| by Jessica Llanes | photography by Alex Lepe | It’s satisfying to once again see the glow of patio lights and hear the laughter of patrons on a Saturday night in the space once occupied by Zambrano’s Wine Cellar, shuttered late last year. Although we’re sad to say goodbye to restaurateur Cef Zambrano’s long-time home on Houston Street, it appears the new owners have already won over customers with their chill and unpretentious eatery, offering tequila and ceviche instead of wine and pizza.
Open since late March and the brainchild of veteran trio Ramiro Ramirez (Salsa Limon), Andrew De La Torre (Embargo) and Imran Khan (The Lunch Box/Black Rooster Bakery), La Perla Negra is a fun yet sophisticated addition to a part of downtown that now has several “grownup” happy hour options, including The Brass Tap and Thompson’s.
Billed primarily as a bar with a modern cantina feel, La Perla provides imbibers with a boutique beer and wine list, hand-crafted cocktails like the Mezcal Mule, a tequila-based take on a traditional favorite ($9), and an impressive array of tequilas, including añejo, premium and mezcal offerings. Bartenders are knowledgeable and can make recommendations for the inexperienced tequila drinker, and I was told that special tequila-tasting events are coming soon.
The patio is a small but popular choice and was full when I arrived for Friday lunch, and again, late on a Saturday night. However, the small interior is airy and comfortable with island accents and art, and I was pleased to see the familiar amethyst bar top from Zambrano’s still in place.
I was especially pleased with the quick service and friendly rapport of the staff. Within minutes of sitting down, guests are provided with water and a small bowl of popcorn, and orders are taken promptly. But who needs popcorn when you have menu options like those designed by Chef Ryan Pandolfi?
Particularly impressive are the health-conscious, Blue Zone offerings, now available around town, like the red quinoa and Peruvian bean salad with a citrusy vinaigrette ($5). The ham and cheese empanadas ($7) may not be Blue Zone approved, but the gorgeous and flaky puff pastries are a must try. And seafood lovers won’t be disappointed with the mix-and-match ceviche menu ($12-15). One order definitely is big enough to share, and diners choose from one of four fish options and then select a spicy, tangy or sweet-and-sour marinade. The fish is very fresh, and my only complaint is that there weren’t enough chips to soak up the delicious broth (though the staff was kind enough to bring more upon request).
The sandwich and power green bowls seem the most popular choices for lunchtime diners. My seared tuna bowl ($12) didn’t arrive exactly as described on the menu but included a generous serving of sushi-grade tuna, plenty of greens, avocado, Roma tomatoes, radishes, and roasted corn, plus a flavorful, citrus dressing. My dining companion opted for the classic Cuban ($12), a hearty and satisfying hot sandwich served with a side of quinoa.
There are no sweets offered, but an after-dinner cocktail or tequila tasting is always on the menu. With a coastal jewel this fresh now available, the 900 block of Houston will be getting a lot more attention after dark from now on.
Location: 910 Houston St.
For Info Call: 817.882.8108
Price Range: $-$$$
Hours: (Bar) 11:00 a.m. to midnight daily, (Kitchen) 11 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily (small bites may be available late night)
What We Like: The fresh seafood and vegan menu options, plus portion sizing perfect for a light lunch or appetizer-sized accompaniment to a happy hour cocktail.
What We Don’t: Although the roasted pork, ham and pickle profile on the Cuban was exactly right, the sandwich could be improved by using a more traditional bread.
Our Recommendation: The vibe here is perfect for a cozy, date night or to take a crowd for happy hour, which is offered daily until 7 p.m.