I've only been to Perla's once before, a couple of years ago, during Austin Restaurant Week, so they had prix fixe menus with three set courses (previous post on it is here). I went for lunch with a friend earlier this week; we had the full menu available to us, and we took the opportunity to split all of our dishes.
Arriving for a late lunch around 1:30 pm, there was hardly anyone in the restaurant. They have erected a huge tent over their front patio, and given that they used clear plastic panels, it looked quite nice (no, I didn't take a picture, sorry!), and even though it was slightly colder outside, the temp was comfortable as we walked through.
We told the waitress we were going to share everything, and she did not ask if we wanted them all together or spaced out. And after what seemed like a bit of a lengthy time, given the lack of patrons at that hour, all three dishes came at once. PEI mussels steamed in Fireman's #4 Blonde Ale, with fennel sausage and tomatoes. Mussels were good, sausage was a great addition, but the broth had no zip to it, no real depth of flavor. With a good bowl of mussels, you should really just want to drink up the broth, and in this case, it mostly sat there. The accompanying ciabatta garlic toast was quite tasty.
Beer battered fish and chips with hand cut fries was unfortunately, an epic fail. Everything was soggy, not well-fried at all. And now looking at the picture, it appears that the pieces of cod were sitting on a cooling rack for quite some time, getting grid impressions in them. I like that the russet potatoes had their skins on, but they too, were on the limp side. Our waitress had come back to check on us early on, when we were still both eating the mussels, and then she was rather scarce. One of the other expediters/bussers cleared our table, and when our waitress finally reappeared, we told her the fish was under-fried. She apologized, and said she'd inform the kitchen. When she came back, she did tell us they would take it off the bill. I will still maintain that the best fish and chips I've had in town is at the Bits and Druthers trailer. (My post on them here.)
Our third dish was a pan-roasted crab cake with caramelized endive and sauce gribiche (not pictured, as it was in a pitcher on the side). The crab cake by itself was excellent -- almost all crab, very little if any filler. Well cooked, so it was nice and crispy on both sides. The endive was an interesting addition, but it didn't do a whole lot for me. And what, might you be asking is a sauce gribiche? I had to look it up, and my culinary school graduate dining companion wasn't familiar either. It's a mayonnaise-based sauce with chopped up hard-boiled egg in it, and often capers, cucumber, and some green herbs like tarragon or chervil. Neither of us particularly cared for the flavor profile of this one, and I am not entirely sure what the flavors were. Quite sure there weren't capers, but perhaps it was chervil....it was something I clearly can't identify. The tartar from the fish and chips was a little better match for the crab cake, I think.
Not really needing dessert, we were going to pass entirely until we saw a pear tart tatin and butterscotch pot de creme on the dessert menu; we opted for the later, which had fleur de sel in the dish on the side, and lovely coconut-oaty tuille cookies. Underneath all the cream was the thick and creamy (and rich) butterscotch, and when dipped in a teeeny bit of salt, it was delicious!Our waitress was very friendly, though absent for various periods. Clearly she pegged us as "ladies of leisure," as the dessert also took a very long time to come out. (Were they harvesting the sea salt?) While there were some hits, like the crab cake and the dessert, we both left a bit disappointed in the food. I also wonder if the chefs and management are concentrating too much on the new Elizabeth Street Cafe, which is owned and operated by the same group (Lambert's too)? Despite the misses that we encountered, I don't think it will do much damage to Perla's...they're in just about the hottest location in town, in the middle of the SoCo strip. Visitors and locals alike will pay Perla's prices, and will continue to think they're getting outstanding food, but I'd say the luster of off the pearl.