9 Jones Street
New York, New York 10014

5 Second Summary:

Price Range- Dinner entrees $22-27 (at the time of posting), very reasonable for Manhattan and for the quality of the meal
Ambiance- Comfortable neighborhood cafe
Cuisine- Seasonal American
Hits- Original flavor combinations, fresh seasonal foods, consistent execution
Misses- If you’re looking to hobknob with the celebrity chef, you’ll be disappointed. Chef Harold Dieterle keeps a pretty low profile.

My first trip to Perilla had a star-struck schoolgirl quality to it.  My friend and fellow foodie, Katie, and I flew down to the West Village as quickly as the Metro North could take us in order to sample the wares of season one Top Chef winner (and super-cutie) Harold Dieterle.  It was a few weeks after the restaurant’s opening, and we tried to contain the excitement from our Harold-sighting when he came outside carrying a bag of trash and left the kitchen a second time to use the restroom (incredibly hot and romantic, I know).  Unlike other well-known chefs (Bobby Flay, for example, who carried on extensive conversations and had a cocktail with us after dinner in the Borgata lounge), Harold wasn’t interested in circulating among the tables.  Despite that fact, we weren’t disappointed; his presence was clearly in the kitchen… and in every dish that came out of it.

Although Katie and I had oohed and aahed over each delectable morsel, I calmed down enough to concentrate more intently on the food by the second trip.  My appetizer was the signature spicy duck meatballs with water spinach and a mild, delicate, raw quail egg in the center of the plate.  The meatballs were texturally perfect with an incredible combination of savory, spicy, and strong, rich meat flavors.

It was Harold’s edamame falafel that taught me what the phrase “flavor progression” actually means.  When it first hit the mouth, the nuttiness of the baby soybeans was evident first.  Then, a lemon flavor emerged, which ultimately gave way to the sesame and, to a lesser extent, smooth olive oil.  These flavors didn’t assault the tongue at once but developed one at a time in a sequential order.  I tested the process again and again with successive forkfuls, trying to substantiate my new understanding of flavor progression.  It was consistent each time, and the epiphany had occurred. Aha! So THAT’S what that means!

My entree, to this day, remains one of my top three favorite dishes ever. I ordered the hanger steak with some trepidation.  This normally tough but incredibly flavorful cut of meat could yield tremendous rewards or disastrous disappointment, but I had faith in Harold.  Sure enough, my faith was not misplaced.  His hanger steak is the paradigmatic hanger steak.  I’ll say that again in case you missed it.  It is the hanger steak to which all other hanger steaks should be compared; it is the Platonic form of -the ultimate, the ideal- hanger steak that all other hanger steaks should try to emulate.  Served with natural jus, creamed Jerusalem sunchoke, and red shallot puree, this was a hanger steak you could cut with a fork.  Tender as a filet mignon, it had clearly been trimmed with astounding precision, patiently marinated, and perfectly cooked.

Side note: The entree of my first visit was an incredible organic chicken that tasted like chicken. In the unfortunate world of modern corporate farming, chicken today tastes like whatever we season it with, and the protein itself has become sadly bland and flavorless.  This chicken had an unexpected and delicious chicken flavor. Bravo, Top Chef!

Side Note #2: On another visit, the seasonal change involved a poussin substitute.  This small, young game hen was not as pleasing as the organic chicken and was, unfortunately, less flavorful.  It was quickly ushered off the menu, so I’m guessing others felt similarly.
For dessert, we shared vanilla-scented doughnuts that were light, fluffy, and completely devoid of grease.  Served in a charming white paper bag, they were a textural miracle.  The highlight of our summer dessert was perilla ice cream.  This namesake confection was a buttery-sweet, fennel-basil-mint success.  Dieterle’s pastry chef clearly shares his vision; the dessert menu has changed most significantly with the seasons, and the many different desserts I’ve sampled all played with flavors and textures in keeping with Harold’s original style.
The food only deepened my crush on Harold Dieterle.  He was shorter than I expected and didn’t grant us the swooning luxury of a greeting… or eye contact, but the dishes in front of me articulated anything and everything that needed to be said.

2 Responses to “Perilla”

  1. […] steak, which is in many ways my litmus test for a chef, it was reasonably tender; first season Top Chef winner Harold Dieterle’s version remains a peerless and insurmountable fork-tender paradigm to which I […]

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