The next time the Underground Gourmet has a hatchet to bury or a fence to mend, he will head straight for Radio Perfecto Rotisserie and Garden (190 Avenue B; 477-3366). This “American bistro” is as harmonious a spot as you could wish to find in Alphabet City or anywhere else. Two diners sitting next to me, engaged in pleasantly audible palimony negotiations, carved up with equal ease their joint personal assets ($9,000, give or take) and their flame-roasted organic half chickens (with fries and button mushrooms, wine and cognac sauce, $9). The only discordant note in the amicable hubbub was the sound of customers fighting over the right to settle their minuscule checks.
How a place gets to be this sympa is always something of a mystery, but the proprietor’s personality is usually pretty important. The co-owner of Radio Perfecto is a personification of congenial attentiveness called Peter Depré. The rows of ancient Bakelite radios exhibited on the shelves, Mr. Depré will happily explain, are from his private collection, as are the vintage flashlights and vintage power drills (fitted with vertical bulbs instead of drill bits) that serve as wall lamps. These retro touches, taken together with caramel leather banquettes, parquet flooring, and old-style white tablecloths, create a congenial but stylish forties atmosphere: Imagine, if you can, a cheery Hopper interior.
But good cheer depends on good food. Avenue B’ers tend to be kitchenless types who, if they don’t eat out, will pass out. They require honest (i.e, cheap, unpretentious, plentiful, and by-golly-tasty) fare, and that is just what Radio Perfecto offers. For starters, the fried calamari with garlic aïoli ($6) drew cheers all round from my party (even if the tartar sauce veered into mayonnaise territory). I found the vegetable empanadas of the day ($5) as filling as any close relation of the West Indian patty and Cornish pasty ought to be; the three-green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette ($5) bushy and luxurious; and the blandness of the port-and-chicken-liver mousse ($6) redeemed by a sweet red-onion marmalade.
Radio Perfecto’s specialty – and its customers’ clear favorite – is organic chicken slowly roasted on the open flames of a handmade French rotisserie. My half chicken of the day (with herb sauce, $8) was an enormous bird stuffed with garlic, basil, and parsley, and flavorsome as hell. It came with an alp of French fries that my dining companions quickly devoured. But there’s more to Radio Perfecto than chicken and chips. There is grilled salmon and capers ($14) smothered in a friendly blanket of Dijon sauce. The cod (with scallions and parsley, on a bed of vegetables; $12) came with its saltwater taste intact; and the skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, tied for the most expensive item on the menu at $14, was juicy, tender, and suitably Argentine in flavor.
The desserts (all $5) are of the pie and crumble variety. If you like Snickers bars, you’ll enjoy their taste-alike, the Peanut Surprise. Geologists will prefer the apple-and-guava crumble: pebblelike pastry layered on a rubble of succulent apple bits themselves layered on a stratum of molten guava. I’m not certain that the taste-free mint leaf that garnishes these puddings is necessary, but why quibble? The only bone worth picking in this restaurant de quartier comes from a chicken.
Radio Perfecto is open for dinner and takeout seven days a week, Sunday through Thursday 6 to midnight, Friday and Saturday till 1 a.m. Beer, wine, sake. Cash only.