Bathed in the ambient glow of Edison bulbs I order my usual, the passion fruit chili martini. I ask for it up, shaken with bourbon, and it arrives with an orange rind curling like Gothic Calligraphy. As the sun sets over the Hudson my limbs melt into the furniture and the room feels more like some Chicago lounge in the sky rather than 10 feet from the West Side Highway.
Easily mistaken for the lobby where Calvin Klein and Nicole Kidman reside, Perry Street restaurant is a sleeper. It's located on the ground level of Richard Meier's spectacular glass tower where rumor has it, you too can rent a celebrity-owned condo for a mere $45,000/month. But somehow Jean-Georges Vongerichten's downtown opus is less packed than it deserves to be, and because of its unassuming location, the restaurant is also a celebrity outpost.
Kathy, my waitress, is dressed in black and white to match the décor. She's understatedly pretty, with dark hair pulled neatly into a
low pony tail and scarf tied in a side knot. She greets me with a smile and extends menus with an inked forearm. Politely, she interrupts my stare to explain her tattoo, "Young Turks
. You know, Rod Stewart?" I repress the sudden urge to Facebook Friend her, at least until my second martini arrives. The moment distinguishes a Jean-Georges' restaurant Uptown versus the Far West Village. The staff is hip yet approachable—but best of all, knowledgeable—perhaps moonlighting after design school or between gigs with their indie rock band. And this is the perfect counterpoint to Perry Street's ultra-polish. Despite its sleek interior the vibe is unexpectedly warm, teetering on fun. Like a bon-bon filled with tequila, or more appropriately, bourbon shaken with pepper and papaya.
Back in the lounge a dainty espresso cup arrives with something fuchsia inside. "Compliments of the chef, watermelon gazpacho," which turns out to be so rich it could be mistaken for melting gelato. Next up, the signature starter: rice cracker crusted tuna—a delightfully crunchy, blue fin tuna roll nestled atop sriracha-citrus emulsion. Divine, and the perfect prelude to my butter-poached lobster with ravioli, tastes even more decadent than it sounds, and I linger with my second martini so I can buy time and digest.
Perry Street's ambience is as pruned of needless embellishment as the food. The design is a mid-century palette of ivory leather, black granite and walnut, none of which compete with the charmed setting or the understatedly well-heeled crowd. It's the perfect setting for a clandestine rendezvous or low key business meeting between celebrity and management, which seems to be taking place behind me.
When my plus one joins 72 minutes late with boyfriend in tow my irritation morphs into boozy exultation. I am three martinis in, and instantly forgive her when she extends her newly-engaged ring finger. Just another night at Perry Street.
The next morning the manager leaves me a polite message to remind me I left my credit card behind (yet again) and not to worry, it will be safe with them until I return. As usual, the night before seems like a dream: Flickering candles…ambient trip hop…lobster claws…a marriage proposal…Young Turks
…and Lenny Kravitz sitting just inches behind me.
I can't wait to pick up my credit card.