Cooking on television is a precarious institution; we can watch Martha Stewart beat eggs until dawn, but in the end we all want to stick a finger in the batter. The Food Network, morning talk shows, and every cook with a trademark have held sway by delivering familiar recipes on the little screen, but some shows have gone out on a digestive limb; Anthony Bourdain (this blog's patron saint) constantly wows audiences with his iron-clad stomach on No Reservations, and Top Chef put the back-room art of fine dining under a boom mic. Season Three of Top Chef debuted this week, and the energy I get watching the scrappy contestants and idolized (or wistfully idle?) judges invigorates me to get back to tasting what the senses have to offer. There's no better way to break this fourth wall then visiting the first official Top Chef outpost: Perilla, Season One's Top Chef Harold Dieterle's new West Village restaurant.
LBT and I scored an early reservation on a Thursday, and we ordered up some of the Specialties of Harold; spicy duck meatballs served with a raw egg (salmonella is for wimps), and the classic hanger steak that helped him coast through many TV contests; we added to this a satisfying mango and avocado crab salad.
Our server steered us towards the langoustine plate, which we agreed was the finest dish of the night; the New Zealand tails were served over red rice and greens with a gentle hint of sweet peppercorn. In fact, Harold's restaurant felt much more gentile then the surly, high-stakes kitchen of Top Chef. The staff maintained a cool, despite most of the patrons' neck-craning to get a glimpse of Harold. But as he proclaimed, he's not a "front of the house guy," though I did manage one glimpse of the elusive chef.
Perilla's menu is short and simple, and offers some pricey (but tempting) side dishes: we tried roasted potatoes (excellent salt!) and chinese broccoli and bok choy with pork belly. Like most West Village eats, we ate elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors, and quickly realized we were not alone in our TV-contest curiosity.
We finished with a chocolate cake with Keffir lime ice cream; and even though this was not Harold delivering the sweets, Perilla brought it home. The cake was perfectly warm and moist, and the cherries and pistachios complimented the whole experience.
At the end of the meal, we had asked to take our side dishes to-go. We almost forgot about them, when the server asked us to wait for a couple minutes before leaving: the kitchen had accidentally thrown away our leftovers, and "Harold was replacing them." We happily departed with a fresh new serving of gourmet potatoes and greens, a seriously classy TV dinner.
(Late note: I just found out that June 14th is officially Top Chef Day in the city of New York!)
9 Jones Street (btw. West 4 and Bleecker Sts.)
New York, NY 10014