I am a big believer in eating local. One of my favorite weekend activities is a visit to a farmer’s market, where I can stock up on locally-sourced produce and other artisanal goodies. I like to dine local as well. I live in Silver Spring, in close proximity to an impressive array of ethnic restaurants where I can in indulge in some of the area’s best ramen, pad thai, Peruvian chicken, schwarma, and more. However, when it comes to higher-end dining, I find quality options in Montgomery County, Maryland to be limited.
City Perch in the new Pike and Rose development in North Bethesda, is a welcome addition to the local landscape. James Beard Award-winning Pastry Chef Sherry Yard serves as Vice President for Culinary Development for IPic Entertainment, which owns City Perch She served as Executive Pastry Chef for Wolfgang Puck for nearly 20 years, and her talent shines through in the breads and desserts at City Perch. Yard developed the savory portion of the menu with Executive Chef Matt Baker, most recently the chef de cuisine at Occidental Grill. His passion for locally-sourced cuisine is evident.
City Perch doesn’t feel like it’s perched above the suburban bustle of Rockville Pike. In fact, the dark woods and shiny lanterns are more reminiscent of a ski lodge in Aspen. During each of my three visits to the restaurant, I can’t help but admire the lovely decor, and marvel at the transformation of the former Pike Plaza.
My first visit to City Perch is as a guest at the opening party. Here I have an opportunity to meet Chef Baker, who excitedly gives my husband and I a tour of the well-stocked kitchen. He is particularly proud of his locally-sourced free-range chickens.
My second visit is to the City Perch bar, where a group of us indulge in cocktails and snacks from the bar bites menu. We order most of the shareable dishes available, including toasts (roasted mushroom, braised breef shortrib, and crab cake sammies), truffle fries, loaded baked potato popovers, deviled eggs, roasted nuts, and BLT potato chips. The toasts are the biggest hit. Our favorite is an earthy/sweet roasted mushroom tartine with glazed hen of the woods mushroom, whipped goat cheese, and mushroom marmalade. The creative cocktails should make for destination drinking. My favorite is called “Roll in the Hay.”
On my third visit, I finally experience a full dinner. It’s the day that Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review is published, in which he gives City Perch one star. He seems to have more compliments than disses, and his major complaint centers around over-zealous service. I think it’s unfair to post a full review of a month-old restaurant, particularly since he has a weekly “First Bite” column that is better-suited for newbie restaurants still working out the kinks. Chef Baker admits there was some valid criticism in the review, and that they are working to address some of the concerns. It’s part of the process of opening a new restaurant, he says.
In his review, Sietsema raves about the bread board, saying “I hate to break it to Vidalia, but City Perch has wrested from the Southern restaurant the distinction of best bread service in Washington.” A full board is $10, and whatever you do (New Year’s resolutions be damned), don’t miss it. We are nearly brought to tears by the fabulous zing of cayenne/parmesan popovers, the wonderful honey-dipped corn bread coated with whipped goat cheese, light and fluffy Chinese butter buns with scallions, and sweet orange sage biscuits, each paired with sensational flavored butter.
Most of the dishes fall into the category of creative comfort food, perfect for a wintry night. French onion soup is enhanced by the flavors of beef short rib and gruyere. My friend lavishes it with praise, deciding it’s the best version of onion soup she’s ever had.
Slow roasted chicken from the rotisserie delivers with crisp skin and juicy meat. I find the half chicken more than enough to share, or hoard for leftovers the next day. I like the chicken even better when I haven’t stuffed myself with far too much irresistible bread.
Cedar smoked salmon, as well as scallops, are simply but expertly prepared, allowing the main ingredient to shine. Braised short ribs are tender and thoroughly satisfying.
Some of my friends who have already dined here say that the food is very good, but given the price of entrees (i.e. chicken is $16, salmon $26), they want to see something else on the plate. Chef Baker has recently added garnishes to some of the dishes, enhancing the presentation. But what these diners really want is something more substantial, such as rice or greens. Value is an important ingredient when it comes to satisfaction, and this is probably more true when it comes to suburban dining. A little extra could go a long way here with some of the target market.
While rice on the plate may not be on the horizon at City Perch, it’s worth shelling out some extra bucks for the sides. Crispy brussels sprouts are one of the area’s best renditions, with its combination of caramelized apples, miso dressing, crushed peanuts, shaved pecorino, and togarashi. I am also a fan of the “1 Potato, 2 Potato, 3 Potato” section of the menu. We take turns digging our spoons into a creamy dish of pureed potatoes, made delicious by the addition of cheddar, gouda, and mozzarella cheese.
In terms of service, we are slow to order, as our primary mission is to catch up with friends. It’s clear than an effort is being made to not be too intrusive, based on the criticism from the Post. At the same time, my acquaintance with the chef brings with it extra attention, including tastes from the small plates menu (crab cakes and “everything” waffle topped with smoked salmon). It’s hard to be an unbiased observer, but it feels like the staff is making a genuine effort to get the service right.
City Perch is attached to the luxurious new IPic Theater, and makes for a perfect pairing with a movie. (The theater also sells food from a separate kitchen). While it may be an upscale night on the town, the ambiance of the restaurant and quality and creativity of the food, make it worthwhile. As someone who works and lives in Montgomery County, City Perch makes it truly a pleasure to “eat local.”
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: “At City Perch, enjoy the bread and desserts- if you can get a moment’s peace”
City Perch, 11830 Grand Park, N. Bethesda, MD