If you’ve ever met the owners of Red Perch, you know that Australian chef Cameron Payne and his Honolulu-born wife Nicole seem to belong on the cover of a magazine as much as behind the counter of a shop in The Arcade. They are beautiful people — outside and in — which is the only reason we can’t hate them outright. (Seriously: Their Christmas card features a Corgi and a kid so cute it’s verging on rude that they even shared it.) We also can’t hate them because Payne does such stellar culinary work downtown. I can’t imagine how many bro-on-bro crimes he’s prevented simply by providing hungover Chads with the fried food they need to get back in their docksiders and out onto Lower Broad.
But Payne’s latest public service isn’t fried at all. For $6.95, you get a half-pound of big, juicy shrimp (six or so) swimming in nuoc cham, a Vietnamese fish-sauce dressing that’s essentially a Molotov cocktail of umami, citrus and spice. The dish is topped with fried onions, Thai basil, sliced chiles, fresh lime and green onions, so it pings all the taste buds — salty, sweet, sour, spicy and umami. To make it a meal, order a pound for $10.95 or tack on some Aussie-style dim sum. At $1.75 a pop, Perch’s deep-fried pork dumplings are a delightfully decadent complement to bright grilled shrimp. They also happen to be the perfect vehicle for sopping up the drinkable dressing at the bottom of your bowl.