There was no other restaurant in New York City like the original Perla. It was classic, sexy, cool, and unpretentious. There were plush red leather booths, there was a poster of Muhammad Ali on the wall and blasting hip hop on the stereo, and the only bad thing that could ever happen there was choosing between the gnocchi and the orecchiette. The original Perla was a near-perfect spot that never failed to make you feel like you were doing New York right.
There are, however, many restaurants in New York City like Perla Cafe, the new version of the restaurant. A few months ago, owner Gabe Stulman decided to move Perla from its quiet, barely-marked spot on Minetta Lane and reopen it as Perla Cafe on a highly-trafficked, picturesque corner in the West Village close to his other places: Bar Sardine, Fedora, Jeffrey's Grocery, and Joseph Leonard. Aside from Muhammad Ali (who made the move to the new location, along with Lil Wayne), Perla Cafe doesn't feel much different from a lot of other new spots around town.
A bit like Justin Timberlake’s music after he got married, Perla Cafe is missing the sex-magic. The red booths have been replaced with tan ones, the music is generic Top 40, the decor feels like it was purchased from the West Elm For Restaurants store, and it gets way too loud at night to hear anything besides your own chewing. Unlike the original, Perla Cafe doesn’t feel like a truly special place.
To be clear, the food at Perla Cafe is still very good, and if we had never been to the original, we'd probably be more excited about this place. The pastas are still terrific (though there are fewer of them now), and the steak is still awesome. But what made OG Perla feel like you were eating in the best restaurant in the city wasn’t just the food - it was everything else.
What Perla Cafe is perfect for, and what original Perla never was, is daytime eating. The space is light and bright, (most of) the food isn’t too rich, and the vibe is the upscale-but-not-stuffy kind you look for when planning a work lunch or brunch with your mom. The times that (usually) don’t call for sexiness.
But for big nights out, we’re still holding out hope for a replacement for the original Perla. Same goes for Justin Timberlake’s divorce.
Ordering bruschetta is usually a cop-out, but this one actually holds its own despite being glorified toast. White beans, corn, chorizo, and chewy grilled bread make this unique and highly tasty.
"Shrimp salad" might make you think what you'd see in a grocery store deli case next to congealed egg salad and day-old chicken cutlet, but don't let that fool you. This one is actually quite fancy, and involves yogurt, radish, wax beans, and farro. Order it if you're looking for something on the lighter side at lunch or brunch.
About as perfect as lamb gets: super juicy, on top of a yogurt-y sauce, topped with mint and charred onions. Our only complaint is that there isn't more of it.
It's really hard to f*ck up cheese, pepper, and butter. But that doesn't change the fact that we would happily eat this every single day.
The cacio e pepe needs to be on your table no matter what, but if you have room for a second pasta make it these squid ink noodles with clams, chili, basil, and breadcrumbs. Salty and fishy in all the right ways.
Little pillows of pasta stuffed with corn, cheese, and green chilies. We'd probably tell you to order this anywhere else, but the Perla pasta bar is higher than everywhere else - and this one is our least favorite of the bunch.
An excellent piece of meat, cooked perfectly and topped with an herb-y sauce and parm. Get this.