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Address: 9 Jones St., near W.4th St.
Phone: 212.929.6868
Cuisine: Asian-influenced American
Scene: Irresistibly bustling gem
Hours: Dinner, Mon-Thu, 5:30-10:30pm, Fri & Sat 5:30-11pm, Sundays, 5-10pm.
First Bite Impressions: Ethereal experience
Note to Self: Order spicy duck meatballs
Don’t Miss Dish: Langoustines in sweet peppercorn sauce
: Appetizers, $11; Entrees, $25.
Reservations: Reservations essential.

The secret’s indisputably out on Top Chef Harold Dieterle and his gracious partner Alicia Nosenzo’s first restaurant endeavor as prime time reservations at this month-old restaurant have become preciously scarce.  Tucked away in a quiet Greenwich Village nook, Perilla has quickly found itself a destination audience.  Rotating on an American-bent axis, Harold wanders into Asian, Italian and even South American territories.  Clearly a stage for the confident young chef to make his real world debut, but the real question on everyone’s minds — can a reality tv show winner live up to the hype?

The short answer – absolutely.  But you wouldn’t assume as much upon first glance at Perilla’s elementary setting.  A row of orange banquettes with homey swivel lamps are the only vibrant markings in this otherwise nondescript space.  (I had the impulse to barter artwork in exchange for my dinner.)  Bare stucco walls, twirling ceiling fans and wood accents serve as a functional backdrop for an unusually affable staff and most importantly, the ambitious menu.

I snagged a banquette, immediately slipping into the warm hue eminating from the swivel lamp above, to judge the Top Chef for myself.  I might suggest they slow down the pace as the appetizers appeared only seconds after my glass of wine.  The food belies the decor: anything but elementary, each dish arrived surprisingly polished and well-plated.  While delicate upon entrance, each snuck a decadent, pause-worthy finish.  Our server swirled a satiny quail egg into an enchanting yam gnocchi-dotted broth, which cushioned superiorly moist duck meatballs and bit back as it crossed the finish line of the tongue.  Likewise, seemingly straightforward slabs of buttery mirin-induced hamachi luxuriated in a cool bath of yuzu-infused tomato water.  But the plot thickens as crunchy pickled cucumbers & avocado bits bathe in the wildly drinkable tomato water.  Even a salty, grass-fed beef carpaccio is rendered unusually moist, brightened by a lemony vinaigrette with a zippy sprinkling of caperberries. (My raw meat averse companion couldn’t resist devirginizing his palate after our collective oohs and aahs).  A supple vanilla-laced pork belly benefits from yellow raisins, trumpets and wonderfully bright pea tendrils, giving new meaning to my previously conceived notion of sweet-and-savory.

While not reinventing the wheel, chef Dieterle manages to muster up originality in every dish.  Thrillingly sweet peppercorn langoustines stand elegantly atop a crunchy bed of fried red rice mellowed by soft eggplant; crispy skin reveals hyper-succulent chicken, deftly matched up with flavorful chunks of chinese sausage and earthy mushrooms; and a dreamy black bean-glazed cod, marinated in sake & mirin, are cushioned by silky squash spaghettini with a hidden layer of crushed toasted almonds.

But just like the handsome, “rough around the edges” chef with a perpetual pencil tucked behind his ear, he exhibits a few plates with rough edges.  He makes the occassional mistep as gentle lamb chops are sadly suffocated by an overpoweringly bitter muck of dandelions.  The same goes for underdressed strands of peekytoe crab
cloaked by a distracting fried egg net concoction that we
mistook for an oversized potato crisp.   Taylor bay scallops seasoned with a poppy seed mignonette also fall flat.

Dessert quickly erased the the less impressive memories as tangy vinegar-soaked, roasted cherries arrived with a gooey, barely cooked (in a very good way) chocolate cake – much like eating warm deep brownie batter, equipped with a creamy
vanilla ice cream & pistachios.  Sugar-coated donuts were pleasingly plumped up with a creamy lemon curd, vibrantly married to a fresh black plum sorbet.

Perilla has clearly captured some of The Little Owl‘s lightning in a bottle as Dieterle manages to unveil the best of all worlds: a
serious restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Nearly
every dish delights beyond expectations while still embracing an unfussy quality.  You may even resist the urge to move on to the next big thing, surrendering to the reservation game and perhaps taking the only 5:15 spot available two weeks from now.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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