination that made it the best edible of the night.
We decided to skip dessert, but I think we’ll eventually be back for it. There’s too much here to remind us of our old Philly joints not to give it another chance to be the delectable facsimile we wish it would be.