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Dinner at Periyali, 1/31/08

Ask any of my sorority sisters how stellar of a member I was during those four hellatious years of college, and they'll probably laugh out loud. After getting called in to the sorority's honor council for getting busted smoking cigarettes in my Greek "letters," I knew that this whole thing truly wasn't for me. I hid behind a fake saccharin smile and gritted my teeth through "rush," but deep inside I was hating every minute of it. Who knows, maybe it was because I went to school in Texas and Greek life is much more intense in the South, but I was as happy as pie when I officially became an alumni and got the "hell outta' Dodge."

When I moved to New York, one of my best friends from college dragged me to a sorority alumnae association event. I figured, "Why the heck not?" I was new to town and pretty curious about what to expect from an alum event held in Yankee territory. I ended up having a fantastic time and met great girls from schools all over the country. After joining the association and getting much more involved than I ever was in college, I'm glad to report that my experience with the sorority in NYC has been nothing but positive.

For Restaurant Week, I volunteered to organize a small dinner for alum members wishing to participate. I chose Periyali because: Why should a group of former university "Greeks" go to any other type of restaurant? I was happy to see that four girls had RSVP'd for dinner on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

I arrived at Periyali
just ten minutes shy of our 7:00 p.m. reservation, and in true Lunch Belle fashion, decided to grab a drink at the bar and analyze my surroundings. After advising the hostess of my arrival, I ordered a glass of Sancerre. Periyali is housed just a couple of steps below ground level, or, halfway between ground and basement level. The space is quite large and has many dining nooks, one in particular with a grand and gorgeous skylight. The white exposed-brick walls contrasted beautifully with the dark hardwood flooring while dim lighting illumed the entire restaurant.

Five-minutes later, I was approached by the manager and asked if I'd like to sit at my table...Without my "complete" party! I happily agreed and was led away. The other four girls began to trickle in and by 7:15 p.m., we were all seated together.
After introducing everyone to eachother and briefly chatting, our waiter handed us both the regular dinner and Restaurant Week menus. It didn't take more than five minutes for the table to agree that the Restaurant Week menu was the way to go! For $35.00, you get a three-course meal...Quite the steal in NYC! I decided to start with the Greek salad, order the tilapia for my entree and finish the meal with a piece of "Greek" cake (whatever that means?).

Our appetizers simultaneously arrived with an ample basket filled with fresh crusty bread and grassy olive oil. My Greek salad came with everything but the lettuce, which couldn't have been more perfect, as I think that greens mainly serve as colorful "filler" getting in the way of the real ingredients. Bright red tomato wedges, thick slices of cucumber, ripe kalamata olives, crunchy sliced purple onions and salty feta cheese were delicately tossed with fresh black pepper, oregano, ripe capers, olive oil and vinegar. As you'll see in the picture further down the page, this plate was gorgeous...And it tasted even better. How often do the words "healthy" and "delicious" appear in the same sentence? Rarely. Whitney, who sat next to me, urged me to try her grilled octopus appetizer, which embarrassingly enough, is one sea delicacy I've never eaten before. Looking at those tentacles and creepy slimy body really freaked me out, but I gave in and took a bite. The white flesh was firm and almost tasteless, making me assume that my multi-legged friend had just been caught. The meat was grilled with olive oil and a splash of tangy lemon; truly fantastic!

Fifteen minutes after our appetizer plates were cleared, our entrees arrived. Another beautiful dish! My generous tilapia filet greedily took half of the plate, forcefully sharing the other portion with a rice and spinach concoction. The fish was perfectly scored with grill markings and sat in a shallow bath of buttery-lemon roux. The exterior of the filet was lightly crisp from the grill, yet moist from the zesty sauce giving way to a flaky and delicate interior. The accompanying rice must have been boiled in chicken stock, as it was full of a rich and salty flavor. Laced throughout were bits of spinach adding more of an interesting flavor and texture.

If I'm not mistaken, there was only one option for dessert on Periyali's Restaurant Week menu, which was some sort of Greek cake. When dessert arrived, it looked vaguely similar to piece of gingerbread, but after one bite, the cake tasted like dried-out banana bread that had been lightly soaked in honey (in hopes of regaining any sort of moisture). Yawn! Why didn't they have some sort of fabulous baklava or something? Boo!

My meal at Periyali
was wonderful and the only thing that would have made me happier would have been a dessert that was just as amazing as my other dishes...And my fellow "Greeks" concurred! Funny enough, this evening divulged the fact that our entire table had gone to school in Texas! All this talk about those days made me realize that there may be no place like home, but there's certainly NO OTHER place for me than New York.

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