May 2008


Oh Perilla, why did you fail me so? You held such potential after an encounter with your solid but brief lunch menu, and I swore to return for dinner. Even as I stepped into your doors with my cousins on Friday night did I retain my high hopes, with your congenial hosts, a comfortable buzz around the bar and the satisfied faces of other patrons polishing off their plates promising me a good experience. Our server was not the friendliest but prompt enough and the busboys worked hard at keeping glasses and bread plates filled. So what is there to complain about? Well, there’s just a little thing called chronic over-salting.

perilla\'s pork belly

First up were the two appetizers, of which the platter of plump and crispy edamame falafels with lemon tahini sauce were marred by excessive salting that overshadowed the mild, sweet flavor of the japanese soybeans. A square chunk of crispy roasted pork belly had a good amount of fat that were not the “melt-in-your-mouth” variant and very pungent. I know pork smells and am usually not bothered by it, but not this time.

ravioli

Entrees were slightly better but the heavy-handedness in season spilled over to some extent here too. We proclaimed my ravioli the best dish of the night, and it did harken spring with sweet peas, mild asparagus, gluey and slightly bitter fiddlehead ferns dressing up a white canvas of lemony ricotta ravioli. The brown butter sauce was a tad salty too but acceptable.

pork tenderloin

Chloe’s pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta is understandly salty given the presence of bacon, but the presentation looked sloppy with juices sliding all over and the rhubarb sauce not adding much in terms of contrast to the dish. Perhaps something even sweeter might have worked better. Chichory imparted an anise-like flavor that Chloe did not enjoy as well. Dawn’s duckling was a hefty portion and the meat was very well-cooked and mercifully not too salty, but not too memorable, even thought I enjoyed the side of barley, pistachio and mulberries, particularly when heated up the day after.

donuts

We attempted to save the night with dessert and thankfully the donuts did not disappoint. They came 4 to an order, a touch smaller than regular ones but much bigger than a donut hole. The freshly fried golden puffs of dough were dusted with sugar and came with two big dollops of dark chocolate ganache and lemon curd for dippers. The ganache is especially rich and unadulterated and perfect with the donuts. But dinner isn’t all about the dessert, and it is a pity, for it could have been a great meal had the kitchen executed properly.

Perilla Restaurant

www.perillanyc.com

9 Jones St (Between Bleecker and W4th)

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May is the rainiest month, and on Friday, I caught myself without an umbrella, not by design but because someone had stolen it while I was having dinner at the newly opened Hallo Berlin Express. But the proprietor showed me a little act of kindness and lent me his own, and I went back the next day with the umbrella and a hankering for more German sausages.

weisswurst

Hallo Berlin Express is an offshoot of a beer garden on 10th Ave and a very successful food cart up along 5th Ave. Besides 14 types of sausages served in buns, platters, all types of permutations, according to the menu, it also sells schinitzel and other German items. And beer of course. Sausages and a stein of beer seems like a good way to spend an evening. I honestly cannot remember my meal on Friday, but the weisswurst on a roll the next day was very good. The fat sausage was meaty, juicy and pretty mild tasting, with enough snap and a good sear as the boiled sausage is treated to a round of panfrying before hitting the better than average roll. Not too sour saurkraut, sweet grilled onions and tangy mustard completed the sandwich. And at $5.50 cheaper and tastier than my typical weekday lunches. Eaten outside on a good day, with lots of napkins to clean up the juicy mess afterwards, it was definitely a relaxed and satisfying meal.  

 Hallo Berlin Express

744 9th Ave (Bet 50th & 51st St)

 

Like most good things, Starwich came by the way of a recommendation. And once I shared my second-hand “discovery” of this gourmet sandwich shop to my chow-minded colleagues, they too have been ordering from Starwich with almost clockwork regularity. And why not, when the sandwiches made of superior bread are filling, inventive, stuffed with gourmet ingredients, and at an affordable price similar to, if not cheaper than other seamless alternatives?

On any given week, my colleagues and I would make at least one meal out of Starwich sandwiches and salads. Our office favorites include a deep fried soft-shell crab sandwich so greasy but tasty that Lily is willing to risk her allergies and a braised short rib sandwich packed with tender meat and sweet, slow cooked red onions. The thick tomato soup goes hand in hand with the grilled ham and cheese sandwich sweetened by slices of golden delicious and lightly bitter endive, and at $1.95 a cup is by far one of the best soup deals in midtown. There are however some missteps, and not all sandwiches are winners. The pomegranate-juniper glazed chicken sandwich sounded intriguing in theory but yielded a bland piece of chicken breast served in a too-sweet raisin bread and with a green, unappetizing and far too bitter mix of chopped greens. Make-your-own sandwiches can be tricky too and results could disappoint based on the pick of ingredients.

In the mood for a salad? Starwich does those admirably well too. The steak salad is packed with spinach, tomatoes, cranberries and strips of grilled spicy skirt steak that may at times be juicy but during other times dried out in the process of delivery. The apples, mangos, figs and more salad is even more satisfying, and does double-duty as dessert. A true dessert however is the chocolate brownie, rich, moist and unctuous, amongst the better ones found on seamless web these days. So there are times I have to work late, but Starwich and its brownie makes me return to my cubicle post-dinner feeling much better.

Starwich

Multiple locations

www.starwich.com