Perla's chef-owner Lou Boquila speaks fondly about his mother's cooking, but he admits he never truly appreciated it until later in life. "Anybody would want to recreate those memories," said Boquila. "I just happen to work in a kitchen."
The long-awaited Perla, a modern Filipino BYOB overlooking the Singing Fountain on East Passyunk Square, is targeting a next-Thursday, August 18 opening. The space at 1535 South 11th Street (once a rowhouse sandwiched between Fond and Gennaro's Tomato Pie) was gutted and tastefully renovated as an elegant, 30-seat dining room with a semi-open kitchen and large windows that open up onto the square.
Boquila got his start in Philadelphia's restaurant scene as a dishwasher in the legendary Knave of Hearts, a Headhouse Square restaurant at the forefront of Philly's first restaurant renaissance in the 1970s. From there, he moved on to intern at Audrey Claire's Rittenhouse bistro Twenty Manning Grill under Kiong Banh, eventually working his way up to sous chef in 2005. In 2007, Claire transplanted Boquila to her eponymous BYOB in Rittenhouse Square, where he led the kitchen as executive chef for eight years.
Named after his mother, Perla is Boquila's first solo-venture, and really, the first of its kind in Philadelphia. A chef-driven restaurant focusing on regional and traditional Filipino fare, modernized just a tad with a bit of the French technique he learned during his Twenty Manning days with Kiong. Instead of the customary family-style, share-all meals popular in Filipino cuisine, Boquila is opting for a more Philly-BYOB approach: composed plates, four courses, $45 a head, plus fried rice supplements if you want to do it right.
The menu will be meat and fish heavy, with all the salty, savory, and sour you could expect from a Filipino meal. However, that's not to say there won't be vegetarian options as well. Boquila, like the best of 'em, will work with local produce whenevever possible, which is especially exciting for homespun menu items like pinakbet (the base shown on the left), a rustic vegetable stew similar to ratatouille, except with the added depth of homemade bagoong, a fermented shrimp (or fish) paste Boquila's made vegetarian with fermented soy bean, nori, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and onions.
On Sundays, Perla will make the switch to brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a traditional Filipino breakfast of silog, a portmanteau of the Filipino words for fried rice (sinangag) and eggs (itlog). The menu will be short and sweet: family-style garlic fried rice, eggs, and tapa, or cured meat, in whatever daily preparation Boquila has in mind. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better hangover cure.
Sunday nights, however, are reserved for kamayan feasts, Boquila's answer to the purists who might claim Perla's coursed menu isn't "real" Filipino food. A lavish spread of rice, vegetables, meats, sauces, dips, what have you, laid out onto giant banana leaves with not a utensil in sight — eat with your hands. Boquila plans to stretch the kamayan dinner between two seatings every Sunday, and instead of reserving a seat, he's letting guests reserve whole tables at $40 a head.
Stay tuned for menus and pictures.