Jay-Z’s “Ghetto Anthem” pumped through the sound system at Perla, with the rapper suggesting that we all go souse ourselves by sipping “The Cris.”
That’s Cristal Champagne, for us old-timers who wrongly thought this was going to be just another Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village.
No reservations unless you’re four or more. That explains why well-dressed couples fill up the bar, sniffing their bourbon for pepperoni bitters and listening to Nate Dogg croon about making “bodies turn cold.”
We slip into a comfortable booth opposite a portrait of Mos Def, fingers pressed to temple like a gun, face covered like an urban mujahideen.
I bite into a tiny PB&J and smile. It’s crustless and, more important, slicked with foie gras.
This was the scene around 11 p.m. on a Friday at Perla, whose Italian fare is laden with as much fatty foie as a French restaurant.
Perla is no less edgy, musically or gastronomically, than Mario Batali’s Babbo, where we’ve all feasted on goose liver ravioli while listening to Eminem.
Lovely. I ask a waiter what kind of cheese he’s shaving over my cavatelli. “Foie gras,” he deadpans. The pink petals add a gentle musk to an already hearty duck ragu ($16).
Too much? Perhaps you’d rather luxuriate in the softness of fried pig’s head against the gelatinous feel of seared foie gras ($22).
Perla isn’t for everyone, and this 65-seat spot is no Babbo-killer. Still, with a packed house and first rate macaroni, Perla is the city’s best new Italian restaurant in over a year.
Gabe Stulman is the ringmaster. He’s the guy behind the “Little Wisco,” empire of West village restaurants: Fedora, Jeffrey’s Grocery and Joseph Leonard.
Dude looks like a lumberjack: Thick black beard, tanned leather skin, hefty plaid shirts. At the bar, he asks a couple how they like the gnocchi ($12). He already knows the answer. It’s a classic red sauce dish that’s disappointed you at Frankies 457 and elsewhere. Here it’s fantastic: soft potato dumplings in marinara with a hint of chili and a dab of ricotta.
Spaghetti with rock shrimp ($17) takes tomatoes to the opposite extreme. Even with basil, the summery sauce is almost neon pink. Your lips pucker.
Those desiring more restraint will take refuge in the garganelli ($14). Chef Michael Toscano coaxes the acid and anger out of the tomatoes with a nice little tripe ragu. The flavor of the stomach is subdued: tripe for the offal-averse.
Salad? Perla tosses orecchiette with ramp pesto and sausage ($15), imparting the clean perfume of garlic, onions and fennel. And then there’s the short-rib agnolotti ($15), glazed in short rib drippings so concentrated you’ll be hard-pressed to finish all 10 or so little pillows.
Good thing the homemade pastas are judiciously portioned as mid-courses. Just the same, Perla permits half-pours of wine to keep your finances and sobriety in check.
Three-ounces of vouvray brut ($8) pack enough effervescence to counter the heat of soft shell crab with pickled chilis ($19). Though a bottle of Paul Blanck at $70 isn’t a bad investment either; the Alsatian riesling slices through an oily, crispy red snapper ($32) with aplomb.
Guinea hen comes with foie gras sugo. Order a half-pour of lean, light primitivo ($8) to respect the bird’s delicate flavors. That $28 fowl is way better than $65 chicken cacciatore for two; the latter boasts bland breast meat and a sugar-sweet sauce.
Things can get a bit stuffy near the wood-burning oven in back. Smarter diners eat at the bar. Or better yet phone your extended family to reserve the table for eight up front. The open windows provide a breeze for enjoying the $95 ribeye for two.
Don’t let the 56-day-aging scare you. The beef boasts entry-level minerality, without any liver or game aftertaste. Fire-roasting creates a chewy, salty crust and a crimson rare interior. The meat sports enough marbling to render your tannic Gigondas ($18.50) all soft and gushy.
Finish with date cheesecake ($10) or sugar cookies, and relax as The Fugees, who broke up long ago, sing via streaming audio at this instant West Village classic.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Most dishes below $30.
Sound Level: Around 80 decibels, quieter before 6pm.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: Skip the flavorless $35 strip steak.
Special Feature: That wood oven makes pizzas after 11 p.m.
Back on My Own Dime: Often for the pastas.
Perla is at 24 Minetta Lane, near Sixth Avenue. Information: +1-212-933-1824 or http://perlanyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Craig Seligman on movies and Warwick Thompson on London theater.
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