I find that New Yorkers, given where they live, are lulled into a sense of premature expertise. Throwing around semi-catch-all phrases like Asian-fusion or nouveau Americaine, many of us might be hard pressed to explain what those actually mean. When I arrived at Pera Soho, I felt like I was faced with a new nebulous category: Eastern Mediterranean.
With a small cup of ginger tea (infused with brandy and muddled citrus), I sat racking my brain trying to remember what countries are on the Eastern boarder (Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt…thank you Google). Once we moved to the long table for the tasting menu, I had thoroughly confused myself with what little knowledge I had.
On the table awaiting us was a familiar sight, somewhat. Instead of the traditional treatment of a grape leaf, it was in a tempura batter and made into a chip. Next to this crispy delight are three meze dips, a maummara (red pepper, walnuts, garlic, and olive oil), smoked eggplant garlic yogurt and good ole’ hummus. Meze are Mediterranean small dishes, somewhat reminiscent of tapas.
Right after was the Pera Soho salad, bright in look and flavor. The dressing was light and the citrus easily cut through the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds. Walnuts are a nice touch as well, though small and not easily noticed until pointed out.
The only real assumption I had made about Eastern Mediterranean cuisine was that I was going to get me some seafood, and sure enough, there were some mighty tempting prawns resting on a bed of coco beans, parsnip, and black kale. The trick to eating any prawn is to be unafraid of crushing the head and savoring the cholesterol. The rest of the mix should by then be drenched in seafood goodness, though perhaps overpowered and overshadowed.
We learned during the meal that the chef was from Adana, a Southern Turkish city known for some killer lamb. While I dismissed that fact as another one of many, I was only too eager to find out more when the Adana rolls hit our plates. The painstakingly minced lamb, every day manually broken down by heavy Turkish blades, is juicy to the last morsel. Seasoned gently to stay true to that delectable lamb essence, this was flavor and texture perfection. Also served was the sirloin Shaslik, in a kebab style. While it was as good as any steak, nothing could compare with the flavor explosion in a roll.
Finally, the dessert. I want you to be brave and order this if you go to Pera. I know goat cheese is a challenge. I know prunes are possibly a bigger challenge. Putting them together might prove to be all too much, but going from the sweet savory goat cheese cake to the tart prunes on the side is a delight that highlights the flavor time and again as you bounce back and forth. The goat cheese is baked right into the sweet, rich, cake. All the sugar makes you almost forget what the tangy, gooey substance is, but you certainly know its bringing everything together.
I came to Pera Soho as a naive diner. Having never gone to Pera Midtown or known anything worth mentioning about Eastern Mediterranean food, I am left with much to reflect on. I had vague notions about grape leaves and lamb and hummus, but for it to come together in such a varied yet cohesive dining experience was a complete delight–a learning experience in taste. The style of this restaurant is a departure perhaps from the traditional, but there are certainly flavor elements that must have come from a long culinary heritage. With that said, give Pera Soho a shot, maybe you’ll pick up some new cravings.
Between the meal and this writing, chef Ryan Skeen has departed Pera Soho. This is the 2nd time it’s happened to us. We dined at FishTag during the last week of Chef Skeen’s time there. I do not worry about his departure, in fact I hope it will give the restaurant more consistency. The meal was complimentary, which did not impact our opinion, nor were we obligated to write.
What does this rating mean?