Interview Chef Sherry Yard of City Perch

For our spring edition of DiningOut New Jersey, we sat down with renowned restaurateur and chef Sherry Yard, the chief operating officer of IPIC Entertainment. A beloved role model in the hospitality industry, Yard, who is based in Los Angeles and has been dubbed “LA’s sweetheart” by the media, has helmed the kitchens at five-star Manhattan restaurants, whipped up decadent dishes for the Academy Awards Governors Ball, and has worked under the illustrious Wolfgang Puck, a mentor for whom she has penned a number of cookbooks. In January, Yard visited City Perch in Fort Lee and spoke with us about her remarkable background, the secrets behind her successful restaurants and her burning passion for food.

In the center of Hudson Lights – a Manhattan-style strip mall adjacent to the George Washington Bridge in the heart of Fort Lee – is City Perch + Kitchen and Bar {2023 Hudson Street, Fort Lee; 201.582.7101;} Sharing the space with the two-year-old iPic Theater, two words come to mind about this dynamic duo: fun and decadence. City Perch is one of three tri-state area locations, which include Westchester’s Dobbs Ferry and North Bethesda in Maryland, that are paired with the IPIC Theater. All pride themselves on delivering inventive, scratch-made dishes cooked with the finest ingredients.

As the COO of IPIC Entertainment and its restaurant division, Tuck Hospitality Group, Yard wears many hats. She oversees the iPic Express concession concept for the luxurious movie theaters and independent restaurants around the country from the Tuck Tavern Room in Westwood, California to The Tuck Room in New York City to Tanzy Restaurant at Boca Raton in Florida.

City Perch Fort Lee NJ - Bar Area“The wonderful thing about iPic, we’re like a little mini country club because you walk through the door and you spend four hours easily,” says Yard, who stars in the editorial pre-show iPic Life, which is aired in theaters monthly. “You come in and have a wonderful dinner and have a drink at the bar then go up to your movie, have dessert in the movie, and the next thing you know, you’re here for four hours, and because of that it’s a very unique experience. We attract a certain type of clientele foodies, basketball players, football players.”

It’s truly a dinner and a movie experience like no other. Inside City Perch, a restaurant decked out in dark woods with comfy, intimate booths and an immaculate open kitchen, lies the centerpiece: a full bar. Here, master mixologist Brian Diaz shakes up refreshingly delicious cocktails that he pours up with heart like the El Corazon made with Camarena reposado tequila, splashes of passion fruit, pomegranate and blood orange complete with tellicherry peppercorn and a salt-coated rim. The Norma Jean is another bar favorite: homemade strawberry lemonade with a shot of vodka named for the late great Marilyn Monroe. But that’s only a fraction of the fun compared to the menu offerings. First, everything is farm-fresh, thanks to the restaurant’s delightful farm to table concept.

City Perch Fort Lee - Farm Fresh Dining“City Perch was borne out of Montgomery County, Maryland. It was our first City Perch restaurant,” explains Chef Sherry, who has a shoulder-length blonde bob and bangs and a brilliant smile as sweet as her desserts. “With the Chesapeake Bay being there, the oysters, the crabs and farmland, it just made so much sense to be able to walk downstairs to the farmer’s market, to create a menu based on local produce. When we were going to come to New Jersey, the Garden State, what would be better? Farming is charming. We really like to curate the restaurant to the community.”

Just as the City Perch at the Dobbs Ferry location reflects the rustic feel of upstate New York, the vision for Fort Lee’s location was to merge both its industrial and farm-like characteristics. At City Perch, only the most articulately prepped and cooked dishes grace their carefully curated menu. Chef’s specials have included seared sea bass with a puree of butternut squash. On the dinner menu, Yard recommends the herb-roasted chicken served with charred cauliflower, arugula, cilantro purée and spiced citrus vinaigrette. The chicken, she says, is brined and dusted with a “secret spice mix.”

“It’s just to die for,” she says.

Another Perch favorite? Braised beef short ribs. The ribs are braised for eight hours and made with sautéed spinach, shallots and smoked gouda-potato pancake. Their namesake burger is another must-try: your burger cooked the way you want it topped with red onion marmalade, bacon, bibb lettuce, (a smaller version of Butterhead and the first of its kind grown in the U.S.) tomato and cheddar served with a generous portion of golden French fries.

City Perch Fort Lee - Fine Dining - IPIC

For starters, the Brioche-Crusted Maryland Blue Crab Cakes are another heavenly option.

“Having a pastry background, you look at things like a chef with a little bit of a different eye,” explains Yard. “I took a brioche and put it on the bottom, sliced paper-thin, and then the crab filling in the center so it’s held together by this little mini sandwich and then we sear it on either side, and it’s all about the sweet crab on the inside, which is just perfect.”

The crab cakes are made with Old Bay remoulade, frisée and citrus salad and served with yuzu vinaigrette, which yields a spicey, tangy taste. What makes City Perch’s dishes so special? Unbeatable ingredients.

“We’re not going to take a recipe and make it where it’s unrecognizable,” said Yard. “We want to create a recipe that’s uniquely familiar, that way, you can relate to the food. It has integrity to the ingredients.”

As an accomplished pastry chef, who has served as a guest judge on national television shows like Cake Wars and The Next Food Network Star, brunch is Yard’s favorite menu.

“I’m a brunch person,” said Yard with a smile. “When I opened up the Rainbow Room in New York City, I made my way over to the pastry side, and over the years I worked with Wolfgang Puck and I wrote his cookbooks. I did development for his savory frozen food line and coffee line. So I’ve never strayed away. You don’t need cookies and ice cream for dinner, but I’ve never strayed away from savory. Savory to me is fun.”

While it’s hard to pick just one dish from a sweet tooth-friendly brunch menu, the crispy chicken and waffles served with real spicy bacon maple syrup from Vermont is a standout shareable treat. Their crisp and tangy, made-to-order sourdough waffles topped with dill crème, smoked salmon and red onion is another patron favorite.

“It’s like the best everything bagel that you’ve ever had, but lighter,” she notes.

First-time guests need to try their signature Infamously Decadent French Toast: the toast slices are stuffed with whipped mascarpone (an Italian cream cheese) and then topped with a medley of farmer’s market berries and compote.

For saltier palates, “the short ribs on the potato cake will just transform your life,” she says.

“The potato cake has a little bit of jalapeño to give it a little heat and the softness. The potatoes are barely bound together in a cake so it’s unctuous.”

For calorie counters, the restaurant also offers gluten-free pizza crust and their garden-inspired breakfast salad, which can be paired with a morning cocktail like their Bloody Mary.

“That’s what I love about City Perch,” she said. “It’s a shared experience. It’s meant for the family to come together, it’s not just date night. It’s girls’ night out. Guys’ night out. It’s come as a dining destination on its own. You don’t have to go to the movies to come to City Perch.”

IPIC Fort Lee NJ - Luxury Seating

The luxurious iPic theater, however, is an inevitable part of this new haunt. With large comfortable recliners, moviegoers can enjoy their new favorite flick while noshing on finger food like sliders or relish one their sinfully decadent, “always whimsical” desserts. Like The Deep Dark Chocolate Chocolate Donut: a chocolate ganache masked with Panko breadcrumbs, deep-fried to order, served with pistachio gelato and dark chocolate sauce.

The Raspberry Red Velvet Pavlova is another signature dessert. It’s what Chef Sherry says is akin to a giant red mountain: crispy vanilla meringue, red velvet raspberry chunk ice cream, whipped cream and gooey raspberry sauce. (See the instructions on how to make this mountain at home in our DIY section.)

Humble beginnings

Growing up on the hip, foodie-centric streets of Brooklyn to a family immersed in the hospitality business, Chef Sherry says catering to people’s nutritional needs is a part of her DNA. On top of living next door to a melting pot of Italian and Polish neighbors, Yard’s godfather was the general manager of the Waldorf Astoria while her aunt owned a restaurant in Greenwich Village.

“Taking care of people has always been in my blood, and that’s truly where the passion comes and the food is the result of it,” explained Yard.

Apart from opening up the Rainbow Room in New York City, Yard has worked as an executive partner at Spago in Beverly Hills under the illustrious Wolfgang Puck for whom she has written a number of his best-selling cookbooks. Puck, she recalls, is like a big brother.

“Being together for 20 years, it was a wonderful relationship of autonomy, mutual respect and mutual passion for what we did,” she says. “No day at Spago was ever the same. It was always different. It was always exciting. You never know who you’re going to cook for that walks through the door.”

Yard is a three-time winner of James Beard Foundation awards and named Pastry Chef of the Year in Bon Appetit Magazine. Her culinary delights have also been enjoyed by attendees of the Academy Awards Governors Ball, the Grammys and the Emmy Awards. She’s also worked with former Bergen County native and fellow restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who DiningOut has also featured, at the prestigious Tribeca Grill, whom she lovingly refers to as “The Godfather” of restaurateurs.

“They don’t make them like Drew Nieporent anymore,” she recalled with fond nostalgia. “Drew has a memory like a steal truck. He doesn’t forget anyone or anything ever. He’s the ultimate restaurateur. He cares about his guests. He’s a genius.”

The same can be said about Chef Sherry. For her, it’s not the making of the food that is most rewarding but the bittersweet memories made.

“For me, real food is about creating memories,” she says. “And that’s where my focus always is: How do we make memorable moments. People ask me what’s my favorite recipe to create, I say memories. What matters most to me is that we make guests happy.”

By Lianna Albrizio