Not your playbook Italian – Review of Perla

BY CRAIG CAVALLO

Perla
24 Minetta Lane
Greenwich Village
212-933-1824 / perlanyc.com/

 

You know the restaurant is Italian, but that’s only because this town can gossip.  Inside, exposed brick and wooden rafters are the only hints at rustic Italian.  There is not a stitch of red, white, or green in the dining room at Perla and it leaves chef Michael Toscano’s food to do the significant talking.

Perla is restaurateur Gabe Stulman’s fourth installment in what has become known as his Little Wisco Empire.  If you happen to get a seat at the bar here you can enjoy some of the city’s better Italian preparations at what proves to be another stage for the production of Brian Bartels’ cocktails.  One of these has been dubbed Tombstone Sunday Night’s, a bourbon based drink with Amaro Montenegro and a homemade pepperoni bitters.  It is a stirred version of that Sunday night when the only friends you could get to come over are a pepperoni pizza and a six pack.

The drink suggests Perla may not take itself too seriously, but on a separate visit, scrawled in chalk on the wall behind the chef’s counter, which seats ten and allows a view into the mouth of Perla’s wood burning oven, was the addition of a whole roasted lamb head ($38). It stands as the piece de resistance, and should you inquire as to its preparation, the knowledgeable staff will enthusiastically oblige. It is served with caramelized fennel, lemon yogurt, and salsa verde, but not before it’s poached and eventually finished in the wood oven.  If you’re wondering what happens to the brain, it’s mixed with a fresh, full fat cow’s milk cheese from Northern Italy called Robiolina.

Should you decide on the lamb head, it will come after antipasti and primi.  The antipasti are where this Robiolina makes its first appearance, accompanying lobster and caviar ($19).   The dish sounds good on paper but when it is all dressed with a tart, leek vinaigrette it has a hard time coming together.  The cheese is simply too rich, it muted the sweet, delicate flavor that lobster loves to show off, and the caviar was applied with too tight a hand.

Getting Blue Prawns ($15) flown in from Hawaii is a crazy idea, but it makes complete sense when you taste them with browned butter over a smear of yogurt after they have been finished in a wood oven. When they arrive at the table you are encouraged to suck the head and the ensuing action looks and sounds like a cut from a Dario Argento film.If crustaceans were ever a campfire food, this is exactly what they would taste like.

Chef Toscano uses the menu’s primi section to show he is no stranger to fresh pastas.  He was the Executive Chef at Manzo, Eataly’s flagship restaurant, when it opened in August of 2010.  Before his stint at Manzo, he earned his stripes at Babbo, working alongside longtime Executive Chef Frank Langello.  Orecchiette with prosciutto and ramp pesto ($15) is a seasonal take on the classic “little ears” pasta traditionally served with sausage and broccoli rabe.  Spaghetti carbonara is on offer in the form of cavatelli incatenati ($12).  Incatenati means “imprisoned” and explains the tight sauce, made from guanciale, pecorino, and egg, that bear hugs the ribbed cavatelli.  It’s a truly harmonious dish, rich and hearty, but once the chunks of guanciale render their fat they become tough nuggets of pork that could be avoided if they were first sliced instead of cubed.

The use of an entire lamb’s head is an homage to Italian peasantry and this head-to-tail philosophy continues to run through the secondi portion of the menu.  Should you decide on the pork loin ($29), it will include shoulder and belly from the same animal.  Your lamb entree ($30) will feature both saddle and breast.  There is a classic NY Strip ($35) to appease parents visiting from out of town, and a charred beef tongue ($24) is available for their hip, city dwelling offspring.

The food is flirting with perfection in the fourth act of Gabe Stulman’s Little Wisco Play.  His dining room is another slick setting for the execution of his vision.  Framed Bugatti and Leonetto Cappiello posters have been replaced with close-up portraits of rappers, and should you happen to use the bathroom, you will be watched over by a photo of Atlanta’s Dungeon Family. The food, the service, and the beverage program are all in cahoots with the photos and the playlist that sounds like a mixtape blasting from a Honda Civic in Bed-Stuy in the ’90′s.They remind us that Perla is very far from being just another link in a chain of Italian restaurants here in the city.

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Farm-to-Table, Inspired and Whimsical Chinese Cuisine – A Review of RedFarm

BY BECKA WOOLF

RedFarm
529 Hudson St
(between 10th St & Charles St)
Manhattan, NY 10014
Neighborhood: West Village

Do you like faces on your food? Perhaps some googly eyes on your shrimp dumplings? RedFarm does.

Opened by former Chinatown Brasserie chef and dim sum extraordinaire Joe Ng and Chinese restaurant expert Ed Schoenfeld, RedFarm has been the chatter of the West Village since its opening at the beginning of September, and rightfully so. Featuring communal tables and Ina Garten-esque décor, the menu features Greenmarket-inspired, innovative Chinese dim sum. The atmosphere is loud, the food imaginative and inspired. Think Joe’s Shanghai and Blue Hill’s restaurant love child.

RedFarm, NYC

RedFarm puts forth many winning dishes. The crispy spicy beef is the standout. Sweet and spicy at its best, the beef is served alongside roasted hot chiles and crunchy lotus root chips. The Kumamoto oysters with Meyer lemonyuzu ice are incredibly fresh and satisfying, an oyster slushie of sorts. The Pac Man shrimp dumplings are as whimsical as they are delicious. As the waitress put the plate down in front of us, she laid out the scene: a piece of crispy fried, Pac Man-shaped sweet potato, resting on a bed of non-traditional but delicious guacamole, is chasing the four “surprised” shrimp dumplings  (there is something different in every dumpling to accompany the shrimp, hence the “surprise”). The crispy duck and crab dumplings also have a unique presentation – the dumplings are modeled to look like sting rays, complete with eyes, and they sit on the edge of a bowl of sweet, rich curry sauce for dipping. Also delicious and worth ordering are the Kowloon filet mignon tarts, a one-bite tart topped with a mouthwatering, perfectly cooked piece of beef.

Pac Man shrimp dumplings at RedFarm

I also want to speak briefly to the wonder and pure genius of the Katz’s pastrami egg rolls. Yes, you read this right, the pastrami is straight from the one and only Manhattan pastrami institution Katz’s Deli. As a Jewish girl from the east coast, you better believe I have an appreciation for good pastrami, and these just blew me away. They are served with a tangy, creamy mustard dipping sauce. Naturally!

Not everything at RedFarm is a home run, however. The first time I dined there, I had the spicy Korean rice cake with Chinese sausage and shrimp, and adored the dish. My second time there, I noticed it was no longer on the menu and asked the waiter why. He said he “ate it all” (with no real answer), and suggested the wide rice noodles with shredded roast duck instead. They were disappointing –bland, oily and one-dimensional. They can do better. I just know it.

Kowloon filet mignon tart at Red Farm

RedFarm is certainly not cheap, most dishes in the 8-15 dollar range, which adds up quickly given the majority of the dishes are only a few bites. They don’t take reservations so expect to wait, the best option being getting a drink at Bayard’s Ale House next door. And never fear, you will get a text when your table is ready. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?”

Now, if only those spicy Korean rice cakes would make their way back onto the menu. Pretty please, Chef Ng?

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Where the only way to say goodbye is arrivederci: Review of Pizza Roma

ELENA MANCINI

259 Bleecker Street (btwn. Cornelia St. & Morton St.)
West Village
212-924-1970 / pizza-roma.it

Pizza Roma - paying homage to its previous occupant, historic Zito's Bakery

New York City has been riding a gourmet pizza wave for a while now.  The popularity stock on artisinal pizza peaked  just as the housing bubble popped and while the housing market continues to straddle signs of hopefulness and teetering on the edge of kaboom, the pizza moment is perpetuated with vigor and in colorful and creative new guises.

Until recently, the main purveyors of artisinal pizza in New York have been pizzaioli, certified by Neapolitan pizza guilds. Keste‘, Motorino, Pizza Totale an pizza fresca are but a handful of places that boast this honorable gastronomic distinction and a slamming Pizza Margherita D.O.C. to boot. Until now, the only competition vying for the spotlight along with the Neapolitans had been coming from a new crop of plucky New York pizzaioli, showcasing New York style pizza as evidenced by popular spots like Paulie Gees and Torrisi’s. It’s a case of apples and pomegranates, but the latter are worthy contenders, just this same.

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Roma’s authentic Roman-style “pizza al taglio” (pizza that is cut on request) brings an exciting alternative to the pizzascape. By the look of things alone, pizza al taglio resembles a home-style grandma square. Standard individual-sized squares are cut upon request with a sure-handed sliding motion of a pair of shears. At Pizza Roma, pizza is served at the counter, for those on the go, or in its charming and rustic dining room  tastefully adorned with paintings of brightly-hued Fiats by Pop artist, Monica Casali. When weather permits, their newly opened outdoor garden will also provide a pleasing setting for a relaxing meal. While this place offers a hip, laid-back, authentically Roman experience, replete with young, hip, fresh-off-the-boat sounding servers and a stand-up wine list. These pleasant perks aside accentuate the real attraction here which is  a savory, pizza made from high-quality ingredients at moderate-for-Manhattan-pricing  (starting at $13 for a medium-size). Individual dinner pizzas come in two sizes, medium or large-sized rectangles, served on wooden cutting boards. But it isn’t the shape or the look of the pizza, that makes it  unlike anything else that can be currently had in New York. It’s how it’s the science of how it’s made that makes the difference. Pizza Roma’s dough has a 96 hour fermentation period, that’s right: 4 day-aged dough. The result is that it makes for a much lighter, less yeastier-tasting dough and a strikingly more digestible slice of pizza. I can testify to this when during a recent weekend evening, after waiting 30 minutes for a table, I had a 10pm pizza Margherita followed by a walk and no trouble getting to sleep, which is typically an issue for me after dining late, especially if it’s pizza. The Margherita had the perfect texture and a good tomato to mozzarella ratio. The sauce was sweet, tasted natural and had a pleasing, mild tang. The mozzarella was tasty, mildly fragrant and properly melted without being overly runny. The crust was light and crisp, with moderate chewiness and was subtle blisters and chars which gave it an enjoyable smoky flavor.

 

Pizza Tartufina - Pizza with truffles and cheese

Pizza Tartufina - Pizza with truffles and cheese

My dining companion ordered the Pizza Tartufina. This was topped with large slices of glistening truffles and meaty oyster mushrooms. A feast of flavors on a well-executed crust!

Crostata alle Fragole - Strawberry Tart

Crostata di Fragole - Strawberry Tart

If the stomach can withstand it, order a slice of the crostata ($5) for dessert.  This light and crusty, fruit-preserve-topped tart  will further boost the experience of Italian home-style pleasures.

For appetizer, go for the charcuterie or a caprese. Many of the salads are made with iceberg lettuce. For smaller appetites, skip the foccaccia crisps and go straight for a rectangle of stuffed pizza. The crimes of double-carbing aside, the potato stuffed pizza is a delectable expenditure of calories.


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Tex-Mex to tip your hat to: Review of Cowgirl Hall of Fame

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Cowgirl Hall of Fame
519 Hudson Street
West Village
212-633-1133/
cowgirlnyc.com

It had been a while since I’d been to Cowgirl, the first time being in 2005 when I first moved to the city. Walking in, it was just as I remembered. The bar to the left, always playing a great selection of classic rock hits, and a pint-sized General Store filled with candies, Native American themed accessories and Cowgirl apparel to the right along with the dining room, filled with all the Mid-Western, Tex-Mex kitsch you could ever want to the right.

Black Bean Burrito at Cowgirl

Black Bean Burrito at Cowgirl

Sitting down with a group of my coworkers, we were greeted by our friendly waitress who was so personable, I could have sworn I had known her my entire life. We started off with a round of Cowgirl’s scrumptious margaritas ($8-$9 each), all engineered to our own specifications, salt and no salt, frozen and on the rocks, along with any one of the flavors they offered including blood orange, mango, and melon. [Read more...]

Return-worthy despite the misses: A Review of Karahi

“Return-worthy despite the misses – A Review of Karahi”

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Karahi
118 Christopher St., between Bedford St. and Bleecker St.
West Village
(212) 965-1515 /
karahi.com/

Up until last night, I hadn’t been out in the West Village since the summer, when the sun and humidity dehydrated me and made me sweat.

Last night, the food at Karahi provided a nice amount of heat for an evening out.

Karahi, NYC

Karahi, NYC

I’ve been lucky; I often had delicious Indian food made by my Indian friends for three years in college. (So good that my roommates and I would eat it even if we had just finished our own dinner.) Thus, I always predict to be slightly disappointed by any Indian restaurant I try. But this one offered a nice intimate atmosphere and a good variety of dishes to choose from. The restaurant’s cuisine is “one of “Purifying,” bringing together simplicity and lightness,” according to Karahi’s web site. I agree with that statement; the flavors in the dishes weren’t too complex and were almost refreshing in a way. I love Indian food because it exhilarates the palate. [Read more...]

Gottino

A secret garden within a secret garden –  A Review of  Gottino

BY ELENA MANCINI

52 Greenwich Ave.,
West Village
212-633-2590 –
http://www.ilovegottino.com/

Inconspicuously housed behind a charming storefront of an otherwise bustling  West Village artery,  Gottino offers a garden of delectable pleasures– both literally and figuratively. In the warmer months it’s possible to savor inventively-combined gourmet delights and discover a list of select, non-generic Italian wines in the sweet, ivy-laced garden of this adorably ambitious “gastroteca,” as chef/owner Jody Williams insists on calling her debut gem.

N'duja

N'duja

The menu features seasonal small plates, salumi and artisinal cheeses representing all regions of Italy. It’s the perfect place to satisfy the urge for a “spuntino,” a small bite in between meals.
[Read more...]

"Fit for a Rockstar" – Review of Rockmeisha

“Fit for a Rockstar”- Review of Rockmeisha

BY SARAH IP

Rockmeisha
11 Barrow St
Greenwich Village, NYC
(212) 675-7775


Rockmeisha.  Photo by Sarah Ip

Rockmeisha. Photo by Sarah Ip

All hail the legions of wannabe rockstars.

That’s the theme of the night at Rockmeisha, or what I perceived it to be.  My friend Chloe and I have always harbored secret dreams of starting a rock band (who hasn’t?).  Rockmeisha indulges you with the momentary illusion that, Yes, I’m a rockstar…AND what??!

Rockmeisha is styled exactly like izakayas (snack bars) in Japan, and is ideal for drinks and grub into the wee hours.  Not exactly a dinner place, though, as I realized at 7 p.m. when it was still light out and the vibe was dead.  The black walls contrast the white curtains flowing from the ceiling like a giant floating canopy.  Old-school pictures of Japanese pin-up girls and “Uptown Martini Bar” art deco surrounded us, finished off with cherry wood accents. [Read more...]

“Fit for a Rockstar” – Review of Rockmeisha

“Fit for a Rockstar”- Review of Rockmeisha

BY SARAH IP

Rockmeisha
11 Barrow St
Greenwich Village, NYC
(212) 675-7775


Rockmeisha.  Photo by Sarah Ip

Rockmeisha. Photo by Sarah Ip

All hail the legions of wannabe rockstars.

That’s the theme of the night at Rockmeisha, or what I perceived it to be.  My friend Chloe and I have always harbored secret dreams of starting a rock band (who hasn’t?).  Rockmeisha indulges you with the momentary illusion that, Yes, I’m a rockstar…AND what??!

Rockmeisha is styled exactly like izakayas (snack bars) in Japan, and is ideal for drinks and grub into the wee hours.  Not exactly a dinner place, though, as I realized at 7 p.m. when it was still light out and the vibe was dead.  The black walls contrast the white curtains flowing from the ceiling like a giant floating canopy.  Old-school pictures of Japanese pin-up girls and “Uptown Martini Bar” art deco surrounded us, finished off with cherry wood accents. [Read more...]

Quinto Quarto

14 Bedford St.
Greenwich Village
212-675-9080;
quintoquarto.com

Bucatini all' amatriciana

Bucatini all' Amatriciana

Located on a cobble-stoned strip of charming restaurants, this darling Village newcomer fills a void with its Roman cuisine and spirited and tempermental service. The warm, inviting decor of exposed brick and candlelight set a romantic, low-key stage that is contrasted by the family-style bustle and vivacious outbursts of the service…On the refreshing up-side: no scripted, yuppy pretense here. For lovers of high-functioning efficiency though, service can be uneven here, at its worst it can either overly solicitous or slow and neglectful. Either way it’s reliably warm and cheerful. Don’t be surprised if you hear your servers spontaneously break into some verse of Italian pop music as they bring you your silverware or napkin. [Read more...]

Sammy's Soup: my favorite chill-chaser

453 Sixth Ave. at 11th St., Greenwich Village
(212) 924-6688

By now, most New Yorkers have had it with the cold, wind and rain. We are all ready to get some spring on, but April has been especially slow in delivering this year with it’s mere four dry days to date, only two of which included sunshine. However, I am told that the weekend will give us reason to give our rain boots a rest.  Amen to that!

In the meantime, this long patch of cold, soggy weather has inspired me to rediscover the joys of Asian soup. Sammy’s Noodle Shop of Greenwich Village is among the first places I think of when I need to fulfill the urge for something warm, nutritious, filling and won’t leave you feeling like you should walk past three subway stops in order to digest it.

Sammy's Noodle Shop's Vegetable Tofu Soup

Sammy's Noodle Shop's Vegetable Tofu Soup

I’m especially fond of their tofu vegetable soup. It comes in a huge bowl and it’s made from a chicken stock base. It’s ingredients are spinach, chopped green onion, generous amounts of smooth silken tofu and tomatoes. [Read more...]