Feeding a stretch of Lexington that was hungry for upscale options
By Gerry Visco
Lexington Avenue in the 90s after dark mostly comprises a series of sleepy blocks and shuttered stores. But just one block south of the 92nd Street Y, the Turkish restaurant Peri Ela celebrated its first birthday on Feb. 14.
Owners Silay and Jill Ciner recall a mini-blizzard that first evening, which nonetheless didn’t deter diners from enjoying a romantic dinner. Ever since, the eatery has had a constant flow of customers, livening up the block ad attracting both locals and diners from more distant locales like California and Canada, thanks to a slew of positive reviews. Tables can be hard to come by in the 40-seat dining room, no doubt because of the tasty cuisine, an inviting atmosphere and the scarcity of other upscale places nearby.
The husband-and-wife owners are longtome residents of the East 90s. Silay came to the United States 20 years ago from Turkey. Jill is from Denver. This is their first restaurant, after earning a living through investments in real estate. So far, everything has fallen into place easily. Their day is long, but living near the restaurant makes things easier. So does having a great time.
“Our wait staff is wonderful and most of them have been with us since the beginning,” Jill said. “At this point in our lives, we wanted to do something fun, where we could socialize. We feel like we’re entertaining our friends here.”
Peri Ela means a “woman’s pretty name,” Silay said. Perhaps that accounts for the large paintings of some curvy femmes decorating the richly burnished birch walls. The Ciners spent months renovating the space, which was a former Greek coffee shop. They reconstructed the antique tin ceiling and designed a bar seating eight by the entrance. Instead of opting for the typical rustic ambiance favored by most Turkish places in New York City, the couple chose a more sopisticated European style popular in Istanbul, with art nouveau furniture, hanging glass lamps, exposed brick walls and low lighting. “Lexington Avenue uptown is changing,” Jill said. “A wonderful Italian restaurant and a boutique opened across the street.”
The Ciners were also pleased when the group Carnegie Hill Neighbors offered to help the new restaurant, and the couple hopes to become more involved in the organization.
“We’d like to improve the neighborhood so it can better serve the needs of the locals,” Silay said.
The Ciners serve mainly traditional Turkish dishes inspired by Silay’s childhood memories, with a wide variety of seafood, lamb and vegetable entrees.
“We have lots of vegetarian customers, too,” Jill said.
There is a good selection, with a vegetarian platter for $18. For carnivores, the combo plate combines ground lamb kofta, a lamb chop and cubes of both chicken and lamb kebabs. Also popular is meze, assorted appetizers including hummus, smoked eggplant, stuffed grape leaves and tarama, a carp-roe spread, scooped up by chewy Turkish bread. Accompanied by one of Peri Ela’sTurkish wines, you can while away a pleasant evening with Jill and Silay nearby to keep you entertained.