Having yet to be disappointed by any of their offerings, I was excited on Tuesday night to check out the latest Zagat Presents installment, this time focused on cocktails and the cuisine of Turkey. Our backdrop was the somewhat recent to the scene Pera Soho. I’d been to their original location in midtown west once for restaurant week and was curious to see how this experience and location would compare. I could tell from the moment I walked through the door that I was going to like this location much better. The decor was more developed and the outdoor seating, nicely situated to the righthand side as you enter into the restaurant, managed to add a bit of personality as well.
We were supposed to have had a cocktail lesson on their rooftop, but as has been the theme in NYC this May and June, rain led to a change in plans. Instead we all lined the periphery of the bar as the owner discussed the proper way to make a Turkish cocktail using their liquor, Raki. To me, it smelled similar to a sambuca. It had a noticeable licorice scent to it. It’s made from raisins and is flavored with anise, explaining the odor. It was quite good though. I was surprised that I liked it. It had a softness to it I don’t find in either sambuca or absinthe. Very interesting. (Call me unadventurous, but I wasn’t so certain about it though to commit to it as my pairing choice for the 4-course meal.)
We then proceeded to the back of the restaurant, where we were all seated at a long banquet-style table. And then the food began to come out. And it just kept on coming. First up, we had the cold mezes. There was smoked eggplant with garlic yogurt. Next, grape leaf chips with muammara (a hot pepper dip – only slightly hot). Finally, there was the lentil and bulgur “kofte” – they were almost like little pastry wrapped boats filled with lentil and bulgur. The most intriguing of the trio though was hands down the grape leaf chips. Typically, I’ve only had stuffed grape leaves, which are very heavy and with the rice it has more of a smooth and creamy texture. This was totally opposite. Crunchy, but so thin it’s only ever so slightly crispy. It was interesting to pair it with the slightly spicy red pepper dip. It was just so good.
The warm mezes round featured pastirna wrapped feta-stuffed dates, Portuguese fried calamari with soujouk and pickled peppers, and chicken “adana” cut roll. I came in expecting to love the calamari, as that’s the main thing I remember loving from my visit to their other location. I found the pastirna, similar to a more air dried, beef jerky-esque version of prosciutto. But I was most impressed actually with the chicken
Then came the “shashlik”, which I learned means “feast”. Rather than us choosing from the list of meats, we learned we would get to try a bit of all of them. There was center-cut beef sirloin. There was duck magret. And then there was turkey breast. The duck was the best – flavorful and moist. Even the turkey was distinctive with the fabulous seasoning. They had been prepared skewer-style with vegetables sprinkled throughout. The meat was accompanied by sides of bulghur pilaf, roasted eggplant “begendi”, and roasted peppers.
For dessert, the menu only listed oven-baked kadaifi “kunefe” but we also had baklava. The baklava was not super sweet, nor was the the kadaifi, which was slightly sweet on the inside and light and crunchy on the exterior. Both worked nicely with the ice wine selected for the course – a German ice wine from Schmitt Sohne.
If you’re lucky, the chef will come out and speak with you while you are there. He is so enthusiastic and you can tell he really loves what he is doing. It was such a nice touch to hear him speak at the close of our meal! Overall it was a lovely evening – great time with friends paired with some excellent food by passionate people. Win all-around.
Pera Soho – 54 Thompson Street (at Broome Street) - 212.878.6305