Perbacco—Happy Food Shock in a Lively Place


If you prefer restaurants that prepare every dish the puritanical, traditional way and don’t bustle, there are heaps of other places in New York for you. Save little Perbacco for me and those who enjoy gasping in happy shock at eccentric presentation in a buzzy, pulsating space!

That isn’t to say that Perbacco Enoteca E Cucina has shirked Italian techniques hundreds of years old. Many menu items are recognizable classics with refinements. Others, however, are customary dishes completely revised by Chef Simone Bonelli, an alumnus of Modena’s two-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana. Personally, I imagine his culinary mind reshaping cuisine in the way the first music mixer did sound.

My business partner Lorri and I sat at a table in the back corner of Perbacco on a Tuesday evening with, I’ll admit it, the expectation of having our expectations smashed. On paper, it’s just my kind of place: an intimate, Italian, avant-garde gastropub. We sipped smokey-peppery red wine, nibbled assorted breads dipped in orange zested olive oil, and watched the broad smiles on patrons’ faces as they ate. What are they putting in the food? we wondered. Anticipation mounted.

Chiara, an enthusiastic manager at Perbacco, first brought us a dish like arancini made with eggplant in place of rice. Four deep-fried and bread-crumb coated balls of the vegetable yielded a supple texture inside. They waded in silken, cool mozzarella cream sauce decorated with tiny drops of spicy olive oil and fruit jam. Ultra fine strips of crisped eggplant skin rested in a tousled crown atop the dish. It was difficult to picture more textures harmoniously coexisting in one dish… until Chiara brought out the next one.

The fichi sedano presented four fig halves, two grilled and two caramelized, reclining in a line on large dabs of marscapone-gorgonzola mousse. The thick cheese mixture is so deliciously pungent it has a horseradish-like effect on the nose, cooled and erased by bites of the cooked fruit. The row of figs is drizzled with porto wine reduction, underlined on one side by a stripe of fresh and mealy celery jam, and on the other, a long, thin strip of delicate prosciutto aspic.

Craving a salad, we asked for the insalata tiepida, a slightly warm bed of spinach tossed with fava beans, pecorino, lemon, olive oil, and mint. It’s served in a long, very narrow dish, making the dish reminiscent of a row in a vegetable garden, and it tasted just as fresh.

Though we’d requested to share everything–Perbacco was treating us to dinner–Chiara emerged from the kitchen, smile beaming, with two matching dishes like wide-brimmed, upside-down chapeaus. She announced the rosette allo speck e bufala, a giant rose of eggy Emilian pasta with speck, buffalo mozzarella, and an instantaneously-addicting truffle cream sauce. While it’s a relatively heavy dish, it was clear why Chiara had chosen not to have us split this one–it’s just too good to share.

Fully aware nothing could top our last course, we chose the fragole panna e balsamico, as it seemed the lightest dessert on the menu. The bavarian cream and strawberry cake is accompanied by two hills of gently fizzling “balsamic air.” The light foam adds a sharpness to the balanced dessert, and for me, pairing it with a single shot of Perbacco’s exceptionally rich espresso made for a very happy ending.

Perbacco has been wowing customers since January, 2003–in fact, Perbacco means “wow!” in colloquial Italian. Here, you can order crème brûlée as an appetizer (made with parmesan and balsamic vinegar glaze), a hamburger for dessert (white and dark chocolate mouse, caramelized apples, jam), and a sculptural rendition of spaghetti carbonara in between (fried crisp pasta, parmesan gelato, egg yolks two ways).

A warm, cellar-like interior with beautiful details, the restaurant rings with energy and the sounds of contented customers. The cuisine is as inspiring as it is filling; visit for the dishes that are as thought-provoking as they are tasty, challenging the way New Yorkers think about Italian food. I loved Perbacco for handily balancing fine dining, a casual, comfortable air, culinary mad-science, and the traditionally delicious.

Perbacco Enoteca E Cucina
234 E 4th St. (between Avenues A & B)

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