Entries in Perbacco (2)



Perbacco was a routine East Village trattoria until last year, when Simone Bonelli took over as chef, and immediately started turning out creative riffs on Italian specialties. Frank Bruni awarded two stars, as he so often does. We wound up there on Friday evening after another reservation fell through. Business was brisk, but you no longer need to book a week in advance. Our 7:15 p.m. table was available on OpenTable the same afternoon.

I was seated promptly before my girlfriend arrived, but couldn’t flag down a server to order a cocktail. I couldn’t figure out why they assigned us to a tall bar table with backless stools, when many seats in the more comfortable dining room were still empty. I didn’t say anything, but after we’d ordered, they decided it was a mistake and moved us to a better table.

The menu goes on for several pages and is heavy on the antipasti and salads ($9–15). There are about half-a-dozen pastas ($13–18) and an equal number of secondi ($21–25). These prices are reasonable for the quality of the food.

After pondering our choices for a while, we decided to start with the deep-fried olives stuffed with minced meats ($9). Oops! The menu is in transition, and a couple of dishes, including that one, aren’t available yet. In lieu of that, we had the mixed antipasti ($15; below left), all excellent, of which the best was a quartet of onion gelatin ravioli served in a jar of balsamic vinegar. These delicate, quivering globules are swallowed whole, exploding in the mouth with an astonishing burst of flavor. I’d pay $15 again just for those.

The Rosette alla Speck e Bufala ($18; above right) was another remarkable creation—an orb of pasta noodles that collapses to the touch, revealing a cheesy stew of speck and bufala mozzarella.

The aged porterhouse for two ($60; above) won’t put Peter Luger out of business, but it was excellent for a non-steakhouse. Perbacco charges considerably less for it than a steakhouse would, and throws in the sides for nothing.

The service, especially early on, wasn’t quite up to the quality of Chef Bonelli’s kitchen, but it improved as the evening went on. The faux rustic space is easy on the eyes, and the food is surprisingly good.

Perbacco (234 E. 4th Street between Avenues A & B, East Village)

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


The Month in Bruni

Our weekly BruniBetting contest with Eater has been on hiatus for the past couple of months. That included a couple of weeks when we were on vacation, and another few when Eater posted its predictions too late in the day for us to respond. (Is that a conscious strategy on Eater’s part?)

Five weeks ago, Bruni awarded one star to Persimmon. We were a touch more impressed here, awarding two, but we probably would have agreed with the Eater assessment that one star was more likely.

Four weeks ago, Bruni awarded three stars to Matsugen. We were quite a bit less impressed, awarding two for the food, but deducting a half-star for ambiance. Eater made its most reckless bet ever, putting its dollar on four stars at 9–1 odds, while conceding that three stars was the more likely outcome. We would certainly not have taken the four-star bet. Knowing that Bruni actually awards bonus stars to restaurants without tablecloths, we probably would have taken the three-star bet.

Three weeks ago, Bruni awarded two stars to Perbacco. Eater, overriding his own odds for the second straight week, bet on two stars at 4–1 odds, while admitting that one star was the more likely outcome. We’re not sure how we would have bet, but Eater’s logic was compelling: “The Bruni loves Italian food and loves putting a legitimate sleeper on the map,” and “The other thing that’s in play this week is the Little Owl Theorem, which gets very small restaurants with moderate price, earnest service and overachieving food two stars.” We have no personal experience here, but our sense is that Bruni, as is his wont, rated, the unassuming neighborhood one star too high.

Two weeks ago, for the second time this year, Bruni took the week off.

Last week, Bruni couldn’t find a real restaurant to review, so he awarded one star to the NoLIta train wreck, Elizabeth. We awarded one star too, but that was probably generous, and it was before they fired the chef. Bruni doesn’t normally pull marginal candidates out of the woodwork only to destroy them, so we would have agreed with Eater that one star was the only possible bet.

Finally, we come to this week’s review, arguably another wasted slot: no stars for Michael’s. No one that pays the slightest attention to the food scene has paid attention to Michael’s since the Clinton administration, but it actually had two stars at one time. We’ll allow Bruni one diversion per year to slay a celebrity icon past its prime. Eater took the one-star bet, but I suspect we would have put our buck on zero.