9 Jones Street between West 4th and Bleecker Streets
$147 for three, with a bottle of wine, without tip
♥ ♥

I’ve watched Top Chef enough to know that the judges sometimes can’t make up their minds between “cooking outside the box” and “sticking with what you know”. You had Carla who finally stuck with the food most familiar to her and she made it to the final round. You had Marcel the twat who does everything Wylie Dufresne style and the judges sometimes thought it–he–was too much. But then there were episodes when the contestants were not trying hard enough or were trying too much–you just couldn’t predict what the judges were going to say next.

When Frank Bruni gave a less than stellar review to Perilla, Harold Dieterle’s first restaurant, my heart went out to the first-season Top Chef winner. I can’t even imagine the anxiousness chefs feel when their new restaurant opens in New York City because one review can either make or break them. Three years later, Perilla is still in business and thankfully so because I had a very good dinner there a couple of months ago with some friends. We were looking for a low-key spot to get together and catch up with our holiday stories, particularly a small place where we didn’t have to scream at each other to have a conversation. In fact, Perilla doesn’t even look like it came from a TV winner. I gather that if people who have never seen the show walked in the restaurant, they would think the same way I did: Oh, this is nice and cozy and that’s about it.

I walked in and joined the standing queue at the bar one prime Saturday night. My friends joined me a few minutes after the bartender made my martini and we were soon seated right next to the kitchen entrance. I went for the sure-fire lamb while my friend ordered the fish; her fiancé, beef. A hamachi crudo was refreshing with yuzu and the notorious duck meatballs didn’t disappoint. Brussels sprouts and sunchokes are usual fare in seasonal menus and they both served their purposes well at Perilla.

The portions were larger than what I usually see in the city for the same prices, and considering I was unemployed at the time, I couldn’t complain. The food and the service matched the ambiance: nothing was overdone because everything was modest. Maybe now that chef Dieterle has made it past Bruni’s claws, he’d be willing to cook outside of his comfort zone. But you know what? Maybe I’d like for him to cook just the way he’s been cooking.

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