Restaurant Week: Perennial

Our trip to Perennial for restaurant week did not get off to a good start.  The four of us arrived a few minutes early for our reservation and I made eye contact with the hostess.  She greeted me with a "good evening" and then a pushy customer from the bar stepped between us and interrupted.  The hostess did not acknowledge this or apologize, but instead began to assist the other woman who complained that while she did not have a reservation, "it was ridiculous that she could not be seated at 7:00" on a Saturday night even if it was Restaurant Week.  After several minutes of this exchange, and after eying the four other unoccupied staff members nearby, the hostess disappeared and I was greeted by a different hostess who located our reservation and was quite helpful.  I couldn't shake the feeling that the staff resented the restaurant week crowd.  I would hope any business would be welcome in this economy.

We waited in the bar, but opted not to order anything to drink since we were only five minutes or so from our reservation at 7:15 and were assured we'd be seated "right on time".  When the hostess summoned us to our seats, she noted loudly that we did not seem to have a bar tab to settle up.  The interior was simple and earthy - modern, but not too slick.  Perennial was described by someone at the table as "looking like every other restaurant".  The layout is unfortunate, forcing one to dodge plates of food and hurried waitstaff in the same hallway as the kitchen on the way to the bathroom located in the hotel lobby.

Our waiter suggested a red within our price range and the 2005 Grove Street Cabernet Sauvignon was well liked by the table.  There was a single cocktail order, for a wee little pink concoction that was enjoyed, but not deemed worthy of the price.  The pretzel rolls were a nice touch for the bread course, salty and crunchy outside giving way to a fluffy soft interior. 

Kris and I had:
  • Black Truffle Gnocchi, parsley root puree, hen of the woods mushrooms, frisee salad
  • Farmin Iberico ham croquettes with garlic aioli
  • Roasted Duck Breast, braised savoy cabbage, confit duck and foie gras pithivier, dried cherry sauce
  • Becker Lane Organic "Pork Lover's Obsession" grilled loin, braised belly, trotter ragout, cauliflower, swiss chard, winter fruits, potato puree
  • Roasted brussels sprouts
  • Crispy Hazelnut Bar, milk chocolate, creme fraiche, chocolate caramel, pistachio ice cream
  • The Brazilian, brown butter cake, cachaça pineapple, ginger popsicles, coconut sorbet, piña colada Sauce
Our friends Marty and Michaela also tried:
  • G.C.M. [Green City Market] Red Kuri Squash Risotto, laughing bird shrimp, toasted curried pumpkin seeds
  • Red Wine Braised Short Rib, celery root puree, glazed carrots, red wine sauce
  • Cheesecake, raspberry custard, cream cheese foam, graham cracker ice cream
The gnocchi was tasty, but the portion was tiny.  I had very high expectations.  Listed on their website as one of the "Top 10 dishes of 2009", Food and Wine actually named this first course one of 10 Best Restaurant Dishes under $12.  The other two appetizers we tried were delicious too, but more substantial.  I definitely appreciated our familiarity with our dining partners who were anxious to share.  I am glad to have tried it, especially since it was prepared in an unfamiliar Roman-style, but I am not sure I would order it again. We waited thirty minutes between our first and second course, but our waiter did not stop at the table until about 2 minutes before our plates came out, to indicate they were on their way.  It was busy and it is restaurant week.  Our busser was one of the most efficient restaurant workers I have ever seen, keeping our glasses full and our plates cleared.  I should have given him the entire tip.
Perfectly cooked and well-seasoned duck breast sat atop a sad heap of braised savoy cabbage.  Luckily I predicted this might be the case and ordered a side of brussels sprouts.  They were awesome: roasted to a crisp, still soft inside, and piled into a bowl large enough to share with the table.  I was pleased with such a generous portion, but it seemed incongruous with the other items we ordered.  Kris' plate was huge, but spare.  We were not at the Sizzler and moderate portions are to be expected, but two bites of pork belly? A small ramekin of pork ragout topped with whipped potatoes? Not to say that these items were not well-executed.  I'm sorry: if you call a dish "Pork Lover's Obsession" and charge nearly $30, bring some noise.
The desserts were over the top.  Enormous compared to our previous plates and rich.  The hazelnut bar was my favorite - dense and almost rice crispy like.  It sat on a strip of tangy creme fraiche, was topped with pistachio ice cream and a huge quenelle of milk chocolate along with a caramel chip.  The Brazillian was full of textures, but also a little too sweet. 

                      The Brazilian | Perennial, originally uploaded by happy_stomach.

Overall, I enjoyed my evening.  I laughed easily with great company, enjoyed the wine, and was impressed with most of the food.  But the service was uneven.  The pace and portions of the meal were inconsistent.  Each small service slight added up, making me feel less than welcome at Perennial and definitely less important than other diners.  We ordered off both the main and restaurant week menus, though the waiter looked deflated when we leaned toward the latter.  We were dressed in our best estimates of opentable's suggested "smart casual" and fit in (I noticed many athletic shoes and spotted only two men in tuxedos).  We used the correct forks.  Still, I felt judged.  Looking back, the hostess' comment about our lack of a pre-meal bar tab seemed a little snooty rather than matter-of-fact.  While claiming to offer a "casual elegant" atmosphere that highlights the food, Perennial tries too hard and comes off as pretentious and focused on the scene.


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