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Monday, March 29, 2010

Tasty Tidbits: Pera

Raising the bar for New York’s growing crop of Eastern Mediterranean-centric restaurants, Pera resonates with a singular panache in terms of setting and food. While the former is stylishly contemporary, the latter is steeped in the historic ingredients, traditions and techniques (primarily) of Turkey, infused with New York gustatory flair. With its focus on grilled meat and seafood, Pera’s can be characterized - again, ambiance and menu wise - as being akin to the city’s top steakhouses, albeit one with an Eastern Mediterranean ethos and more moderate pricing.

On the weekends, Pera assumes a different persona. It presents a brunch with a playful Eastern Mediterranean takes on midday repast classics and becomes a “Mediterranean Marketplace” for supper at which diners can create their own meal menus based on sumptuous displays of seasonal fresh whole fish, seafood, shellfish and vegetables, from which they choose ingredients to be cooked to order.

The Mediterranean Marketplace Saturday and Sunday suppers also feature New York City’s first ongoing whole lamb roasts.

ADDRESS: 303 Madison Avenue (bet. 41st & 42nd streets)
New York, NY 10017

LOCATION: Situated in the epicenter of midtown, a pleasant stroll from Times Square, the Theater District and Rockefeller Center, while just steps from Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library and Bryant Park.


TELEPHONE: (212) 878-6301

PROPRIETOR: Burak Karacam


CO-EXECUTIVE CHEF(S): Jason Avery and Sezai Celikbas

DÉCOR: Cosmopolitan with a fashionably modern edge, which adroitly avoids any ethnic clichés with elements such as the massive wine rack dominating the northern perimeter. Walnut trim frames the sienna, burnt orange, brown and gold hued palette, showcased on the dramatically striped banquette lining one wall and reflected by eye-catching convex mirrors. A casually swank vibe pervades, enlivened by the always-active open kitchen with its ten-foot long grill framed by a proscenium of ceramic and onyx panels. Anchoring the rear of the restaurant, it is balanced by the distinctive zebrawood bar accented with backlit honey onyx. In turn, the bar is paired with an inviting communal table composed of a single slab of exotic enterolobium, a tropical tree that stands 100 feet tall with a trunk 10 feet in circumference. A draw at lunch and dinner, the sculpture-like table echoes the restaurant’s genial ambiance.

CUISINE: Drawing inspiration from the entire Eastern Mediterranean region, there is a focus on Turkish cuisine, considered, one of the world’s three foremost examples of culinary art, along with French and Chinese. The menu showcases regional dishes, particularly those of Adana, one of Turkey’s most vibrant cities celebrated for its special meat and meze preparations. While authenticity is the guiding principle, some Western culinary concepts are integrated. This amalgamation is in the spirit of Turkish food itself, which evolved as a reflection of its origins in a country that served for centuries as the geographical junction of East and West.

Adana Style: An ancient technique practiced in its purist form at few restaurants outside of Turkey, Sezai Celikbas is one of its internationally acclaimed masters. It starts with a surgically precise cleaning of a menu of meat cuts, leaving no bone sinew, muscle or organ residue whatsoever. The fat is likewise removed; then it and the meat are hand chopped with a pala – curved knife indigenous to Turkey. The two are combined to re-marble the meat at a specific ratio to assure maximum flavor and then massaged with a spice mixture.

After marinating for six hours the meat is hand pressed onto two-foot long flat skewers and grilled. The majority of the fat burns off (having imparted its distinct taste characteristics), resulting in kebabs with a sensual, almost velvety mouth feel and a seductively spiced flavor.

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