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Yerba Buena Perry – Reviewed

2009_0907YerbaBuenaPerry-20.jpg**** — Four Stars

Address:  1 Perry St., at Greenwich Avenue
Phone: (212)620-0808
Cuisine: Modern Latin cooking
Vibe: Sleek, lively West Village haunt
Occasion: Group dinner; Casual date; Night out.
Hours: Dinner; Mon-Wed, 5p.m..-11:30p.m., Thu-Sat, 5p.m.-2a.m, Sun, 5p.m.-2a.m.
Don’t Miss Dish:  Manchego croquetes; Tilapia tacos; Lechon (Roasted suckling pig); Watermelon fries: Churros.
Drink: Mezcal Maid
Finish With: Cinnamon-dusted churros with dulce de leche & chocolate sauce
Average Price: Appetizers, $11, Entrees, $25, Dessert, $9.
Reservations:  Reservations recommended.

Cheat Sheet:
Drink the: Mezcal Maid
Nibble On: Manchego croquetes, tilapia tacos, flounder limeno ceviche
Eat: Lechon (Roasted suckling pig)
Finish With: Churros with dulce de leche & chocolate dipping sauces

Capsule: Julian Medina on the rise in Greenwich Village 

You never really have a great meal at a bad restaurant.  Did you ever notice that?  Chef Julian Medina has had his share of restaurant successes, but Yerba Buena Perry is his best and most creative effort yet.  Have you ever eaten watermelon fries?  Or even imagined eating them for that matter?    They’re terrific — a combination of crunchy, sweet, and salty.   There’s a considerable and exotic fry menu with hearts of palm, cactus, and avocado fries coated in panko and served with a homemade mate ketchup made with a slightly sweet, bitter tea that adds depth to ordinary ketchup.     

Yerba Buena Perry is really an evolution of the original Yerba Buena, a modern Latin eatery that opened last year in the East Village.  The newest Yerba Buena Perry opened a few weeks ago on Perry Street in the West Village.  It looks a lot like its East Village sibling.  The space is sleek, furnished with white leather banquettes, black & white tiled floors, dark wood table tops, and exposed brick walls.  There’s a handsome, hand-carved bar at the back with a white marble bar top and a Latin-bent cocktail menu. Several of the dishes and the drinks  are flavored with the restaurant’s namesake, yerba buena (Spanish mint.)    You’ll find yerba buena in the Pisco Mojito, Old Cuban, and in my favorite cocktail on the list, the The Mezcal Maid mixed with fresh cucumber, lime, and yerba buena.  Last year, was all about absinthe.  This fall, it’s mezcal, a spirit made from the agave plant, but smokier and more complex than tequila.   The restaurant’s tequila selection is’ too small and could use some attention, but the kitchen is sending out excellent Latin food..

Chef Medina draws inspiration from all over Latin America, including Brazil, Cuba, Peru, Argentina, and Spain.   He cooks with Latin ingredients, like Peruvian corn called maiz cancha, aji amarillo, manchego, habanero, and rocotto, (a spicy Peruvian pepper.)  There’s a wonderful selection of untraditional ceviches, like seared rib eye mixed with aji amarillo, cilantro and sea urchin as well as flounder with lime, red onions, avocado and habanero.   I had a good tuna ceviche tossed with onion, pickled watermelon and a soy jalapeno sauce, and an even better, aji amarillo-spiced flounder ceviche, scattered with diced sweet potato, raw and toasted maiz cancha, which is a little like the Peruvian version of corn nuts, only better. 

We often think comfort food means familiar foods, like a burger and fries, steak, or ice cream.   But Medina proves otherwise New Yorkiers to Brazilian, Cuban, Argentinian and Peruvian comfort food staples.  In Brazil, an entire meal can be made of Picada, a fried assortment of yucca, chorizo, pork belly, and fried pork rinds called chicharron.  At Yerba Buena Perry, Medina offers an appetizer version of picada that comes in a paper cone filled with fried yucca chips, chicharrones, a feisty Spanish chorizo, rocotto, and tostones.   The Cubans feast on lechon, a roasted suckling pig traditionally served over yucca.  I’ve had a lot of roasted suckling pig this year, but Medina’s lechon is outstanding.   He achieves an achingly tender pork, served over a thick yucca puree and a unique habanero tomato salsa with subtle hints of orange and garlic. 

Medina injects dashes of sophistication into manchego croquetes which emerge atypically fluffy nibbles specked with pickled jalapeno and served alongside a salsa verde dipping sauce.  Or warm empanadas filled with a savory-sweet combination of manchego, dried fig, Peruvian corn, and spinach.  One of my favorite dishes is the camarones con palmito — meaty shrimp sauteed in a fiery tomato salsa seasoned with lots of jalapeno, capers, and olives.      

But a few dishes fall short, like a mushy and overcooked black cod in a yerba buena consome and a dried-out “ropa de vieja de pato,” a trio of duck confit, a fried duck egg, and  duck leg.   There’s an odd-tasting riff on a creme brulee made with a thick eggfruit custard, but the rest of the desserts proved just as creative as the rest of the menu, like a dulce de leche parfait layered with Mexican chocolate mousse and a pisco panna cotta bottom. The best dessert on the menu are the warm, cinnamon-dusted churros accompanied by an addictive dulce de leche and chocolate dipping sauces. 

Medina’s already planning his next move — a taqueria ,  In the meantime, he’s proved himself a chef to watch at Yerba Buena Perry, creating playful, vibrant dishes with Latinl ingredients.  Me, I’m looking forward to taking comfort in watermelon fries and lechon this fall. 

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