Pig’s Head, Tripe Ragu Served With Jay-Z at Perla: Review

Perla's dining room around 11 p.m. on a Friday -- which is to say, full. Photographer: Henry Hargreaves/Perla Restaurant via Bloomberg

Jay-Z’s “Ghetto Anthem” pumped through the sound system at Perla, with the rapper suggesting that we all go souse ourselves by sipping “The Cris.”

That’s Cristal Champagne, for us old-timers who wrongly thought this was going to be just another Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village.

No reservations unless you’re four or more. That explains why well-dressed couples fill up the bar, sniffing their bourbon for pepperoni bitters and listening to Nate Dogg croon about making “bodies turn cold.”

We slip into a comfortable booth opposite a portrait of Mos Def, fingers pressed to temple like a gun, face covered like an urban mujahideen.

I bite into a tiny PB&J and smile. It’s crustless and, more important, slicked with foie gras.

This was the scene around 11 p.m. on a Friday at Perla, whose Italian fare is laden with as much fatty foie as a French restaurant.

Perla is no less edgy, musically or gastronomically, than Mario Batali’s Babbo, where we’ve all feasted on goose liver ravioli while listening to Eminem.

Lovely. I ask a waiter what kind of cheese he’s shaving over my cavatelli. “Foie gras,” he deadpans. The pink petals add a gentle musk to an already hearty duck ragu ($16).

Too much? Perhaps you’d rather luxuriate in the softness of fried pig’s head against the gelatinous feel of seared foie gras ($22).

Rapping Ringmaster

Perla isn’t for everyone, and this 65-seat spot is no Babbo-killer. Still, with a packed house and first rate macaroni, Perla is the city’s best new Italian restaurant in over a year.

Gabe Stulman is the ringmaster. He’s the guy behind the “Little Wisco,” empire of West village restaurants: Fedora, Jeffrey’s Grocery and Joseph Leonard.

Dude looks like a lumberjack: Thick black beard, tanned leather skin, hefty plaid shirts. At the bar, he asks a couple how they like the gnocchi ($12). He already knows the answer. It’s a classic red sauce dish that’s disappointed you at Frankies 457 and elsewhere. Here it’s fantastic: soft potato dumplings in marinara with a hint of chili and a dab of ricotta.

Offally Good

Spaghetti with rock shrimp ($17) takes tomatoes to the opposite extreme. Even with basil, the summery sauce is almost neon pink. Your lips pucker.

Those desiring more restraint will take refuge in the garganelli ($14). Chef Michael Toscano coaxes the acid and anger out of the tomatoes with a nice little tripe ragu. The flavor of the stomach is subdued: tripe for the offal-averse.

Salad? Perla tosses orecchiette with ramp pesto and sausage ($15), imparting the clean perfume of garlic, onions and fennel. And then there’s the short-rib agnolotti ($15), glazed in short rib drippings so concentrated you’ll be hard-pressed to finish all 10 or so little pillows.

Good thing the homemade pastas are judiciously portioned as mid-courses. Just the same, Perla permits half-pours of wine to keep your finances and sobriety in check.

Three-ounces of vouvray brut ($8) pack enough effervescence to counter the heat of soft shell crab with pickled chilis ($19). Though a bottle of Paul Blanck at $70 isn’t a bad investment either; the Alsatian riesling slices through an oily, crispy red snapper ($32) with aplomb.

Guinea Hen

Guinea hen comes with foie gras sugo. Order a half-pour of lean, light primitivo ($8) to respect the bird’s delicate flavors. That $28 fowl is way better than $65 chicken cacciatore for two; the latter boasts bland breast meat and a sugar-sweet sauce.

Things can get a bit stuffy near the wood-burning oven in back. Smarter diners eat at the bar. Or better yet phone your extended family to reserve the table for eight up front. The open windows provide a breeze for enjoying the $95 ribeye for two.

Don’t let the 56-day-aging scare you. The beef boasts entry-level minerality, without any liver or game aftertaste. Fire-roasting creates a chewy, salty crust and a crimson rare interior. The meat sports enough marbling to render your tannic Gigondas ($18.50) all soft and gushy.

Finish with date cheesecake ($10) or sugar cookies, and relax as The Fugees, who broke up long ago, sing via streaming audio at this instant West Village classic.

Rating: **

The Bloomberg Questions

Price: Most dishes below $30.

Sound Level: Around 80 decibels, quieter before 6pm.

Date Place: Yes.

Inside Tip: Skip the flavorless $35 strip steak.

Special Feature: That wood oven makes pizzas after 11 p.m.

Back on My Own Dime: Often for the pastas.

Perla is at 24 Minetta Lane, near Sixth Avenue. Information: +1-212-933-1824 or http://perlanyc.com.

What the Stars Mean:

****         Incomparable food, service, ambience.
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor

Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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