April 17 (Bloomberg) -- Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Perry St., the gem of a restaurant destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, is back.
As long as you get a good table and order the right dishes, it’s as satisfying as ever. And it’s as aggravating as ever when you don’t.
The night Sandy struck, Perry St.’s kitchen was flooded with water five feet deep. The bill was staggering: $420,000 for the renovation, $352,000 to relocate staff and $1.12 million in lost revenue.
Since reopening in late February, however, this West Village spot is again serving some of the city’s best fried chicken. The meat’s flavorful, the skin’s crisp and it comes with a scotch bonnet sauce spicy enough to pass muster on Flatbush Avenue. The cost? Just $26.
It’s not the kind of down home dish you might expect in a high-priced Richard Meier apartment building that overlooks the Hudson.
With white chairs, white walls and white banquettes, the dining room is among New York’s most beautiful. Especially when viewed through the prism of value.
Arrive at dusk to enjoy the profound sense of peace that comes with watching the sun set over the Hudson. Then a host seats you on a backless chair in the lounge, even though you have a reservation. This is where you’ll eat, in front of an exposed-filament bulb hanging at eye-level. Really?
Vongerichten, sadly, didn’t use the renovation to solve Perry St.’s flaws. If the chef can afford a restaurant designed by Thomas Juul-Hansen, he can afford a dining room without cold gusts of air blowing whenever someone walks through the door.
Amid such inconveniences, your $38 butter-poached lobster, affordable by city standards, is pure Jean-Georges: French technique fused with an Asian sensibility in the form of clean kaffir lime and lemongrass.
Lesson learned. When eating a full meal, avoid the lounge and the bar, where you have to wave for service like a Grand Prix flag man. And beware the potables they peddle, like a thin banana-rhubarb daiquiri or a medicinal, unbalanced Aviation cocktail.
And while wines are lovely, wine service is not. Order any wine, say a $25 glass of Alfred Gratien Champagne, and it’s poured out of sight, without bottle presentation and sometimes after your food has arrived. Perry St. takes special wines and turns them into a commodity.
Not that a steely Alsatian Riesling (Paul Blanck, $11), would do much to salvage a pile of soggy crab dumplings. Fried calamari, leaden and damp, clump like glue. The cooking by Cedric Vongerichten, Jean-Georges’ son, is hit or miss.
Crispy-skinned bass with maitake mushrooms and fragrant basil broth wouldn’t be out of place at Dad’s three-Michelin-starred flagship.
Then there’s crackling short ribs with passion fruit barbecue sauce, a preparation that tastes like Styrofoam braised in molasses. This crime against cow costs $34.
Citrus miso butter does wonders to enliven sleepy beef tenderloin ($36), a preparation that wouldn’t be out of place at a 1989 charity ball, but why not offer patrons this preparation using a red meat with flavor, like skirt steak or duck?
Lucky for us, the good outweighs the bad. Pea soup is pure spring, sweet pureed vegetables with frothed tumbleweed cheese (for salt) and sourdough croutons (for crunch). Crispy eggs come with 10 grams of excellent sturgeon caviar. Any other restaurant would charge $50 for this luxury. Perry St. asks $29.
Snapper sashimi, firm as steak, sparkles with lemon, olive oil and spicy bird’s eye chilies. Oyster mushroom carpaccio with avocado, on the menu since 2005, still looks and tastes like a brilliant vegan pasta; just a whisper of jalapeno tickles the palate. And while scallops, shrimp and clams boast serious maritime flavor by themselves, Cedric emboldens them with green curry.
There’s no dress code, but it’s a well-heeled, sophisticated crowd -- even if the signature dessert is chocolate pudding. Perry St., imperfect as ever, is still pretty good. Mostly, usually.
The Bloomberg Questions:
Price: All dishes $38 or under. Tasting at $78.
Sound Level: Lively, about 70-75 decibels.
Date Place: If you get a good table.
Inside Tip: Excellent rice-cracker crusted tuna appetizer ($19.50).
Special Feature: Half-pours of wine are available.
Back on my own dime? Sure, when the wine program is fixed.
Perry St. is at 176 Perry St. Information: +1-212-352-1900 or http://www.perrystrestaurant.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. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on Broadway and Craig Seligman on the Tribeca Film Festival.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.