Last night, after weeks of anticipation, I finally revisited Perdix, now reopened on the South Ends Tremont Street. Perdix had become a favorite, worth my trip to Center Street, based on its satisfying flavors and down-to-earth realnessa reality check for palettes that had tasted too much self-conscious, over produced food. The intimacy of the old JP space, and the natural, unscripted, friendliness of its staff had a feeling of home. Transplanting that realness downtown seemed a risk-laden venture. I happily admit my apprehension now seems unfounded. Perdix new space is a civilized jewel of a room: from its understated smoky violet-gray exterior facade and banquettes; to its warm amber walls and subtly tinted seafoam green embossed tin ceiling. Touches of crisp white punctuate the room in its linens, crockery, and light fixtures. One member of our party pronounced it Perdix, just all grown up. And I agree. Nicely lit black and white photographs of food ingredients: corn, potatoes, beets, fish provide a parallel visual feast. I can imagine this room, in a couple months time, becoming a rich and lively destination. To be sure this is a more self-aware space than Center Street, but it is thoughtfully conceived, and the result is one of comfort, refinement, and warmthcontemporary but not terminally hip. The architect/designer has kept his or her ego appropriately hidden here and walked a fine line leveraging the warmth of the old space in a higher end, more worldly market.
The chef-owner, Tim Partridge, made an effort to acknowledge we were returning guests, and, we got a bit of a tour from the proud hostess. The greenhouse room, that in Trucs days felt like a cross between a Soviet gulag and the kids table at Thanksgiving, has been transformed into a tailored and urbane terrace onto the newly cleaned up and replanted garden. A bit more greenery in this room, especially come winter, would be nice.
We were seated in the main room, with a view towards the busy frosted glass kitchen service area. Silhouettes of busy cooks, and the regular appearance of tempting plates set our appetites, and anticipation on high. We were warmly greeted, and given some menu updates by our waiter. Our eyes darted to other diners and their appetizers, labeled first in the menu. We chose a variety including the shrimp fritter, beef tartare, the scallops, and beet salad. My favorite appetizer: the scallops: deep rich flavor, creamy texture without a trace of toughness, and a briny-saline edge from the salmon roe that brought bright depth. Appetizer portions remain quite generous here without being ridiculously huge. The beef tartare came in a close second: a neat plateau of seasoned raw beef topped with a farm-fresh raw egg was delicious, and was as carefully composed, with its EVOO brushed toasts, as a zen garden. The beet salads horseradish cream was a tangy counter to the sweetness, each morsel having a distinct caramelized flavor, I craved just a bit more presence of vinegar, or some acid, to counter the sweetness. The shrimp fritter was our least favorite: less refined in form and flavor, but not at all a loser. The wine list is larger, more complete, and, on average, $5 higher per bottle than the old Perdix list, but there are several moderate choices here. Given the heat of the night, we agreed on the 2002 Huber Gruner Veltliner,($27)and it proved to be a happy choice with juicy summer hints of elderberry, peach, and buckwheat honey, while maintaining an overall crisp, non sticky, structure. A winning compliment to the range of entrées of salmon (2 orders), shrimp, and chicken. I chose the salmon, and believe I could enjoy this dish every night for two weeks! The salmon was tender and flavorful, deliciously moist but with no suggestion of sashimi at its core, and the olives provided a salty Tuscan counter to its clean sweet flavor. The chicken proved to be a trifle heartier than expected: satisfying and rich, but maybe better suited for an October evening. Still, only clean plates were returned to the kitchen. Our tables favorite was the shrimp, which had a bristling fresh, cleanness made livelier by a range of distinct and bright flavors: tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and peppers, all lent unity by some simple extra virgin olive oil. This dish delivered deep satisfying flavor. The shrimp was also the most attractive plate of the nighta painterly composition in summer colors.
Dessert brought our second visit from the hostess, checking in on our experience. We passed four desserts amongst the four of us. The plum cake was tart, crisp and intense, the cinnamon ice cream subtly flavored with a refreshing creamy texture, but not so creamy it left a film on the palette. We ordered two, anticipating it to be the favorite it was. The really freakin good chocolate torte was, as described: really freakin gooddense, bittersweet chocolate, with a lively raspberry coulis. The crème brulée was classic, packing an intense fresh vanilla essence. Espresso arrived perfectly pulled, dark, almost syrupy with deep flavor.
For an opening week we experienced very little confusion. Wine and food arrived in reasonable time, our waiter was attentive and knew both the menu and wine list in detail. An oblique sign of her organization: every dish arrived correctly in front of the guest who ordered it, without quizzing us on who ordered what. Why is this so difficult for some places, even at much higher price points, to grasp? So, a nice start, and I sensed some joyful goodwill among fellow diners in the house last night. The occasional intensity I remember from being practically in the kitchen in JP, combined with the palpable, though understandable, nervousness staff sometimes had about quick table turnovers, so necessary in the tiny old space, will not be missed by me. This is a bigger Perdix, more seats, some new staff, but enough of the familiar remains. South End and Jamaica Plain are not all that different communities, but valet parking will now attract new friends from further afield who may seek the show and drama of the larger valet restaurants. The coming test will be to deepen old friendships while making the new. Leaving just after sunset, the small but smart outdoor cafe area was filled with guests sipping a rosé, and a steady stream of pedestrians checked the posted menu. A happy bit of realness, in a handsome and comfortable setting, has opened on Tremont Street.