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Lindsay

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Thursday
Feb072008

Dinner at Perilla, 2/7/08

My new foodie BFF, Dana, and I decided to plan our second-dinner date at Perilla, a relatively new "farm to table" restaurant opened by Top Chef's inaugural winner, Harold Dieterle. Buzz about Perilla was all we'd been hearing about on chow.com, and we were ready to try the place for ourselves. Dana made reservations for us at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday night.

Perilla
is located on a charming and quiet street in the picturesque West Village neighborhood. From the outside looking in, the restaurant is quite unassuming, but once you step foot inside its space, you know that you're in store for a fantastic evening. The dining room is rectangular in shape and quite long. The fifteen-foot tin ceiling is etched with fancy shapes, and the traditional crown molding borders the entire space. The walls are white washed, contrasting beautifully with the rich mahogany wood bar and twinkling orange candlelight. I got the sense of being in a pre-war building that had been updated with chic lighting, clean lines and modern furniture. After checking in with the hostess at five after seven, I plopped myself down on a bar stool and ordered a glass of Riesling. While admiring Perilla's stemware and peppy fresh-cut tulips...Dana arrived!

After being seated and catching up on the latest chow.com gossip, Dana and I perused the menu. Perilla does offer a tasting menu for the entire table, but we decided to order a la carte. Since there had been so many recommendations on what to order, Dana and I decided to split everything so that we'd be able to taste more. We chose to start with the Spicy Duck Meatballs and the Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly, then opted for the Pan Roasted Golden Snapper and Pancetta Wrapped Pork Tenderloin for our entrees. As sides, we ordered the Edamame Falafel and Roasted Brussels Sprout Leaves.

Dana's first glass of Riesling arrived and my second was topped off, while simultaneously, we were each served a piece of bread (no bread basket here, folks...There's someone always there to make sure your bread plate never goes empty!). A shallow bowl was promptly filled with olive oil and after our first bite in to our second piece of bread; the duck meatballs and pork belly arrived. Each plate was artistically presented and creatively arranged. The trio of duck meatballs were about the same size as ping pong balls and the flesh was brownish-pink in color. The meaty morsels sat atop mint cavatelli and spinach, and were finished with parmesan cheese shavings and an uncooked quail egg (de-shelled). For someone who doesn't particularly enjoy gamey meats, I was very pleased with this dish. If I hadn't known that the meatballs were made with duck, I would have never, in a million years, not assumed that what I was eating was pork or beef. There was absolutely no "gamey" or "ducky" aftertaste, whatsoever. The flesh was clean, velvety, spicy and delicate. I was a bit grossed out by the runny quail egg that had the consistency of...Well, I won't even say it. In my opinion, the spinach and mint cavatelli were incorporated in to the dish solely for the color element, as I don't recall much of their presence besides that. Moving right along...the pork belly was outrageously delicious. A golden 2 inch by 2 inch square of fatty pig sat atop a shallow gravy bath with vanilla essence, golden raisins and some sort of pea greens laced with trumpet mushrooms. I'm not sure if some people eat the pure lard portion of the pork belly, but if so, "to each his own." After separating the meat from the fat, I filled my fork with pork, a slice of mushroom, greens, two raisens and a dip of gravy. What a flavor explosion! I tasted tender and buttery pork, thick and salty gravy, smoky and meaty mushroom flesh, sweet raisins and earthy greens. This was the best pork belly I've had, thus far. God help me, I'm sure my sweet Jewish grandparents are rolling over in their graves each time I mention the "p" word...Pork!

Fifteen to twenty-minutes later, our entrees arrived. The pork tenderloin was placed in front of Dana, and the golden snapper was placed in front of me. The Brussels sprout leaves and edamame falafel took center stage on the table. Since there wasn't enough room for Dana and I to switch plates, each of us decided to serve eachother a portion of both entrees, thus making everything even. After placing a medallion of pork tenderloin, edamame falafel and a couple of spoonfuls of Brussels sprout greens on my plate, I was ready to dig in! My first bite was of the pork loin. Cooked medium rare and enveloped with a crispy piece of pancetta, the moist tenderloin's subtle sweetness was perfectly offset by the salty pancetta. After lightly dipping my edamame falafel in to the creamy lemon tahini sauce, I took a bite and was wowed by the nouveau texture and flavor of a dish that I'd grown up eating. The dense pieces of green edamame had much more texture and earthy flavor than the traditional chickpea. While I enjoyed the accompanying sauce, I felt that the addition of lemon overpowered the tahini. Call me a traditionalist, but I'll take good ol' fashioned falafel over edamame falafel any day! My next forkful led me to the Brussels sprout leaves, which were dotted with toasted Marconi almonds, golden raisins and dried cranberries. This was another favorite! I loved how the crunchy and salty nuts were able to incorporate so well with the greens and the sweet, dried fruit. Healthy doesn't usually taste this good. And finally...on to that gorgeous golden snapper! Perched atop green curry sauce, baby bok choy, squash, crones and cashews was a snow white red snapper filet with what looked like a crust of 24 karat gold. The flesh was flaky, creamy and buttery with a slight sea-bass aftertaste. The skin had been pan seared, creating a subtle crisp exterior. The curry sauce had the slightest hint of mango and perhaps passion fruit. There was just enough curry gravy to sop up the fish, crunchy cashews and the fresh vegetables that were incorporated in to the dish. Truly, this was one of the most excellent entrees I've had. I felt as though I was eating farm fresh food in one of France's best.

For dessert, Dana and I ordered the donuts and a blood orange cheesecake. What looked like a sugared Dunkin Donuts "donut hole" on steroids arrived piping hot and virtually greaseless. Accompanying the donuts were two dipping sauces: Dark chocolate ganache, and Meyer lemon curd. While I loved this particular treat, my favorite donut dessert remains at The Stanton Social. Next up, the blood orange cheesecake. Perched on a circular wafer no larger than 1 1/2 inches in size, was cheesecake in the shape of flan/creme caramel. The only thing that was "blood orange" about it was the spoonful of puree that floated on top. Dancing around the dessert were pieces of grilled fruit. Don't get me wrong, the cheesecake was good, but nothing worth writing home about. I prefer a hefty slice of Italian ricotta, myself.

All in all, I had an outstanding meal at Perilla
. Was it perfect from start to finish? No, but almost...Very close. I was so impressed by the use of such high quality ingredients, and what a difference their usage made in the overall taste of our dishes. Not that I'm a fish-out-of-water who's only eaten at fast food joints, but it's quite amazing how different mass produced produce, poultry, etc. tastes when compared to a more organic/"slow food" approach. For Dana and me, it was another successful date, thanks to our friends at chow.com.

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