When Pera, the midtown Mediterranean restaurant, opened a Soho branch last year, it didn’t get a lot of critical attention. (A Dining Brief from Julia Moskin of The Times was about it.) Most people probably assumed: same menu, 50 blocks south.
It turns out they’re not quite the same, and I like the Pera Soho menu better. The uptown menu is longer (always a minus in my book), more monotonous, and skewed more expensive. Pera Soho doesn’t have as many redundant meat dishes, and there are ample options for vegetarians.
I liked Pera midtown when we visited in 2009, but I felt that some of the dishes were phoned in. The food at Pera Soho struck me as more varied and better prepared. My endorsement comes with one huge caveat: we dined at the publicist’s invitation and did not pay for our meal. The dishes we tried were the chef’s selection.
Pera styles itself a “Mediterranean Brasserie,” and I had remembered it as mostly Greek. That was a mistake, but one I suspect the owners want people to make. The cuisine is actually Turkish, a genre that doesn’t have much traction in Manhattan. By labeling it generically “Mediterranean,” the restaurant attracts diners who might not want to commit to the unfamiliar cuisine of one nation.
The menu is divided into several categories: small plates and mezes ($6–15), appetizers and salads ($9–16), main courses ($18–30), and side dishes ($7–8). There’s a separate menu category called “Signature ‘Shashlik’ Steaks” ($25–33), comprising meat on skewers with vegetables and rice pilaf. The heading is a stretch, as one of the so-called “steaks” is chicken.
A tasting menu is $48, and this may be the best way to experience Pera Soho. There’s also a $29 prix fixe (with wines half-price) on Sundays, although it doesn’t showcase the best dishes. On Wednesdays, there’s an extra menu with seafood specials (we had several of these), which can be ordered à la carte or as a $39 prix fixe.
After warm bread (above left), we started with rich lobster relish crostini (above right).
A dull ceviche was the centerpiece of a seafood platter (above), but we enjoyed dipping lobster and shrimp in a horseradish and aioli sauce.
Phyllo rolls (above left) were excellent, as was a simple house-made pasta with mushrooms (above right).
Simplicity ruled too in a wonderful poached sea bass (above left) with root vegetables, carrot, and olive oil. On this showing the Wednesday seafood menu ought to be extended to the other six days of the week.
Lamb Shashlik (above right) is one of those “steaks”. The lamb is marinated for two days, then cooked on a skewer and served on a bed of bulgur rice. “I love this dish” was my girlfriend’s summary, and I can’t add more.
Both desserts blew the doors off: Panna Cotta with kiwi and pineapple (above left), and a Turkish classic, the Kunefe (above right), a pastry of phyllo, butter and honey, topped with a clump of kajmak cheese. The Times’ Moskin called it the best rendition of the dish she’d had in New York. It was new to me, but I’d certainly have it again.
The interior is smartly decorated, though perhaps over-done in this casual era. A partially-enclosed outdoor garden seems to be popular: even on a chilly evening, it was decked out in soft lighting, and tables were set, though we saw no one take advantage of them. At 7pm on a Wednesday, the bar was busier than the dining room.
As always, caveats apply when one dines as a guest of the house, but we found quite a bit more to Pera Soho than we expected.
Pera Soho (54 Thompson Street at Broome Street, Soho)