On every episode of Top Chef, host Padma Lakshmi announces that the last surviving chef will win $100,000 (upgraded to $125k in Season 6), “to help turn their culinary dreams into reality.”
Frank Bruni, who awarded one star in the Times, noted the odd trajectory of Dieterle’s success: “Fame on the small screen wasn’t a result of a packed restaurant; his packed restaurant is a result of his fame on the small screen. That’s reality television for you — it scrambles cause and effect, defying the laws of celebrity physics.”
Despite Bruni’s faint praise (he found the menu “cautious” and “straightforward”), Perilla has thrived. We found it packed on a Saturday evening. Meanwhile, the menu has broadened a bit. In serving entrées like Sautéed Triggerfish and Tasting of Local Rabbit, no one can accuse Dieterle of copying everybody else.
The menu is American seasonal cuisine, somewhat reminiscent of the Red Cat, though Perilla is a nicer restaurant. Prices are moderate for food of this quality, with appetizers $11–15, entrées $21–28, and side dishes $8–10.
Crispy Wild Boar Belly ($12; above left) is a clever play on the pork belly that every other chef is serving. The pairing with stewed huckleberries is inspired. We also appreciated that the kitchen divided the dish without prompting, after we told our server that we intended to share it.
We also shared the Spicy Duck Meatballs ($13; above right). It’s a good dish, abetted by a runny quail egg, but the heat stayed behind in the kitchen: we didn’t find it all that spicy at all.
I’m always hesitant about ordering steak in a non-steakhouse, but we took the plunge here and weren’t disappointed. Ribeye for two ($70) was nearly as good as the better steakhouses serve. These days, most restaurants source their aged beef from the major big-name purveyors, like Debragga or LaFreida, so all the kitchen needs to do is have a broiler that can apply a crusty char. Perilla has that, which ensured that this ribeye would make it into the pantheon.
That ribeye was a bargain, given that it came with two sides: potato croquettes and roasted beets with chestnuts. (Most steakhouses would charge at least as much for that ribeye alone.) We adored the beet–chestnut dish, the first time we recall seeing that anywhere. The croquettes, although we could not finish them, were also brilliant, with a crisp crust giving way to silky creamed potatoes.
We never visited Perilla when it was new, but we got the sense that extra tables had been squeezed in to cope with peak demand. There isn’t much room to maneuver here, although the room isn’t as noisy as such places can sometimes be. Despite the crowds, service was warm and efficient.
We came to Perilla mostly out of curiosity—wondering if the former Top Chef winner was really a great discovery, or if he was just coasting on his reputation. We went home remarkably impressed. Harold Dieterle is an excellent chef, and Perilla is a terrific restaurant.
Perilla (9 Jones Street between West 4th & Bleecker Streets, West Village)