All around us, other diners were enjoying the house specialty, “Boundless BBQ” on a hot, end of summer night on Madison Avenue in New York City. Huge heaps of barbequed steak, lamb, shrimp, chopped beef and other Mediterranean infused goodies were sitting center table, accompanied by hummus and lavosh, for table members to dig into and share. This all-you-can-eat meat feast that includes a choice of desserts is $29 per person. A carnivore’s delight that is probably New York’s best gourmet bargain.
While we eye-balled those happy gluttons, we explored more of the traditional specialties of the Eastern Mediterranean. Many dishes sounded familiar, but the flavors of Pera are unique and distinct enough to inform your taste buds that you have found a completely new eating experience.
Pera is a beautiful, high ceiling venue with a well-lit open kitchen in the back and the sparkling white-coated chefs centered in the spotlight. In the front of the restaurant is a bar with a variety of tables for different seating preferences. The big, center high-top was the obvious favorite as people wandering in from outside immediately gravitated to this table. It was full before the rest of the restaurant got up to speed, which didn’t take long. When we left a couple of hours later, the place was packed. This Eastern Mediterranean eatery is obviously a place for late nighters, who were also enjoying the 5 piece jazz group.
We enjoyed Pera because it is a comfortable, decorative and congenial room. Warm colors and interesting artifacts predominate. The tables are large, with plenty of space between them for privacy. There are banquettes and alcoves for large parties. All around are fresh flowers with a gorgeous central floral display. We sat at a table near the back to watch the kitchen chefs in their flaming displays of brazier broiling. Even back here, we could hear the subtle notes of the xylophone and sax entertaining up front.
Marilyn likes to experiment when it comes to our food choices. She selected a variety of “small plate” items, each of which surprised and delighted our taste buds. Our Turkish waiter, Chenar, recommended a Turkish red wine to go with our meal that he described, “like a pinot noir.” We happily sipped it with all the dishes that soon covered our table. First, we had a platter of puffed bread and sharp cheese. This was followed with the Pastırma Wrapped Feta-Stuffed Dates. Pastirma can be best described as similar to beef jerky, which added a hearty new taste to the sweet dates.
Next, Chenar presented their special lamb, “Adana” style. Adana, one of Turkey’s most vibrant cities is known for its special meat preparations. Adana is also an old cooking technique rarely seen in restaurants outside of Turkey. Sezai Celikbas, co-executive chef of Pera is one of its internationally acclaimed masters.
Adana requires precise butchering in which lamb is chopped by hand with a special knife. The trimmed fat is added back to re-marble the meat which is then rubbed with a complex spice mixture. Following six hours of marinating, the chopped meat is shaped, skewered and kebob-grilled, imparting the thoroughly original taste and texture of Turkey. Served with lavosh and yoghurt dressing, it was a completely new and savory taste experience.
The next small plate selection of Marilyn’s was roasted red potatoes and artichoke hearts with rosemary and sea salt, a tasty accompaniment to the meat and date dishes.
Dennis ordered a more traditional meal, selecting the grilled salmon with fennel, string beans, and blackberry gastrigue. This was accompanied by a beet salad with candied pistachios, purslane, and yoghurt dressing. The salmon was cooked to perfection with the skin crisped up with Turkish spices, like eating a tasty chip.
We dined at a leisurely pace, enjoying the beautiful room and Pera’s ambience. The band’s sounds drifted back to our table as we watched the other patrons revel in the same pleasure we felt. A particular after-dinner delight for Dennis was the ultra-thick, rich and sweet Turkish coffee.
Pera is a restaurant to be savored for its architectural qualities, comfortable ambiance, and excellent food. Pera stands out in the very crowded restaurant competition in NYC by offering a new taste along with a traditional menu, not to mention the allure of “Boundless BBQ,” when available.
Pera Mediterranean Brasserie
303 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10017