Pera Mediterranean Brasserie - A Turkish DelightJune 16, 2014 - by Richard Jay Scholem
There is something predictable about the clusters of restaurants in and around railroad terminals. Busy, bustling steakhouses and Italian spots serving basic, traditional fare predominate.
Then there is the sophisticated, calm, quiet Pera Mediterranean Brasserie, just about half a block from the hubbub of the Grand Central Terminal. This Turkish spot breaks the mold. It’s an ethnic destination restaurant with an open kitchen, soft drop lighting, a wall of wine, bouquets and banquettes, an elegant upfront bar, well-spaced bare tables, and blond wood walls. Its interesting, diverse menu offers a culinary path for diners who want to sample typical Turkish food and those who are more comfortable with familiar food given a Mediterranean twist or two.
The baby lamb chops well illustrate the latter. At Pera, the often-encountered chops are soft, juicy and full of flavor. While their garlic whipped potatoes are standard stuff, their Turkish paprika and accompanying piquillo peppers give them an unexpected but non-threatening turn. The French fries are yet another example with their crisp, crunchy surfaces and soft interiors. They are fried in oregano. (Diners who prefer a nearly all-American meal should check out the three-course weekend steak dinner.)
Otherwise, think lamb and eggplant, two mainstays of Turkish cuisine. There’s plenty of both on the menu, all of it quite good. And don’t hesitate to ask your server for explanations, descriptions and recommendations. Our Turkish waitress was extremely helpful with her detailed descriptions of dishes and discrete recommendations (“the chicken adana is fine, but the lamb adana is even better”). Her concern and that of the captains and managers who frequently checked on our table were typical of the smooth, well-trained staff.
Small plates offer the best opportunity to try a goodly number of dishes at manageable prices. There’s no better way to do that than with the chef’s meze sampler, a circular partitioned plate alive with a dazzling array of tasty treats. Among them is a velvety roasted whipped (almost to a foam) eggplant and warm hummus with patina (both perfect for spreading on the pita or being scooped up with paper thin chips) and a fresh tomato and onion amalgam.
Another sampler-style dish, the mixed grill platter, is a good idea as a main course. It features most of the popular Turkish meat specialties like seasoned lamb riblets, tender chunks of fire-roasted marinated chicken brochette, sliced sirloin shashlik, and hand-ground lamb adana. Less impressive was a slightly too fishy tasting crab cake Levantine with a standard beet salad and most of the wines on a generally high list.
303 Madison Ave. (41st-42nd Sts.), 212-878-6301; peranyc.com. Also located at 54 Thompson St. in SoHo.