So Harold can cook. Granted, he was doing this before his stint on reality T.V., but at least that prize money went to very good use. Perilla (named after the pungent herb) is a lovely little nook of a restaurant on a somewhat difficult-to-find stretch of Jones Street (NOT Great Jones) between (long and curiously bending) Bleecker and West 4th (that intersects, later, with W. 12th-NOT Little W. 12th- just to add to the confusion). But once inside, everything starts to make sense.
It's a dark, woodsy space with a long bar and the dining room in the back. Nice bar scene, too, with imaginative cocktails featuring seasonal herbs and novel liquors and a handsome crowd.
The menu flaunts the farmer's market's best, so I started off with an interesting salad of roasted brown beech mushrooms and strawberries, greened up with pea tendrils and favas punched with black vinegar and chunks of pecorino. It didn't wholly pull together, but it was a nice experiment with some unusual pairings. It also paled in comparison to a fantastic stewy dish of pork belly and sugar snaps in a wonderfully sassy sauce, salty and rich but brightened with perilla itself. It's a rustic yet playful dish, sort of fresh take on pork and beans, modernized with a lemony foam and the uncommon herb. Asparagus
with a poached egg is classic French, but Dieterle chars and chills the spears, and balances a whole, deep fried, hard-boiled egg atop. When sliced open, it releases a startling bright, thickened yolk over the vegetables, seasoned with lemon and black pepper, and sprinkled with grated parmesan.
Hearty flavors are coaxed out of every ingredient. And spicy duck meatballs would be kicky enough on their own, but a smattering of mild cavatelli pasta, earthy water spinach and mint leaves
balance the dish, again crowned with an egg: this time quail, and soft boiled so that the runny yolk just enriches the spicy gravy. Tending somewhat lighter is the sauteed golden snapper- the golden applying both to the name of the fish and the crisped sear of the filet. It sits upon a bed of nutty, earthy quinoa with shards of slippery wood ear
mushrooms. Tangy roasted grape tomatoes and a sweet and sour eggplant sauce provide a perfect counter to the simply cooked fish and grain.
Desserts keep pace with the savories, and it was tough to choose between such gorgeous options as strawberry pavlova or lemon pudding cake, but the roasted Georgia peach sundae left no room for disappointment. Served in a generous glass coupe, ripe peaches, roasted warm and juicy are just tart enough to benefit from a luxurious butterscotch caramel, and cooled by an ample scoop of brown sugar ice cream. Crunchy pralined pecans (could Georgia peaches be without?) and nutty discs of pecan shortbread propped up by the fruit soften into the ice cream as it melts. Coffee was probably the only really weak point (might I recommend Stumptown, or Intelligentsia?).
If only all reality show winners could reach such heights.