Perilla 9 Jones St, 212-929-6868
Price range: $45-$75 Rating: 5 L’s
Being a foodie and a proponent of televising personality disorders, I enjoyed that first season of Top Chef. But there was something very un-reality TV about the way it ended up. The winner was unassuming, professional, talented and passionate about his craft. It should have been a disaster, but that was the show’s brilliance. The most deserving player won — the first season anyway.
And now, one year later, you can taste the fare that made Harold Dieterle the Top Chef. He’s just opened his own restaurant, Perilla, on Jones Street between boisterous Bleecker and West 4th. It has certainly been worth the wait. Though the price point could be a bit gentler, and his creations can be difficult to describe in print, the Village hasn’t seen this kind of creative, full-bore culinary approach since the powder-fueled 80s.
Though Dieterle hasn’t fooled around with the appetizer/entrée/dessert paradigm or the whole “table” thing, his dishes speak volumes. Succulent and spicy Duck Meatballs ($11), paired with mildly sweet and pillowy yam gnocchi, fresh water spinach and a quail egg, makes a statement on Asian refinement. Similarly, the sumptuous richness of Berkshire Pork Belly ($10) is transformed with pea tendrils, trumpet mushrooms, and banyuls/vanilla gastrique into an elegant appetizer whose fat is merely a necessary component.
Entrees, the presumptively safe course, showed off the chef’s deft hand as well. Black bean glazed Black Cod ($25) hearkened to Nobu’s miso version, but Perilla throws in a mound of shaved spaghetti squash, fresh almonds and a snap pea emulsion. Dieterle understands these bizarre, discordant symphonies well. Rare Rack of Lamb ($29) was less of a culinary stretch, though no less delicious. The rack, parsley root mousseline and roasted cippolini onions would appeal to any sugar-fat American, though I can’t see the gloriously bitter dandelion greens being a huge hit. The sweets kept this rewarding dichotomy, with humble chewey coconut cake made relevant and newly yummy with basil-watermelon salad and herbal perilla ice cream.
Perilla’s clean narrow space, whose seven different lighting fixtures give each veneered table its own personality, is focused visually on the cozy drinkers’ bar upfront and three banquettes midway back. But the real focus here is on the food, that exciting, refined, and exacting fare, globally inspired, locally sourced. Perilla is bound to excite, delight, and satisfy for years to come. And don’t worry if you haven’t seen the show. What’s on your plate at Perilla is probably better than what those freaks turned out.