Perbacco is located at 234 East 4th Street near Avenue B in Manhattan’s far east village, and is open for dinner on Monday – Thursday 5PM – Midnight; Friday 5PM – 1AM; Saturday 5PM – 1AM and on Sunday 5PM – 12 AM. On weekends, the brunch and dinner menu are both available from 12PM – 4PM. Prix Fixe Dinner Sunday Through Wednesday. For reservations, please call (212) 253-2038, and for more information, visit www.perbacconyc.com.IPhotos by Jade Hankinson
This small enchanting restaurant with its exposed brick walls hung with large mirrors, wood floors mottled ceiling and small tables is already discovered by a loyal clientele and can be high on the decibel scale, but it is also one of the most original Italian restaurants in New York and gives a new meaning to Italian cuisine,
The name translates to “wow” in Italian, which may just be the most used word in Perbacco’s dining room, where classic Italian ingredients are playfully spun on their axes and made anew. As Frank Bruni astutely described in his two-star New York Times review in 2008, “This humble setting in the far East Village is a trove of surprises, of dishes that don’t duplicate anything anywhere else in Manhattan.”Two years later, he’s right: With the avant-garde culinary flair of WD~50 and the atmospheric charm of a tucked-away rustic trattoria, it’s a wonder that Perbacco has stayed under the radar of New York’s most driven food-lovers.But that can’t last. In these days of cookie-cutter Italian and over-hyped pretentious and disappointing impostors, Perbacco is a paragon of authenticity, invention and purity.
Driving the operation are Gianluca Giovanetti and Pierluigi Palazzo, Italian restaurateurs and once-tourists who decided to hedge their funds on a restaurant venture that would catapult them into the center of NYC’s foodie culture. After opening Gnocco in 2000 in the heart of the East Village, they launched Perbacco in January 2003—at the time, the first enoteca to serve Italian fare in a small plates style—and earned enough food cred to ultimately consult on several other much-loved Italian eateries.
In the kitchen at Perbacco is Executive Chef Simone Bonelli, who was imported from Modena’s highly acclaimed Osteria La Francescana two years ago. It was there that he worked under famed chef Massimo Bottura and developed his signature “El Bulli-gone-Italian” style, wherein the traditional flavors and ingredients of classic dishes are preserved and exalted, only with contrasting textures, temperatures, consistencies and constructions. Needless to say, the menu has evolved from the original tapas-style dining, and though it is still best enjoyed through an array of affordable (yet generously portioned) small plates, its sophistication has yielded the introduction of chef’s tasting menus, both vegetarian and not.
The menu may read quirkily, but while the food is definitely fun, it is never funny. The meal begins as unconventionally as it might end—perhaps with crème brulee. Here, it’s made with aged parmesan, a savory cheese mousse topped with a thick, crackly shell of balsamic-infused cream. Even the most stylized dishes make direct reference to authentic regional fare, as with the Olive all’Ascolana, green olives stuffed with four different kinds of meat, dunked in breadcrumbs and fried to resemble mini croquettes. They’re traditional Ascolian street food, small little treats that run the risk of clinical addiction.
An homage to Modena, the Antipasto Emiliano is anchored by pillowy puffs of fried dough—gnocco fritto, as they call it abroad—that are best enjoyed when topped with a slice of freshly cut prosciutto and slightly deflated into a wrapper-like shell. To cut the greasiness—something you’ll welcome rather than reject—the dish is served with a small, spherified cipollini onion whose gelatin exterior bursts in your mouth, releasing a cool, funky flavor whose effect is as pleasantly dizzying as the “wine guys’” course-by-course selections.
Move onto something more familiar—the Caprese—even if you may not recognize the avant garde rendition presented alongside its more traditional counterpart. It comes like a thickened soup in a glass espresso cup, tomato and basil water turned into a gelatin that sustains perfect little cubes of mozzarella. Just as impressive as the shocking composition is the pureness of each flavor, attributed to the quality of the ingredients that’s such a priority in the kitchen.
It would be a crime to skip Perbacco’s interpretation of spaghetti carbonara, a deconstructed take that looks more like dessert than a mid-meal course. Two tall arches of twisted up, fried spaghetti hug a scoop of parmesan gelato nestled atop dehydrated egg yolk; on the other side of the plate, a large yellow yolk, slow-cooked to a wobbly tenderness, sits on a bed of guanciale crumbles. It’s as artful as it is delicious, surprising, and creative—a cold, smooth, crunchy affair that delivers the undeniable essence of carbonara with a true new wave sensibility.
Traditional pastas, all made in house, benefit from a fun flip as well. Take, for instance, the ravioli that are filled with mascarpone and prosciutto, then topped with a melon carpaccio—it’s evidence of chef Bonelli’s playfulness in transforming familiar Italian flavors into something completely novel.
The same goes for the Rosetta allo Speck e Buffala, a sideways lasagna of sorts that rolls together thick ribbons of pasta, speck and buffala mozzarella. Sure, it sounds delicious on its own, but the magic happens when a thick schmear of white truffle zabaglione is added around the perimeter, for use as copious or restrained as the diner might desire.
A final game to play before dessert is Perbacco’s entrees. Often a letdown in New York “Italian” restaurants (rarely in Italy) they are high points. Vitello Tonnato, disguised as sushi, perhaps, and served as an alternating row of ever-so-gently seared tuna and veal dominoes, each garnished with the slightest sprinkle of sea salt and cracked pepper. Neighboring them, a shaved fennel and caper slaw and two traditional sauces, one with capers and one with tuna and mayo, for a mix-and-match custom creation.Meat lovers will adore Breaded and deep fried Lamb Loin served with 3 ways artichokes: sauce, fried and braised.
The experience is shaped by the charming manager Francesco Nuccitelli, whose effusive enthusiasm and knowledge for Perbacco’s food and wine give added momentum to an already energy-packed meal. If he doesn’t make recommendations himself, he’ll dispatch one of his extensively trained “wine guys,” who might recommend pairings based on geographical region or personal taste. The wine list is predominantly Italian, and largely affordable, with lesser-known, on-the-rise varietals like Frappato, Picocentro, Vernaccia Nera, or more well-known grapes like chardonnay that are often redefined by Perbacco’s expertly chosen selections. Recommended By The Glass: Le Sughere di Frassinello is the Estate’s second wine, and is made from 50% Sangioveto with equal percentages of Merlot and Cabernet. The wine is barriqued (50% new) and takes on a rich, spicy complexity. This is drinking well now but will certainly age. For white: Vos de Vigne Angoris 2003 at $15 per glass is plump, rich and a delight.
Enjoy the fantastic desserts, by Executive Pastry Chef ~ Luca Balboni, with a glass of Vin Santo—one of the house’s most prized bottles—might accompany a burger. Surprised? Its buns and patty are made of white and dark chocolate mousse, strawberry puree stands in for ketchup, caramelized apples acts as onions, and they’re all stacked next to a pile of julienned gingered pear fries. But for those who want dessert to look like, well, dessert, the delicately constructed Millefoglie with strawberries, lemon cream, and mint gelato, is a must. With its light but assertive crunch and cool, crisp flavor combination, it’s one last surprise and one more reason to say, “Perbacco!”
Cookies and espresso are a perfect conclusion and the warm, guiding service is a standout. No serious foodie should neglect the Perbacco experience. We have added it to our updated list of personal favorites and so will you.