Entries in Pera (3)

Sunday
Dec092012

Pera Soho

 

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)

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

Wednesday
Feb142007

Critiquing the Critic: Pera and Dennis Foy

Today, New York Journal adds a new weekly feature. In “Critiquing the Critic,” we’ll deconstruct Frank Bruni’s latest performance in the Times dining section.

Sadly, Jules Langbein’s hilarious Bruni Digest has gone dark— she has posted only one of her patented Bruni-skewerings in the last three months. I can’t possibly replicate what Jules did, and I won’t even try. I’m afraid I’m going to sound much more sanctimoniously serious than the situation calls for.

To business: This week, Frank Bruni files a double-review of Pera and Dennis Foy, granting one star to both.

The frequency of double-reviews has gone up, and that’s a good thing. There are far too many restaurants that never get a Times review, and far too many others that go years before a re-review. If Bruni is right about Pera and Dennis Foy—and I’m not saying he is—neither one is important enough to deserve a column to itself.

Bruni reminds us, “Dennis Foy occupies the elegant, creamy space that belonged to the excessively self-conscious restaurant Lo Scalco.” That restaurant, I might add, won a Michelin star, but Bruni never got around to reviewing it. Whatever you thought of Lo Scalco, restaurants at that level shouldn’t go un-reviewed.

Today’s headline, “Knowing Their Place and Aiming to Fill It,” has an “Aw, shucks!” attitude. It is never a compliment to tell someone they “know their place.” It’s a bit like the massa telling the slave to be happy about picking the cotton. I don’t know about Pera, but I’m sure Dennis Foy thought he was opening a two-star restaurant. I’m not saying it is two stars, but it’s patronizing to give him one, and then congratulate him for “knowing his place.”

Bruni says that Foy is “an ‘if you happen to be’ as opposed to a ‘you have to try’ restaurant.” The trouble is that almost no one “happens to be” on Church Street between Walker and Lispenard Streets. It’s not a “happen to be” block.

I suspect Pera will be just fine with Bruni’s one-star review. As he notes, “Its jazzy look and feel are unmitigated delights, and jazzy isn’t so easy to come by on its patch of Manhattan, in the shadow of Grand Central Terminal.”

Overall, we are left with a sense that Frank was slumming it this week. Both restaurants slightly bored him.