If you leave a restaurant happy, does it matter if the meal itself was anything but perfect? Yesterday I had this very experience at Perry Street, Jean-George’s oft-ignored Greenwich Village outpost where savvy diners can enjoy a three-course lunch for $24. I’d been meaning to try Perry Street for a long time–ever since it opened–but an opportunity never arose. Then, yesterday, after a morning meeting, I was in the Village looking for lunch and soon I was face to face with Perry Street. The glass exterior was a bit daunting: what would it be like inside? Would I be dressed appropriately (in jeans and flip-flops)? Would it be crowded, empty, filled with nudist monks having an orgy? I took a deep breath and decided to try my luck. I’m glad I did.
The inside was bright and welcoming, a bit hotel-like, and somehow nautical, with its proximity to the Hudson. I stood at the host stand and looked around me: only several tables were occupied. There were two sets of gay couples (so says my gaydar), two sets of business men, and one family in the corner sharing a bottle of wine. I waited a minute before a waiter, a young guy with long hair who would be my host for the day, spotted me and came to greet me.
“Table for one,” I asked and he smiled.
“Sure,” he said. He led me to a table next to the businessmen and asked if it was ok. It was.
This host/waiter (I didn’t catch his name) radiated such warmth and good cheer that it was because of him that I enjoyed my lunch so much, despite several gaffes. What were the gaffes?
Well, to be honest, most of the gaffes were his. For example, I ordered a glass of wine: an incredibly reasonable $5 Pinot Blanc (a lunch special). He never brought it and when I asked, a full course later, if my wine was coming he reddened and apologized profusely.
He aplogized even more when I kindly told him that the course that he brought me–a salad with peaches and goat cheese:
was not what I ordered. “I ordered the crab salad to start,” I said with as much compassion as I could.
“Oh no,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He began to lift the salad but then put it back down. “Why don’t you eat this too, on the house.”
“Thanks,” I said and I dug in. The salad was very good–the peaches were fresh and juicy, the goat cheese paired with it well–but what made it extraordinary for me were bits of candied wasabi. I’ve never had anything like it and it gave the salad a complexity that reminded me of why Jean-Georges is such a titan in the food world.
When the waiter brought the salad that I did order (a crab salad) , I was dismayed to see water spots on the plate:
You can see them in the picture. Check out the water droplets at 11 o’clock and 7 o’clock. It’s a lovely presentation, but those water spots bothered me: was that residual dishwasher water? Isn’t that surprisingly sloppy for a restaurant with such pedigree?
I kept my crab away from the water and tasted. It was ok–kind of like a tuna salad, except with crab, and a hint of curry. All the colorful vegetables made the plate pretty but didn’t add up to much. I much preferred the salad brought to me by mistake.
For my entree I had a chili-oil poached red snapper:
It’s a fiery presentation and looks like it might pack a wallop, but the truth was it didn’t. It was nice, don’t get me wrong. The fish was beautifully done, but the oil really had no heat and the radish salad was texturally interesting, but flavor-wise didn’t seem to add much. I wasn’t crazy about this, despite the fact that the waiter said it was Perry Street’s signature entree.
Luckily, I was crazy about the dessert:
That’s watermelon ice with–get this–chili marshmallows. It’s a crazy combo–who’d dream that up?–but just the sort of thing that makes this diner giddy, the prospect of a new taste sensation.
And what a sensation it was. Somehow the pairing of marshmallow and fruity ice really works. I gobbled this up with abandon and I would return again to Perry Street just for this; it’s that good.
So, in conclusion, with a few exceptions, I wasn’t dazzled by the food at Perry Street. Instead, I was charmed by the space and the service (despite gaffes) and mostly pleased with what I ate. It was one of those strange meals where the quality of the food and the competence of the staff mattered far less than the overall feeling you had while eating there. And because the feeling I had was so positive–because I left there happy–I can imagine going back. Despite its flaws, Perry Street is a very pleasant place to eat lunch.