If you live in Carnegie Hill or have visited the 92nd Street Y, you’ve experienced the barren stretch of restaurant real estate on the far reaches of the Upper East Side. Peri Ela, opened by a husband and wife (he’s from Istanbul and she’s from Colorado) who named the place for their daughters, set up shop two years ago just down the street from the Y. In a city notorious for killing off restaurants in their first year, the couple and the all-Turkish kitchen crew are clearly doing something right.
I first visited shortly after they opened and had a great time, most notably gorging on the fantastic, steaming, chewy bread served with our meal. Last month, I brought my uncle Ray, visiting from Germany, and two local friends, D.L. and Joe, to see if they would be equally enchanted.
We sat down at a table near the open windows, but the staff didn’t notice they’d only given us two menus. I finally had to get up and request two more when it appeared that no one was coming over. This, as it turned out, was fairly representative of the pleasant but somewhat inattentive employees. While we deliberated at length over what appetizers to choose, the four of us dug in to the bread and olives. Disappointingly, the bread, though fresh and flavorful, was cold.
To accompany the bread, which we were working through fast, we started with the humus ($7), tarama (carp roe caviar spread, $7) and the grilled octopus salad ($14). We thought the humus was good but ordinary and loved the abundant, salty spread. But the biggest hit was my salad, which impressed Joe more than anything else. He thought the plentiful calamari were very tender and fresh, with a smoky taste. He wanted more vegetables, but I thought it had a good balance.
D.L. stuck with appetizers and had two glasses of pinot grigio ($9). Before the three of us decided on entrees, we also asked for yet more bread, which happily, at last, came back hot and as delicious as I’d hoped. Ray ordered from the summer menu and picked the islim kebab ($24), a slowly baked lamb shank wrapped in sliced eggplant. Joe chose the kofte (char-grilled lamb seasoned with Turkish spices, $18) and I selected the lamb shish kebab ($22), which, like Joe’s, came with potatoes and rice pilav. Ray thought his lamb was “beautiful: as good as anything I’ve had in Germany. This is how we make it there.” Joe was underwhelmed by his dish, thinking mine better, but thought the hot green chili “unified” the elements on his plate and gave it needed flavor. I prefer lamb that is simply prepared and found it to be beautifully grilled and minimally spiced, requiring nothing more. Alas, after all of the bread, we were far too full for dessert.
My dining companions were mixed on the experience, saying the place made for a good neighborhood destination, but it was dark and the food overpriced. I, on the other hand, thought the cost was appropriate for the area and only slightly more than downtown Turkish restaurants. Locals are lucky to have a cozy spot in their backyard and such lovingly prepared food.
1361 Lexington Ave.
(at 90th Street)
Entrees: $17 to $25
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