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.
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).
Perla isn’t for everyone. 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 an empire of West Village restaurants: Fedora, Jeffrey’s Grocery and Joseph Leonard.
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 elsewhere. Here it’s fantastic: soft potato dumplings in marinara with a hint of chili and a dab of ricotta.
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 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.
Finish with date cheesecake ($10) or sugar cookies at this instant West Village classic.