The skate with smooshed fresh peas and a pea-shoot salad was one of the afternoon’s delights.
When Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened Perry St in 2005, it was his eighth dining establishment in New York. His intention was to return to his professional roots by opening an uncomplicated and unpretentious neighborhood bistro, as his original triumph Jo Jo had been. Perry St was located in the West Village in one of three newly built Richard Meier glass towers on the West Side Highway facing the Hudson River, a dramatic location but an isolated one. What’s more, the chef lived upstairs, so the place would feel almost like his own commissary, and one suspected the august French figure of sneaking downstairs from his upstairs aerie for a bite of cheese or a small Alsatian sausage in the middle of the night.
At noon on a midday, the interior of Perry St is calming and cool.
In the intervening seven years the place has evolved and developed a following, but also remains something of a sleeper, popular among tourists and neighborhood types, but also useful for quiet power dinners where the participants pull up in their limos, which sit idling in the parking spots along the highway late into the evening. It’s also a popular rendezvous for illicit lovers who hope not to be spotted. The long, well-windowed room is upholstered in off-white, and small vases of purple flowers sit on every table. There’s an almost-Japanese austerity about the place.
While often jammed in the evening, the bistro is half-empty at lunch, and that may have motivated the spectacular $32 lunch special, which I recently checked out with a pair of friends visiting from North Carolina. Though Vongerichten is listed as the executive chef, his son Cedric Vongerichten is the chef-de-cuisine (CDC).
The meal began with an amuse, is this case a pile of grilled shishito peppers dotted with sesame seeds in a Nike swoosh of what tasted like soy-flavored hummus. Very nice.
The shared amuse
The wonderful sea-trout app
The three-course lunchtime prix fixe offers a choice of seven apps, six mains, and two desserts. This is quite a change from an earlier menu, where dish sizes were not delineated, and you had to guess how big the portions were. (The very hungry learned they could order two entrée-size plates.) Many of the dishes have Asian roots or elements, reminding us that the younger Vongerichten was born in Thailand, and cooked all over the world in and out of his father’s empire before settling on this easternmost stretch of Perry Street. And also that he learned cooking at his father’s knee at Vong.
The best starter proved to be a sashimi of Tasmanian sea trout, laid out on the plate like bright orange railroad ties and sprinkled with herbs and crisp fried shallots. The flavor was unspeakably rich and the fish rested in a pool of olive oil. Also great was a so-called ginger rice bowl, which would have made a fine light lunch in itself, topping the grain with sliced avocado and a deep fried egg still runny in the middle. The third was an elaborately composed ridge of steak tartare that looked from the side like a mountain panorama at sunset. But the tartare fanatic who ordered it was slightly disappointed, “It’s too fussy, there are too many flavors. The meat is good, but there’s just too much going on.”
Served with a baton of fried bread and a crumbed quail egg, the steak tartare starter was not approved by all.
Dressed with shiso leaf, bonito mayo, and yuzu pickles, the yellowfin burger was killer.
One of the best parts about the lunch special is that three bottles of wine – a red, a white, and a fizzy white – are discounted to $20. We washed the meal down with a Spanish cava, and marveled at the price.
What with bread service, amuse, and two courses under our belts (plus the further feeling of alimentary volume provided by the bubbly vino), we were nearly satiated by the time the desserts arrived. Though your choices are limited to a molten chocolate cakelet with butter brickle ice cream, and a service of cherries jubilee wearing a round hat of meringue, both were voluminous and satisfying.
We left marveling that a real Vongerichten meal in a pleasant quiet room with intermittent views of the water could come in at barely more than $50 per person, your chance to feel like a wealthy person with what you might spend at a bistro in Brooklyn.
The cherries jubilee provoked oohs and aahs.
176 Perry Street
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