Top Chef Harold Dieterle earns the title at his new West Village eatery.
Thu Jul 5 2007
Photo: Talia Simhi
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
The two women dining to my left weren’t content with having scored a hard-to-get table at Perilla. They wanted—nay, demanded—a kitchen tour. When informed by the server, then the manager, that the chef was swamped, the persistent pair later stood and waved like starstruck teenagers when their quarry, Harold Dieterle, strode by. Dieterle might be a first in the annals of celebrity chefdom: Rather than parlaying a hot restaurant into fame, his star turn winning the first season of television’s Top Chef (and the 100 grand that came with it) resulted in his very own place, Perilla.
But this isn’t another made-for-TV eatery à la Rocco’s, Rocco DiSpirito’s insipid mom-and-meatballs effort for the reality series, The Restaurant. Even if half the crowd hails from out of town, Perilla, tucked into a sweet West Village side street, feels like a local spot.
Before Top Chef, Dieterle worked at the Harrison, as did his partner, manager Alicia Nosenzo, and several other Perilla staffers. The Jimmy Bradley–Danny Abrams school of effortless elegance clearly influences the narrow room, classically appointed with handsome wooden tables and fans lazily spinning on a pressed-tin ceiling. Servers are knowledgeable and friendly, copiously refilling bread plates and water glasses.
The short menu (eight appetizers, eight entrées) is similarly comfortable, filled with lots of upscale American standards (duck meatballs, sautéed skate wing, grilled hanger steaks), which Dieterle often dudes up with small Asian touches to winning effect. A raw yellowtail appetizer is less interesting for the appropriately fresh fish than for the white gazpacho broth it came with—tomato water chunky with cucumber and cilantro, carrying a tart yuzu pucker. A crispy cube of Berkshire pork-belly starter, the skin, meat and fat layered like an archaeological dig, would have been dull without its ethereal bed of oyster mushrooms (with few exceptions, the produce was exemplary).
Though Dieterle didn’t floor me with any of his main courses, everything I tried had some kind of thoughtful twist. His langoustines were visually stunning, the shelled tails providing contrasting swaths of white on a bed of red rice and eggplant. The meat was overly soft, but I was still captivated by the dish’s seductive hint of coconut.
Portions run small, necessitating sides. I found the Chinese broccoli and baby bok choy too rich and sweet, victims of the excessive addition of pork-belly cubes and oyster sauce, respectively—a rare flub, as Dieterle otherwise proved a deft saucer. Also sweet, but better for it, was Dieterle’s chewy farro risotto, tossed with artichoke confit, fragrant Parmesan and sliced red grapes. Like the mains, the desserts were also small. Square doughnuts with lemon fennel curd tasted like Chinese egg cakes, and a sticky coconut cake pyramid—a dead ringer for a macaroon—was balanced by a minty frozen yogurt infused with the restaurant’s namesake herb.
Perilla’s wine list has a bit of a Noah’s Ark quality, borrowing a wine or two from each global region. On my first visit, I ordered an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, which came out at room temperature, a faux pas the staff tried to rectify by quick-cooling it—and also removing it from my check. A polished move for a polished debut—this place was more professional one month into its run than Rocco’s managed to be after a year. I’ve never seen Top Chef, but after eating at Perilla, I have reason to take the show’s name at face value.