By: Deb Cantrell
Approaching its two-year anniversary this summer, La Perla has adequately established itself on the south end of downtown as a cozy, often intimate destination for mojitos, margaritas and mezcals, especially after dark. The Latin-inspired food menu, however, has undergone a bit of a makeover.
Gone is lunchtime service (owners felt there was more opportunity to focus on the “drinks after work” crowd), as is the larger portions. With Josh Rangel – who has tenure at Waters and The Dive Oyster Bar – now leading the kitchen, La Perla’s menu features more small plates – dishes ideal for ordering in numbers and sharing with friends. Along with slimmed-down hours and a streamlined bill of fare is a shorter moniker.
“We dropped the ‘Negra’ entirely to simplify the name and make it more easily recognizable and memorable,” says co-owner Immy Khan, who added that most customers were calling the bar and restaurant “La Perla,” instead of “La Perla Negra,” anyway.
Our weeknight visit included a hungry party of four with wide-ranging palates, so shareable dishes were welcome. Dinner started with a flat, heaping plate of lime-tinged popcorn ($3), addictive and spicy, thanks to a liberal dusting of Tajín, a Mexican brand of seasoning primarily made from chile peppers, salt and lime. The snack is complimentary during happy hour from 4 – 7 p.m.
Then the smorgasbord began as Rangel prepared a medley of his newest, picture-perfect menu items: asada tacos, chubby sliders and plump chimichurri meatballs. Dishes were beautifully presented and arrived in timely fashion, considering the restaurant was more than half-full with both indoor and outdoor patrons on the street-side patio.
We tucked into the meatballs ($9) first, which came three to an order and topped with pink, pickled onions and curly microgreens. The bright green herb sauce offered a hint of garlic, as did the toothsome meatballs that were filling at two to three bites each.
The La Perla sliders ($12) also came three to an order and featured creamy avocado mayo, a citrus slaw, small medallions of ground beef, one neatly sliced tomato and, in an interesting twist, a thin slice of very mild mozzarella cheese. The mini burgers were simplistic and not overbearing in flavor or heft.
The carne asada street tacos ($12) provided more depth. There was crunch from the pickled radish wheels and crispy cabbage, a hint of spice from jalapeño cream sauce, richness from queso fresco, and chargrilled flavor from the tender beef. Cilantro served as a fragrant garnish. The corn tortillas were grilled and warm, too – a plus after having too many cold, crumbly corn tortillas around town.
The menu highlights kept coming with roasted cauliflower ($7) topped with fresh green salsa, papas bravas ($7), or crispy fingerling potatoes tossed with sea salt and paprika and served with more jalapeño cream sauce for dipping, and the ground beef-filled empanada ($5), which was flaky and satisfyingly savory. Other empanada varieties include veggie and chorizo with potato.
What hasn’t changed at La Perla is its coastal-inspired Peruvian ceviches, made with shrimp or tuna in three styles: costa, with piquant habanero pepper, ginger and lime; amarillo, with agave, orange and lime juice; and Nikkei, with tamarindo, soy sauce and sesame oil. All provide an authentic taste of Peru and its culinary staple of citrus-cooked fish.
Then there’s the cocktail menu. Co-owner Andrew de la Torre serves his famous mojitos here, served with a sugar cane stick for swirling and nibbling. The mint-muddled rum concoction ($8) was the most popular beverage at his now-closed Embargo bar. There’s also the less-sweet caipirinha ($8), Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaca, simple syrup and lime. Drinks are meticulously mixed by hand here and take time. We watched bartenders behind the amethyst stone bar muddle, shake and stir our beverages to perfection while contemplating our next visit.
Location: 910 Houston St.
For Info: 817-882-8108, www.laperlafw.com
What We Liked: Don’t miss the Peruvian-style ceviches. They are unlike any in town and feature more than one variety of “leche de tigre,” or citrus-based marinade.
What We Didn’t: Easy access to parking is a bit scarce on this end of downtown. Plan plenty of time for finding a spot, practice your parallel parking skills, and be prepared to walk. The end result is worth it.
Our Recommendations: Start with the Tajín-tinged popcorn with lime wedges ($3). The perfect accompaniment to a refreshing lime-based cocktail like the mojito or caipirinha, the palate-pleaser is complimentary during happy hour.
By: Deb Cantrell