By Charlene Giannetti
What woman can resist a restaurant called Per Lei, which means “For Her” in Italian? My husband I first visited Per Lei on a hot and steamy night last summer. The restaurant, open for a few months, had already hit its stride. The outside tables were filled with attractive, animated young people enjoying the food, scenery, and each other. Inside, there was even more activity, as patrons stood two deep at the bar, while waitresses in black pants and white shirts, accessorized with generous strands of pearls, found their way through the crowd.
Despite the multitude, we were shown to our table right away, a corner banquette which allowed us a generous view of the entire restaurant. While we came to Per Lei for the food, the ambiance was an unexpected pleasure. We felt as if we had been transported to a trendy restaurant in Rome or Milan. The white walls were decorated with brilliant colored half-tone prints of women. A large crystal chandelier in the center of the room, imported from Austria, shed light, as well as elegance on the entire space. Italian “pop” music throbbed in the background, providing a lively beat to the goings-on.
We weren’t disappointed with the food during that visit and that became our primary, although not the only, reason for going back. On our second visit, we brought our son and daughter and they, too, enjoyed everything about the experience. As young adults, they appreciated the youthful scene, but as serious diners, they focused on the food.
When my husband and I made plans for a third visit, I hoped we would be as enthralled as we were the first time. The waitresses with the pearls are gone. But that was the only change I could detect. If you can’t make it to Italy to dine, Per Lei is the next best thing.
The outside tables were once again filled and the inside still hopping. When we were shown to a table near the kitchen, we asked for, and were moved, with much graciousness, to our favorite banquette. We ordered drinks—a Negroni, a cocktail made with gin, and a Prosecco, a sparkling wine—and sat back to take in the décor.
The service at Per Lei is efficient without being intrusive. Our waiter told us he was from Milan and had only been in New York a few weeks. After perusing the menu and hearing the specials, we decided to share an appetizer of carciofi alla romana, pan fried artichokes Roman style with extra virgin olive oil and basil and parley. We also shared an order of pasta, ravioli that were filled with veal shoulder and served with fava beans and a sage and butter sauce.
For main courses, I chose orata, a white fish that was baked with artichokes, gaeta olives, and white wine. My husband selected veal Milanese, a veal chop pounded, breaded, and served with a mixed green salad. We enjoyed a reasonably priced bottle of Chianti Classico.
We saved room for dessert so that we could enjoy one of Executive Chef Fabrizio DeTogni’s creations, in this case the Sfogliatina con Fragoie, a Millefeuille pastry filled with strawberries, a cool custard cream, and covered with a warm caramelized port sauce.
A very skilled trio is responsible for the success of Per Lei. Restaurateur Enrico Prioetti, a native of Rome, also created Bella Blu, 967 Lexington Avenue, and Baraonda, 1439 Second Avenue. Chef De Togni, from Milan, studied at the culinary institution, Vallesana, in Sondalo, Italy, and his resume includes stints at La Greppia, in Milan, Paper Moon, in Istanbul, and Elite Concept, in Hong Kong. Artist Fabrizio Musa created the half tone prints, as well as putting his stamp on the décor.
Unlike most of its neighbors, Per Lei does not roll up the sidewalks at 10 p.m. The kitchen stays open until midnight, one reason the restaurant attracts a late night, youthful crowd. Yet, don’t expect a raucous bar scene. The young people who show up here do so to enjoy the food, atmosphere, and specialty cocktails, such as the Strawberry Basil Martini, a mixture of vodka, Chambord, Grand Marnier, cranberry juice, strawberry, basil and black peppercorn.
Per Lei has something in common with women—staying young and getting better.
Type of food: Italian
1347 Second Avenue, at 71st Street
Romantic—4 Child Friendly–2
Girls’ Night Out—4 Solo Dining—4
Business Dining—3 Visitors Welcome—4
Dress Code—Business Budget—Expensive