By on October 2, 2012
Perlo's Italian Restaurant
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Superbly Crafted Italian Favorites

By Nicole Shein | Photos by Brandon Vick

Let’s be honest-—the Rochester area is home to many Italian restaurants, and most of them are solidly mediocre. Not so Perlo’s, an unassuming East Rochester establishment that offers all the old Italian American favorites, as well as some fresh daily specials, each one cooked simply and superbly.

Take chicken French, for example. All too often this standby is so bland and tired that it’s not worth the bother. At Perlo’s, it’s like an awakening: the thin chicken cutlets practically melt in your mouth, whereas the sauce is so bright and fresh and lemony that you remember why this dish became so popular in the first place. This is a classic interpretation of Chicken French, unsullied by capers or herbs or heavy breading or excess cheese.

Sauteed calamari get the same light touch and minimalist approach. Yes, the calamari rings are fried to make them delightfully crispy, but then they are cooked with white wine and chicken stock before being tossed with banana pepper pieces, fresh tomato, onion, and kalamata olives. It’s an innovative, and addictive, twist on the usual batter-fried presentation. The sauce is light, the olives and peppers provide an occasional zing of flavor, and the calamari itself is more tender than any calamari has the right to be.

Perlo’s arancini are made by combining risotto, mozzarella, peas and bits of prosciutto, forming the mixture into balls and then frying them. Outside, they are crisp as can be. The creamy, cheesy interior has enough nuttiness to be interesting as well as decadent. These are plated with fresh tomato marinara and dusted with parmesan cheese.

Another Italian-American classic, the meatball, gets reinvented at Perlo’s. The appetizer version comes two (giant) meatballs to a plate, floating atop more of the fantastic marinara. Each meatball is covered in ricotta cheese, house-made pesto, and shavings of asiago, so that each bite provides a soft layer of creamy cheese to contrast with the herbal bite of basil and the tender, almost fluffy texture of the beefy meatball itself.

Apologies if I’ve overused the word “tender” to describe Perlo’s food, but I have to trot it out one more time, to talk about the osso buco. After a slow, traditional braise, the lamb shank in this entree nearly fell apart when I touched my fork to it. Its taste was rich, pleasantly unctuous, and hearty—with its accompanying pappardelle and ragu, the osso buco makes a perfect meal for these cool fall evenings.

Similarly, Italian pork sausage stars in an inventive pasta dish of rigatoni and beans. Broccoli and prosciutto provide contrast in both aesthetics and taste; the creaminess of white beans offsets the mild spice of the sausage. Tuck into this al dente pasta bowl at the end of a chilly, rainy day, and you won’t regret it.

You know it ain’t Italian unless there’s pizza, and Perlo’s makes a fine pie. They are grilled, with chewy yet thin crusts. The one I tasted had figs, gorgonzola, gruyere, arugula, prosciutto and a drizzle of balsamic-honey reduction, but there are also versions topped with more traditional ingredients such as sausage, peppers, pepperoni, and mushrooms, in addition to the classic margherita pizza.

Perlo’s also offers seafood entrees, many more pasta options, steak, salads, antipasto (the antipasto platter for two is a must for lovers of Italian meats and cheeses) and old-school Italian desserts like tiramisu, cannoli and spumoni. Executive Chef Ron Pearo handles the vast, varied menu with aplomb, providing whole-wheat and even gluten-free pasta when necessary, and customizing dishes to diners’ dietary limitations. It’s all part of the customer-centric approach to serving delicious, old-world dishes in a casual setting.

“We are all about hospitality and good food,” explains proprietor Donna Perlo. “We want everyone to leave our restaurant feeling like a friend—or even better, like family.”

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