Sun-Mon, 4:30pm-11pm; Tue-Wed, 4:30pm-midnight; Thu, 4:30pm-1am; Fri-Sat, 11:30am-2:30pm and 4:30pm-1am
A, B, C, D, E, F, M at W. 4th St.-Washington Sq.; 1 at Houston St.
Appetizers, $3 to $21; entrées, $14 to $35.
American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
During the course of his industrious career, the frenetic West Village restaurateur Gabriel Stulman has mastered almost every casual dining trend in this fickle, fashionably casual restaurant era. So it was only a matter of time before he got around to tackling the most durable of all casual New York dining trends: rustic Italian food. Perla, like his other establishments, occupies a snug little space within walking distance of Sheridan Square. The bar serves drinks with catchy names like Tombstone Sunday Nights. The clubby, beamy room is decorated with tastefully curated retro tchotchkes (faded black-and-white photos, framed antique menus) and lined with banquettes covered in shiny crimson leather. Party girls graze at the bar on esoteric varieties of handmade pasta. Obscure peasant delicacies like roasted veal’s head are served. Perla’s chef, Michael Toscano, used to run the kitchen at the fine Eataly meat restaurant, Manzo, and before that he worked at Babbo for the great nouveau-rustico godhead himself, Mario Batali. On one visit, my tasters and I enjoyed crostini topped with lardo and baccala, followed by waxy strips of prosciutto made from a pig that, our waiter jauntily informed us, was raised on a diet of vegetables and whey. We tasted so many antipasti (rosy beef tartare Piemontese, soft chunks of braised octopus) that even some of the most seasoned fatsos at my table were beginning to feel a little strain when the pastas arrived. The pastas we sampled—after sips of water and several restorative gasps of air—were decent enough and the secondi items include fillet of tilefish in a pancetta vinaigrette or duck with savoy cabbage and pickled plums. The world-class steaks include a nicely charred New York strip (with a mélange of escarole and chanterelles and bone marrow), and a superb bone-in rib eye for two, which is fired in the wood-burning oven and piled over a mass of sweet, tangy borlotti beans splashed with balsamic and fat drippings. I suppose it’s possible not to eat like a drunken Viking at Perla, but as a dutiful professional, I never managed the trick.Ideal Meal
Blue prawns or beef tartare, cavatelli incatenati with egg and pancetta, glazed duck or dry-aged rib eye for two, polenta apple-and-fig upside-down cake.