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Perla’s Restaurant Review by Guest Blogger Betsy Goldin Becker

10 June 2009 3,976 views 15 Comments

I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and can’t think of a more satisfying meal than a plate of fresh local seafood paired with an ice cold beer. In lovely yet land-locked Austin, a meal like that is virtually impossible to come by. So needless to say, I was excited to check out Perla’s, hopeful it would help fill my homesick yearnings for the fresh and flavorful fruits of the sea.

The Scene - As soon as I entered Perla’s lush, oak-tree lined patio area, I felt like I was on vacation. The blue, white and yellow striped color scheme leaped from the painted wooden picnic tables and canvas umbrellas to give the place a sleek, festive and friendly nautical vibe. Laura and Jodi scored a table right near the sidewalk, so we could enjoy watching the people strolling along SoCo – hipsters, trendsters, young families and retirees.

fries scallops We were even paid a short visit by the iconic, lovable, local celebrity, Leslie, who shared a few laughs and dirty Jesus jokes. Overall, I really dug the scene; it made me happy and relaxed, yet excited with anticipation for Laura’s belated birthday dinner.

The Service – Our waiter was attentive and reasonably pleasant, but somewhat lacking in the menu knowledge and the polished customer service skills that come with experience, personality and/or training. When I asked whether the bbq shrimp appetizer was made from Gulf shrimp (the only kind worth eating, in my opinion), he said he would check with the kitchen but never got back to me with an answer. When we inquired about whether they offer anything special for birthday girls (i.e. free dessert), he said it’s a good possibility and that he would check on it. When he returned to our table a few minutes later, he simply asked us if we had decided on a dessert without acknowledging our birthday inquiry, which led us to assume that they didn’t offer special birthday treats. That was a little awkward, so we ditched the idea of dessert altogether. On a positive note, our waiter was patient as we asked many questions about the menu, gave us honest recommendations on what to/what not to order, brought out our food very quickly and let us hang out on the patio playing Foodie Fight long after we finished our meal.

photo_001The Seafood - While the wine and cocktail menu looked interesting, I ordered a frosty pint of Live Oak Pilz as my pre-dinner refreshment. After initial sticker-shock followed by much deliberation about what to order off of the pricey menu (Soft shell crab BLT? Grilled rare ahi? Splurge on the $25 lobster roll?), we settled upon sharing the lobster roll and two appetizers – seared scallops and the pan roasted crab cake. We couldn’t agree upon fries or coleslaw to accompany the lobster roll, so we ordered both.

Oddly, we were never offered a complementary bread basket or crackers to munch on before the meal, but fortunately all of the food came out very quickly and at perfect temperatures. While I can typically take or leave fries (unless they’re sweet potato fries), Perla’s generous basket of fries was potato perfection – thin, hot and crispy with just the right amount of grease and salt. The three scallops that came with the seared scallops appetizer looked a little puny, especially for the $10 price point, but they were simply delicious. I loved the balance of flavors and textures between the succulent, warm buttery scallops in a spicy sweet jalapeno sauce accompanied by crisp shavings of jicama and green apples. The crab cake was the most beautifully adorned crab cake I had ever seen, crowned by a garland of fresh herbs and greenery. Unfortunately the crab was drab, the cake was too bready and the herbal garnish was the only fresh and interesting item on that plate.

Hopeful for some improvement, I saved my portion of the big ticket item – the $25 lobster roll with cole slaw – for last. While I don’t know if any lobster roll is worth such a hefty price tag, this one was pretty darn good, all the same. The crusty, toasted sandwich roll was stuffed with a generous portion of cool, luscious lobster salad made from large chunks of fresh, sweet lobster meat. The lobster roll was flavorful enough on its own and didn’t need the drawn butter sauce that was inexplicably served on the side. The tangy, crisp coleslaw and a second glass of Pilz were the perfect accompaniments to this dish.

The Synopsis - Of the three dishes we tried, the lobster roll was definitely the best, but all in all, I don’t think I’ll rush back to Perla’s unless it’s for a special occasion. While the food (with the exception of the crab cakes) was fresh and tasty and the atmosphere was right on, I still don’t think that the moderately sized menu items justified their jumbo-sized price tags ($10-$14 for small appetizers, $18 – $40 for entrees). Sure, Perla’s may be situated in the heart of Austin’s SoCo, but come on, it’s not like we’re dining in New York’s SoHo. The next time I get a yearning for fresh seafood in Austin, I’ll stick to my standby, Quality Seafood, where the portions are plentiful, the prices are reasonable, there’s never a wait and the grilled Gulf Shrimp platter is reliably great.

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  • double tonic

    We were going to do a three-way review on this restaurant, but when Jodi read Betsy's post, she realized there was nothing left to say.

    Now that I've read it, I agree wholeheartedly. I think Betsy is spot-on with everything she's said. Except that I thought our waiter had zero sense of humor. (Fine, so they can't all be comedians. But I also am never impressed when a waiter comes to ask if everything is okay with your meal … 75% of the way through your meal.)

    I would go back to Perla's because – much as I love 'em – I'm a little burned out on Homeslice and Guero's, and I do enjoy hanging out on South Congress. I'm also dying to try the soft shell crab sandwich, which is $10 less than the lobster roll.

    Great review, BGB! And thanks again to both of you lovely women for celebrating my birthday with me two weeks after my birthday ;-)

  • Anonymous

    Best post ever!! I sure like that Betsy Goldin Becker!

  • Jodi

    Betsy did nail this review. My input:

    The atmosphere and vibe are relaxed and made me feel like I was on vacation. The hostess was very nice about letting me snag a table near the street. Also, the waiter was cool with us playing a board game after the bill was paid. However, I kind of feel like he wrote us off after putting in our order. It got dark out and he brought a light over to the table next to us — but we were left in the dark.

    As for the prices, I felt they were a bit outrageous for laid-back Austin standards. Three TINY scallops for $12. Come ON.

    Just for comparison standards, I called Eddie V's. They have a happy hour every day from 4:30-7 and Sundays and Mondays ALL NIGHT. They offer 1/2 off select appetizers and $1 off drinks. According to the hostess (who I called), ahi tuna tartar, calamari, scallops tempura, or pepper shrimp would be $6.50 each. For comparisons sake, I asked her how many scallops come in the order and she estimated about 6 or 8.

    However, Eddie V's does not carry a lobster roll, Laura.

    At Quality Seafood, no lobster rolls either but you can pick up a 6 piece scallops dinner, including 2 sides, for just $8.99.

    An argument can be make for Perla's setting — after all, it looks out onto South Congress and features a beautiful large oak in the center of the deck.

    I'd sooner get take out from Quality and eat on the porch at home with friends, a six pack of beer, and enough light to play games.

  • rebeccammendations

    Wow ladies, what an informative post. I will admit, I was deterred when I needed a quick entertainment spot just from the high prices on the menu, which usually I'm willing to pay if the food is worth it. Any thoughts about visiting just for appies and drinks? Seems like that might be the best way to make the most of the setting, location, and their offerings?

  • Jodi

    We pretty much did apps and drinks (except for the lobster roll) and ended up paying around $30 each. Not too bad. I wouldn't personally rush back though.

  • Anonymous

    Ruth Reichl, Terry Durack, Patricia Wells, Nancy Leson, and to a lesser extent those on Iron Chef (preferably the original version however). Food critics provide a glimpse into a world that we sometimes cannot experience ourselves physically due of course to any number of factors. It is unfortunate that a surrogate is sometimes needed to root out the best food choices for our particular palates, but thankfully people step up to the plate and answer the challenge.

    I'll be honest, today has been a bit of a rough day. The breakfast tacos that I grudgingly swallowed for breakfast were somewhat dry and nigh overcooked, not the best start to an always humdrum Thursday. At work, the stress level rose to a peak and refuses to subside. A cube over from me in one direction is a speaker-phone conference call with painful attempts at humor and some of the worst customer service a human can expect to receive. Awkwardness and frustration abound there. A cube in the opposite direction is a coworker whose level of frustration has hit such meteoric heights that he curses his computer and questions "What the hell are you doing this to me for" to its lukewarm uncaring LCD screen. Sandwiched in between these two generates a pain that few can appreciate and medicine can barely stave off.

    Thankfully however, I stumbled across this blog and more accurately, this review. I'm not a religious person and avoid prayer like the plague, so I can't say I pray for things like this to happen to me with any grain of honesty. In spite of that, it's things like this that make me wonder if perhaps I should become slightly more religious. It's things like this that make a tedious day seem just slightly more livable.

    Overall, this review made me feel like I was at the restaurant and experiencing things first hand. After a brief, but warranted, background of the reviewer, the reviewer dove in, slow readers be damned.

    I felt as if I was feeling the same exact vibe that these women were experiencing. I almost felt like I completed their Sex and the City threesome as the perfect Samantha to round out the cast. For a second, I could smell Leslie's odious stank and could even see a disheveled, thong-encrusted man in my head. The scene was set.

    Next came the service, unfortunately. The birthday dessert awkwardness was so thick that I could cut it with a knife myself from my cube. I felt it like it was any junior high school dance all over again (Tom Gallows, you're a jerk, by the way). At this point I wanted to give the server only 10% tip out of spite for ignoring some of the ladies' queries. Patient and honest as he was, he was making my blood boil on some level. Thankfully, the review did not harp on this sub-par service for too long.

    Onward to the food. The meat of the review was tasty so to speak. Oddly enough, the highlight of this section for me was the fries. The description, and of course the included picture, made my mouth water and crave some of the greasy fried potatoes. The other food items sounded powerful tasty however, though they seemed a little too pricey for my tastes. Get it? I could smell the lobster roll and wished that my cube neighbors would get jealous, though of course they did not. One complaint alone sticks out for me. Butter sauce is given to be used. It simply promotes the flavors of the lobster and enriches that which is already there. I'd like to see another seafood review where the butter sauce is actually used while trying the dish. Just a hope!

    All in all, this review was sublime. It pulled me out of my world for a short period of time and threw me, albeit briefly, into the SoCo world of $3.33 scallops and $25 lobster rolls. I could feel the modernity of my surroundings as well as the air of delight and frivolous conversation. A rich tableau painted for us by this reviewer that really made the review what it is, genuine, hopefully accurate, and of course pleasing to the eye. Bravo!

    Thank you reviewer and good luck with those homesick yearnings!

  • double tonic

    "The lobster roll was flavorful enough on its own and didn’t need the drawn butter sauce that was inexplicably served on the side."

    It was there so I could dunk my bread and fries in it! Duh!

    (Obviously I am not dieting at the moment.)

    PS – Anonymous, will you marry me?

  • Jodi

    Anonymous – Do we know you? It's as if you were with us at the table that night, wearing your slinky, show-too-much-cleavage dress, and knowing expressions. Gotta love a Samantha! Hope Betsy's post improves your day as you sail into the weekend and freedom from your cube!

  • Lisa

    OK, now I can post. Work blocks me from posting to comments, gah.

    I have been to Perla's one for lunch. I really enjoyed it–we went inside and I loved the beachhouse vibe, but ended up eating on the deck under the huge tree. It felt like a vacation spot, and I had to imagine SoCo with sand…

    Anyway, I had a shrimp po-boy with fries, and the assessment of the fries was right on. The po-boy was tasty and well-presented, but I found the roll much too bready. I also needed some Cajun Chef on the side, but none was to be had.

    I didn't click on the prices being so high b/c I was only looking at sandwiches and appetizers/salads at lunch.

    I would love to go back for an early evening dinner while the sun is getting low and the breeze kicks up.

  • Oysterriot

    I know i'm beyond late to this particular party, but just stumbled across this while trolling the archives and i'm going to have to defend Perla. It's definitely pricey — and we had an inexcusable issue upon last visit, when the waitress substituted (and billed us for) a $60 bottle of wine rather than the $30 bottle we ordered. (We did enjoy the wine greatly, as well as a few pre-cocktails, so we felt lubricated/generous enough to pay it without making a scene.) While I agree that the waiters could use some more professionalism and a little less frat daddy haughtiness, I'll fight to the death re. the cost of the food, though — i think it's completely justified. You can't compare a Perla lobster roll to one anywhere else in town, IMO. They use fresh lobster (not packaged/ frozen, and the difference is easy to taste for lobster roll enthusiasts). So think about the value proposition. Perla lobster rolls seem to use the entire lobster – whole claws + tail, and very little filler/mayo. A lobster at HEB is about $12/lb — and you're getting the meat from a 1lb lobster, plus the labor involved in picking the meat (not to mention making the salad). And i'll tell you i've paid more than that for lobster rolls at shack-y places in New England, where lobster is about half the price that it is here and the atmosphere is equivalent to a gas station. The same applies to perla's oysters. They aren't the cheaper (but still excellent) locally available gulf oysters. These puppies are sourced from Canada/Washington/Massachusetts/other cold water places, so naturally you're going to pay more because they were flown in. If you're looking for a gulf shrimp shack situation, this isn't it – head on over to Shuck Shack or Quality Seafood. If you're looking for the highest-quality seafood in austin, and a fancier atmosphere, Perla's your place.

  • jodibart

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. While my friend Betsy guest blogged this post, I joined her for the meal and was on the same page. However, since then, I believe that she has been back and can probably share a bit more about her thoughts on Perla's. I'd like to go back myself to experience their brunch and give them another shot now that they have been open for a while longer. And, I don't even know if anywhere else in town serves a lobster roll!

  • Oysterriot

    I know i'm beyond late to this particular party, but just stumbled across this while trolling the archives and i'm going to have to defend Perla. It's definitely pricey — and we had an inexcusable issue upon last visit, when the waitress substituted (and billed us for) a $60 bottle of wine rather than the $30 bottle we ordered. (We did enjoy the wine greatly, as well as a few pre-cocktails, so we felt lubricated/generous enough to pay it without making a scene.) While I agree that the waiters could use some more professionalism and a little less frat daddy haughtiness, I'll fight to the death re. the cost of the food, though — i think it's completely justified. You can't compare a Perla lobster roll to one anywhere else in town, IMO. They use fresh lobster (not packaged/ frozen, and the difference is easy to taste for lobster roll enthusiasts). So think about the value proposition. Perla lobster rolls seem to use the entire lobster – whole claws + tail, and very little filler/mayo. A lobster at HEB is about $12/lb — and you're getting the meat from a 1lb lobster, plus the labor involved in picking the meat (not to mention making the salad). And i'll tell you i've paid more than that for lobster rolls at shack-y places in New England, where lobster is about half the price that it is here and the atmosphere is equivalent to a gas station. The same applies to perla's oysters. They aren't the cheaper (but still excellent) locally available gulf oysters. These puppies are sourced from Canada/Washington/Massachusetts/other cold water places, so naturally you're going to pay more because they were flown in. If you're looking for a gulf shrimp shack situation, this isn't it – head on over to Shuck Shack or Quality Seafood. If you're looking for the highest-quality seafood in austin, and a fancier atmosphere, Perla's your place.

  • jodibart

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. While my friend Betsy guest blogged this post, I joined her for the meal and was on the same page. However, since then, I believe that she has been back and can probably share a bit more about her thoughts on Perla's. I'd like to go back myself to experience their brunch and give them another shot now that they have been open for a while longer. And, I don't even know if anywhere else in town serves a lobster roll!

  • Betsy

    Glad to hear about your recent visit. I am 100% on the same page as you with the lobster roll – expensive, but amazing – and the one item I've tasted there that justifies the cost. (Haven't tried their oysters, so can't comment on those.) On the other hand, I did give Perla's a second chance for dinner, but the unexceptional food and below-par customer service still didn't “wow” me. Their entrees just didn't compare to the outstanding seafood dishes I've enjoyed at other high-end local restaurants – Uchiko, Eddie V's and Fonda San Miguel, to name a few. Not to mention, all of these restaurants dish out fabulous food without the attitude. However….. the lobster frittatta on Perla's brunch menu DOES look intriguing, so I'll probably give it one more shot for the weekend brunch. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.

  • Betsy

    Glad to hear about your recent visit. I am 100% on the same page as you with the lobster roll – expensive, but amazing – and the one item I've tasted there that justifies the cost. (Haven't tried their oysters, so can't comment on those.) On the other hand, I did give Perla's a second chance for dinner, but the unexceptional food and below-par customer service still didn't “wow” me. Their entrees just didn't compare to the outstanding seafood dishes I've enjoyed at other high-end local restaurants – Uchiko, Eddie V's and Fonda San Miguel, to name a few. Not to mention, all of these restaurants dish out fabulous food without the attitude. However….. the lobster frittatta on Perla's brunch menu DOES look intriguing, so I'll probably give it one more shot for the weekend brunch. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.