Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Tasting Event at Pera Soho

I recently had the pleasure of an invitation to a tasting dinner at newly opened Pera Soho, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant at the corner of Thompson and Broome Streets. A group of about 30 foodies piled into the beautiful private dining room after sipping wine and specialty cocktails. Course after course, we were wined and dined with selections off their winter menu, and a few new additions to their spring menu.

We started with grape leaf chips (grape leaves dipped in tempura batter and fried) served with muhammara, a Middle Eastern walnut and pepper dip. The flavor of the grape leaves shined even with the unique crunchy texture that one would not normally expect. The dip was a great compliment not only to the chips, but also to the baskets of pita served at the start of the meal.

Their Portuguese calamari was nice and crunchy, with thin slices of chorizo along with the traditional hot peppers. Even with just the slightest tweaking to a typical calamari recipe, this version stood out as a solid choice for starters.

The hummus was pretty incredible. It was actually served warm (a rarity) along with some basturma (a Middle Eastern cured beef). Definitely not boring in flavor and presentation. Would love more of this.

We also started out with some lamb "Adana" cut rolls, which are their sushi-like presentation for a ground lamb kebob wrapped in lavash. My family makes our kebobs very similar to this, and it was a very comforting flavor profile and creative presentation.

Next we tried some of the Pera Soho salad, which was a simple mixture of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, parsley, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. Although it had some unique twists to a traditional Middle Eastern salad, unfortunately it was a touch on the bland and boring side compared to what we had experienced thus far. Definitely not worth the $12 price tag it would normally cost.

Our first main course consisted of pistachio-crusted red snapper with a vegetable turlu and saffron broth. The texture of the fish was perfect, a nice bit of crunch from the topping, and incredibly tender within. The sauce was a lovely compliment as well. I wish the fish itself was seasoned just a bit more.

Next we had some delicious bulghur pilaf made with whole bulghur wheat (not the cracked kind) and tomatoes, which was a true taste of home. My mother makes pilaf white similarly, and this was spot on when it comes to flavor and texture. I really enjoyed this side dish.

An incredible surprise was discovered with the smoked eggplant puree. It was not your typical baba ghanoush experience. Instead, this smoked eggplant was pureed with melted kasseri cheese and cream, giving it a decadent flavor and texture. I have every intention of returning for this dish alone, and trying to replicate it in my own kitchen. It was outstanding in both flavor and texture.

Now we start with the three new shashlik additions to the spring menu. They were testing out these flavors so I'm not sure if all of them will officially make it to the final menu, but I will comment on them all regardless. First up we tried a turkey shashlik (thinly sliced skewered meat), which everyone mistook for chicken. A really nice surprise, as turkey is a rare contribution to an Eastern Mediterranean/Middle Eastern menu.

An overall favorite was the incredible duck shashlik. It was skewered not only with bell peppers, as the other two were, but also with thin slices of fresh apricot, which imparted a wonderful tart/sweetness. The duck meat itself was outstandingly tender and flavorful. This was easily a highlight of the entire meal.

We also had a wonderfully tender and flavorful beef ribeye shashlik. It was marinated in a variety of delicious herbs that really stood out in this medium-rare presentation. Even though beef is a fairly typical choice, the version here is worth trying.

Finally, we reached the ending, and thus the dessert course of our tasting. A delicious kunefe was my favorite of the two options. Basically a sweet cheese-filled katayef, it's one of my favorite desserts in general, and their execution was spot on. I would easily order this dessert on a future visit.

We also had some poached pears with pistachio cream. It wasn't bad, but paled next to the other dessert. A few of my companions complained of a slightly bitter flavor, although I think it was just the wine selection in poaching the pears. Perhaps a little more sugar would have cut through that background note.

In any case, I'm so grateful to have been part of this tasting experience. Not only can I recommend the food here, but I also look forward to warmer months when the incredible outdoor seating area is open. It is definitely worth stopping in for some well executed food and great service.

Pera SoHo
54 Thompson St
(between Spring St & Broome St)
Manhattan, NY 10012
(212) 878-6305


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