The hardest part of achieving culinary brilliance is knowing when to stop, I realized while gazing happily at my poached chicken. Normally, I would run in the opposite direction of anything called poached chicken—poaching renders the flesh tasteless and the skin pale and gummy. As if to answer these quibbles, the symmetrically arranged slices of breast were slicked with a sharp lemon-and-black-pepper sauce, and an oblong piece of skin—crisp as a potato chip—had been laid across the top. Nuggets of dark roasted thigh lurked underneath, and alongside rolled a handful of brussels sprouts, whittled down to the merest nubs. Every aspect of the entrée was sensational. And there were no annoying squirts of colorful sauce or supernumerary ingredients to distract from the lush flavors.
The poached chicken was one of many startling discoveries that afternoon at Perry Street. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of one of two spindly Richard Meier towers built along the West Side Highway, making the West Village of Bob Dylan and Willa Cather look like Miami Beach. The room is L-shaped and spacious, as austere as the food, with circular cream-colored booths on the Hudson side and squarish ones fronting the obscure and cobbled Charles Lane.
The chef himself reportedly lives atop one tower,like Rapunzel. I’ve never been fond of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants: I disliked Vong,with its pallid upscale Thai, and hated Spice Market, which treats its guests like cattle and produces Asian fusion of wildly uneven quality. As for his flagship Jean-Georges: Who can afford it? As his eighth effort in the city, and 17th in a far-flung global empire, how could Perry Street succeed?
I’d been lured in by the $24 lunch special, which provides, amazingly, two haute cuisine dishes plus dessert for what one normally pays for a bistro meal a few blocks east. And there I sat with some close friends from California, who were as pleased
as they would have been if we had discovered a gold field. The homemade mozzarella dazzled us, a series of white plugs arranged on the plate like a Robert Smithson installation, showered with pomegranate seeds and miniature basil leaves. Other dishes we loved included madai (porgy) sashimi napped with an opaque yellow sauce, and a bowl of ramen noodles in a piquant broth filled with jumbo shrimp treading water like champion swimmers. Dressed with an agreeable bonito mayo, a tuna burger sounded delicious but arrived cooked to crumbling grayness.
A visit in the evening demonstrated that the dinner menu is nearly identical to the one at lunch, plus a couple of additional selections. With $29 to blow, who could resist the “crispy poached eggs”? These amorphous blobs came crumbed and fried, leaving them gooey inside and well browned on the exterior. A teaspoon of caviar had been heaped on each. In a vain attempt to stanch the flow of yellow yolk, two cubes of fried brioche stood like twin sentries before the land of saturated fat. Tour de force among dinner entrées was a large hunk of skin-on sea bass in a broth that was like a thin vichyssoise. A quantity of black truffles had been thrown, into the sauce, generating a fragrance that was simply awesome. But, hey, truffles would make anything smell wonderful, right? Dinner for two with a bottle of red Dolcetto di Dogliani wine, including tax and tip: $205.