Bueno Yerba Buena Perry!
Yerba Buena Perry convinced me that despite all the restaurant closings in NY this summer, there are still exciting and remarkable new spots opening with flourish. From the outside, Yerba Buena appears to be very hush-hush. There is no sign indicating its name, merely a black awning with a leaf imprint and a discreet menu. It’s in an easily-passable red building on the corner of Perry Street and Greenwich Avenue, across from Gusto and Fiddlesticks. If you didn’t know what you were looking for (or even if you did), you could easily walk right by it.
Once you open the doors though, you’re greeted with cheery Cuban music and the dull roar of chatty and excited diners. Yerba Buena carries a true buzz. The restaurant vibrates with noise. The space is both elegant and hip, themed on an upscale Havana dining club. The floor is inlaid with black and white tiles, a massive mahogany bar with stools and a curved mirror dominates the room, and wafer-thin shades cover the windows alluringly. Fat white candles burn through the night and spiny green plants dot the corners and window sills. The luxe design and hideaway spirit let you (and everyone around you) feel as though you’re in on the secret.
The service is wonderful. The hostess, while a bit awkward and very clearly new to the job, was chatty and amiable. The owners flitted around the restaurant, checking in with all diners on the quality of their experience and socializing with those sitting at the bar. The food and drinks were served at a steady pace, not too fast and not too slow – and although I did feel a little pressured to keep ordering more cocktails, our waitress was in general very unobstrusive.
Now to the food, it was…divine. My party and I started off with an order of the croquetes de Quejo, delicious breaded bite-size balls of strong Manchego cheese served with a scrumptious dish of salsa verde (which had rich hints of avocado). They were addictively good. I could have demolished 3 orders of them single-handedly. For main dishes, my boyfriend ordered the suckling pig, my friend chose the cachaca shrimp, and I opted for the empanadas. The suckling pig was the highlight of the night, tender and served in a delightfully spicy habanero tomato salsa. Sweet, juicy, and delicate yet with a crunchy exterior, the pig was a study in blended textures, flavors and colors. The cachaca shrimp was probably the downer of the evening, served with a disappointingly mellow and weak Rio de Janeiro tomato salsa. The salsa was too runny and wet when served with the crisp shrimp. My empanadas were satisfying. Well-breaded and stuffed to the brim with spinach and Manchego cheese, they were tasty on their own; however, when paired with the sweet and punchy fig vinaigrette, the empanadas transitioned to innovative and surprising.
Usually, I find that dessert disappoints. It just waters down and sours a savory meal. Dessert at Yerba Buena Perry was nothing short of magnificent. My churros was absolutely to die for. Lightly dusted with cinnamon, they were light and airy, and the dulche de leche sauce was addictive. From me to you, I had to stop myself from dipping my fingers in and licking them like a little girl. Both of my companions opted for the dulche de leche Sunday, which they both sucked down with lips smacking and exclamations of how marvelous it was.
Fitting of a restaurant associated loosely with Little Branch, the cocktails deserve accolades of their own. They are innovative and fresh, featuring Cuban flavors and liquors, surprising mixes, and exciting presentation. The Old Cuban is particularly good, tart and sip-worthy with rum, bitters, champagne, yerbabuena, and lime. It certainly wakes up your tastebuds. My boyfriend raved over the Vieux Carre, featuring rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth and bitters. A little too much for my taste, it totally satisfied his yen for a gentlemanly cocktail.
All in all, Yerba Buena is refreshing. Yes, it is noisy, but it thrives off of the tangible vitality of the atmosphere. It is perfect for birthday drinks, a raucous dinner before a night on the town, or a slow night to enjoy artisan cocktails.