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Tuesday
Jun232009

Pera

I keep a running list of restaurants to try, but some of them stay on the list for a long time. Pera is one of those. Its location, in the shadow of Grand Central Terminal, is one we seldom visit. The opening reviews, respectful but not ecstatic, suggested it could wait until we had an excuse to be in the area. Frank Bruni awarded one star in February 2007.

Pera is better than we expected. It isn’t quite destination cuisine, but the space is comfortable, the service is excellent, and everything we tried was prepared with care. The cooking isn’t especially ambitious, and the menu is static, but what they serve they do well.

We walked in on a Saturday evening on the way back from a Mets game at Citi Field. I chose Pera partly because I was sure we could walk in without a reservation. To my surprise it was nearly full. It turned out that nearly all the patrons were part of the same wedding rehearsal dinner party. Pera strikes us as not a bad place for that type of party.

Captioned a “Mediterranean Brasserie,” the menu straddles the Greek–Turkish axis. It includes Small Plates & Mezes ($6–19; sampler $22), snack plates called pidettes ($4 ea.), salads ($11–15), grilled meat & fish ($19–36), and side dishes ($6–11). A tasting menu of sorts, labeled the “Pera Tradition,” is $45 pp.

These prices are a tad on the high side, especially if you order at the upper end. However, there are also some bargains, and portions are large. The wine list somewhat compensates for the food prices, with plenty of bottles at $45 or less.

The meal began with soft house-made bread (above left), served with crumbly feta cheese.

An order of Chicken Livers ($8; above left) came from the Small Plates section of the menu, so I didn’t expect much. It actually came with four nicely-seasoned grilled livers and a small side salad. In the photo, the food is obscured by a leaf of pita dough, which you can use to build your own sandwich. Pita dough seems to be a theme at Pera, but I just ate the livers with my knife and fork.

A salad of Grilled Vegetables & Halloumi Cheese ($15; above right) was also pretty good, although the cheese seemed a bit over-crisped. 

Two of our entrées showed a distinct lack of ambition: Lamb “Adana” ($26; above left) and Filet Mignon Medallions ($33; above right), both sent out with leaves of pita and garnishes (not shown). Both were uncomplicated but well prepared, and there is something to be said for that.

The quotes in Pasta “Moussaka” ($23; above right) signalled that we would not be getting the traditional Greek version of the dish. It was more like a deconstructed version of a classic moussaka, with pappardelle pasta, lamb and eggplant ragu, and shaved parmigiano. For all that, it was probably the best item we tried, and it was certainly the most creative.

Pera isn’t a “drop everything, you must go” kind of restaurant, but I would certainly visit again next time I’m in the vicinity.

Pera Mediterranean Brasserie (303 Madison Avenue between 41st–42nd Streets, East Midtown)

Food: *½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½

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