Since it opened in spring 2007, Chef Harold Dieterle's (of one of first winners of Top Chef) restaurant Perilla has been getting great reviews; and last spring, my dear friend had her bday brunch there. You can read about the brunch here. After dining there in March, co-owner and hostess Alicia had said in our email exchange (I had written a thank you): “Hope you visit us again soon. Next time we will challenge the chef to create something fantastic for you!”
Flash forward to about ten days ago. After a late afternoon food panel at NYU's Fales Library (with Delores Custer; Harold Mcgee; Florent Morellet; Sara Moulton; Fabio Parasecoli; and Moderator: Clark Wolf) I headed over with Shari Bayer and Terri Sheridan for a work/social dinner.
Two days prior, I looked over Perilla’s menu, isolated two items (lamb and duck) that looked easy to modify and emailed Alicia. She emailed back that the Chef said: [sic] “lamb yes.... just ask about mustard seeds....prob need to sub something for orzo. Duck yes....no chili jam...ask [Sloane] about dragonfruit...although it is in the cactus family just to play it safe.”
Love that direct communication.
I entered Perilla still cautious, as I always am with a new restaurant, but knowing I had done my part to communicate my food allergy needs early, clearly and directly. We were greeted by Alicia who assured me they were all ready for me. Yay! We had an early dinner reservation at 630pm and we were seated in a spacious leather banquet with a full view of the room. Loved our seats! Going early was helpful because by about 7pm the place was jammed and hopping, even in a recession.
Perilla draws an attractive, downtown crowd with some families (including Alicia’s adorable son and husband and some friends with their babies), couples on dates, groups; truly a mix of everything and everyone, all looking happy. The buzz was great, the lighting attractive and our waiter Hunter, a tall cutie, said he totally understood my needs because his BF in Cali has severe nut allergies. Always helpful when someone has a friend with similar concerns.
I confirmed with Hunter that I was having the lamb and tried to confirm some of the ingredients in the Tasting of Colorado Lamb dishes (grilled rack, crispy braised belly, homemade cheese & parsley sausage). Hunter reported that Chef would only say that everything was safe for me given my needs, but he would not give me the exact ingredients. I can respect that a chef doesn’t want to give away ingredients but it does make me a little bit more nervous.
I had to make a choice: trust that the Chef knew what he was doing and trust my process (as outlined above and here) or skip eating altogether because the chef wouldn’t tell me every last ingredient. (In years gone by, I might have skipped eating. I see no shame in doing that. Bottom line: if you don’t feel safe, don’t eat.)
However, I felt safe enough. I decided to go with trusting that the Chef, co-owner Alicia and server Hunter were looking out for me and that my process works. I also made sure my dining companions knew what to do in case of an allergic girl emergency, where my medication was and how to help me if I needed it. (Terri’s son has a severe peanut allergy so she knows the whole drill. Thanks again Terri!)
I didn’t order an app, because there wasn’t one that I saw that could be easily modified. Chef sent an app out, on him. A salad of fall veggies that was totally safe and allowed me to join my app-eating companions. Very cool, Chef. My entree of lamb arrived all scrumptious and safe and I had some yummy sorbet for dessert. All very happy happy.
Chef appeared table-side soon after the entrees were served to make sure I was okay. Super sweet and super cool. We had a nice long chat about food allergies and dining out. Chef underscored how grateful he was that I gave him some notice before coming in. He said he was happy to make menu adjustments especially when given advance notice (a day or two by email,email@example.com or opentable.com is fine). We talked about what I could eat on my next visit. For example, there’s a lamb burger at the bar. It has breadcrumbs but Chef said if I gave him some notice he’d make some without for me. Rock on, Perilla!
I will def go back again and hope to add Perilla to my list of regular allergic girl haunts.
9 Jones Street
New York, NY 10014
Alicia Nosenzo & Harold Dieterle