Piper Perabo Talks Martinis, Jamie Oliver's Roast Chicken and Super Hot Brains With Brut Champagne
“Restaurant culture became really big in my life early on because a lot of my friends, when we were starting out, had apartments so crammed and tiny that you couldn’t really all get together for dinner at somebody’s house – sometimes, people just have their beds in closets,” Piper Perabo says of her first New York City home, which was a reasonable commute to a waitressing gig in Union Square, and not too far from the dive bar Coyote Ugly that inspired the 2000 same-named hit film featuring the actress in her breakout role. She grew to love neighborhood hangouts like Schiller’s. “I lived a block away and I knew the wait staff, the bartenders and the maître d’ so well that sometimes I would go for staff dinner!” So when McNally alumni decided to develop their own New York City eateries, Perabo signed on to support – twice.
With both Employees Only (510 Hudson St., 212.242.3021), the West Village speakeasy pairing creatively crafted cocktails with bone marrow poppers and bacon-wrapped lamb chops, and Jack’s Wife Freda (224 Lafayette St., 212.510.8550, pictured above), the cozy SoHo dining spot serving sandwiches and seafood, Perabo prefers to play a role similar to a show’s producer. “Some of my friends are writers, some are dancers. We all talk about our collaborative art forms. But I can’t dance or play the trombone in a band,” says Perabo, currently producing and starring in the fourth season of USA's spy drama Covert Affairs, which shoots in Toronto. (She's also recently wrapped the big-screen thriller Endangered alongside James Marsden and Billy Bob Thornton.) “Yet when one of my friends is opening a restaurant, that’s something I can get into and support. It’s their ideas, and I am just someone who believes in them and is cheering on the creative process and the artists. And I’m happy to go to every single tasting because it’s so fun!”
PIPER PERABO’S THR TASTE TEST
"My constant fixation is Martinis. I’m a real Martini girl – all kinds. I like a classic vodka dirty Martini best, but on special occasions, I’ll switch to a French Martini."
Known for Cooking
"I’m not much of a cook – I mean, I do try, and now I have a bigger apartment than when I first got to New York – but the thing I make the most often is roast chicken, stuffed with two lemons and cloves of garlic. It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe that I read in a cookbook once; I had it at someone’s house and I memorized it. I started making it everywhere I go, because you can always find lemons, garlic and chicken."
"My happiest is when I’m home in New York, because I travel so much for work. If I’m uptown, one place that I love to go is The Four Seasons Restaurant. Everybody there is a super-grown-up businessman, but my best friend and I, when we’re really celebrating something and we’re randomly uptown, we love to go there. The bar is so gorgeous, and there’s something about that international style of architecture and how souped-up all the men are in their perfect suits. It’s such a fine experience, and we always get white wine and tuna burgers."
"God, that is so hard. There’s a place called Motorino that makes pizza in Brooklyn, and my girlfriends and I used to drive out to Brooklyn, get the pizza and then bring it back to Manhattan. I love Motorino! [When notified that there's now a Motorino outpost in Manhattan, Perabo responded: Aww, I sort of liked driving out to Brooklyn! I felt so badass!] Up here in Toronto where we shoot Covert Affairs, there’s a place called The Burger’s Priest – they make this burger that, instead of a bun, has a grilled cheese sandwich on either side. As a cast, we go there sometimes to get burgers – they don’t deliver."
"Maybe it’s not that crazy to other people, but I had never had brains before. I became friends with chef Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallsé, and a friend of mine was working at that bar and needed a better knife. I had met him once before, so I said, ‘I’ll ask the chef for a knife!’ Basically, I was in a cocktail dress and went into the kitchen to find chef Gutenbrunner and ask him for a paring knife – which, now that I know him better, was insane because he is so specific and precise about his food. You really shouldn’t interrupt him while he’s cooking. Luckily, he was very willing that night, and he had just taken brains out of a hot pan. He opened a bottle of champagne and let me taste super hot brains with cold champagne. Boy, was it good – oh my gosh, it was amazing! The combination and the temperature and the luxuriousness of the hot, melting brains with a really cold, brut, sharp champagne – wow! It was a stunner."
Simply Won’t Eat
"There’s two things – although one, I’m starting to change my mind on. The one I never eat is sea urchin; I just never have had it done well. No. I also used to never eat eggplant. I grew up in New Jersey, and a lot of the eggplant parmesan there is very thick and wet and soggy. But recently, we went to Italy with Covert Affairs, and I went to a restaurant where they did this finely diced eggplant, mostly the skin, with mint on pasta. It changed my whole idea of eggplant. Now I’m obsessively looking to see who else cooks eggplant the way I might like, because I loved it."
"I really like avocado and grapefruit together. I eat that at work a lot. Somebody had it in the kitchen one day and now I’m kind of obsessed with it."
"While I’m shooting the show, I’m really into juicing. I have fish for breakfast, and I drink a lot of green tea and green vegetable juice when I’m working."
"My friends. And I like it when a table is no more than six, because I like dinners to feel intimate – and usually, my friends have an acerbic wit, so we have to keep our voices down so people don’t hear all the wild things that we say."
"It makes me crazy when the radio’s on. I don’t even really like music on in a restaurant because I feel like the reason we all go out to dinner is to finally turn off our phones and our TVs and talk to each other, so I find music distracting. There have been some places where I’ve gone to eat that have amazing live bands playing, and sometimes it’s a real atmosphere choice and it’s about a place – you’re sitting outside in a café in Italy and someone’s playing the accordion, god, I wouldn’t change that for the world. But a lot of times, it’s just noise. It’s like, what’s the point?"
"I wish New York City could have even more outdoor seating. When I travel, there are so many cities in Europe where people sit outside. I love the energy of restaurant culture, but I love when it floods out into the street – people are just grabbing chairs, sharing a bottle of wine, and people are walking by. I wish more restaurants were pouring out into the street. I think everybody would be happier.
"When I first got to New York City and I was trying to get my first acting job, I was a cocktail waitress at a restaurant just north of Union Square. That’s when chocolate Martinis were all the rage – and, although I say I like all Martinis, that’s the one I really don’t like. I was not a very good cocktail waitress; it was a good thing I got a job as an actor. I spilled a chocolate Martini on a woman in a white suit. It was so horrifying. Waitresses in New York live on their tips, and to pay to dry clean out a chocolate martini from a white dress? First of all, it’s probably not going to come all the way out, you won’t be able to wear that suit again, so the dry cleaning bill is going to be exorbitant, and I knew I had just blown all my tips for the night. I was working for nothing at that point. I was embarrassed, but also just heartbroken. And she was so pissed off – obviously, now that I’m on the other side, and I love to shop and I love fashion, I can’t imagine someone dropping a chocolate martini on something I had that’s white! Oh, I just remember this woman’s white suit. It was awful."
"There’s a restaurant in L.A. on Abbot Kinney called Gjelina. They have this butterscotch pudding that is so good – I mean, I would do a lot to have a butterscotch pudding from Gjelina. No matter what dietary whatever I’m on, if someone says, ‘Do you want a butterscotch pudding from Gjelina?’ The answer is always yes."
"My grandmother makes wild blueberry pie from scratch, and something about wild blueberries, they’re so much smaller and the color is so beautiful, and her pie crust is so perfect. My grandmother is 104, so she’s been perfecting her pie crust for at least 80 years, if not longer. I would definitely have my grandmother’s wild blueberry pie as my last meal – I hope I do."
Covert Affairs airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on USA Network.