3 Michelin Stars
Voted best restaurant in America 2009
I havent been blogging for a long time, and I’ve been putting this off because I know this is going to be a long post, but Per Se really deserves a writeup, plus I just finished a midterm and I dont have much to do. So, first of all…
Getting there… 2 steps: Book as far in advance as possible, Per Se accepts reservations as far as 2 months in advance, and thats exactly when I called the restaurant, and the time slot they gave me was 5.45pm on a Monday. Funny, actually it’s hard to tell that America is in a recession, but oh well, good things come to those who…… compromise? And of course, the second step would be a plane ticket to New York. I should also mention that when you put down a reservation, they take your credit card information, because if you do not cancel within 72 hours of your reservation, you are automatically charged $175 per head.
Per Se restaurant is owned by Thomas Keller, whose flagship restaurant is the French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. Both restaurants currently have 3 Michelin stars, and Keller is currently the only chef in America who holds that accolade.
Per Se is located at the top floor of the Time Warner building, a busy, modern shopping mall. Such was the surprise when I called the restaurant to ask for the easiest way to get to the restaurant from the mall. “Take the elevator up to the fourth floor, turn right, and you will see a garden witha big blue door.” What? A garden, on the top floor, in a shoppingmall? To mimick the French Laundry, there is an artificial garden right outside of per se, which ironically, has real plants in it. The entrance to Per Se is a big blue door, a replica of the entrance to the French Laundry. Alas, more irony, the big blue door at Per Se doesnt actually open. But right from the beginning, you get the feel that although Per Se and the French Laundry are on opposite ends of America, they are both very much the same, and this would come up later in the meal.
Through the sliding glass doors to the side of the big blue door, you are greeted by a sleek wall with a “Per Se” logo on it, a reminder that you are not in the vineyards of California, you are in New York. (Im making this stuff up)
You are immediately greeted and your bags are taken(Dont worry if you want to carry any bags in, they bring you a stool for any bags you may have). Then you are led to the dining room. The tables next to the window have a great view overlooking central park, but we were given a cosy L-shaped booth seat.
Then we were presented with a menu, where you have 2 choices, a 9 course chefs tasting menu, or a 9 course vegetable tasting menu(Both $275). We both chose the former. Then we start with the food:
Amuse Bouche 1: Gruyère Gougères
A lighter than air puff filled with creamy cheese that had a hint of sweetness. Dissappeared as quickly as it came. Salty-sweet goodness. Okay
Amuse Bouche 2: Salmon Coronets – Black Sesame Tuile, Sweetbread Crème Fraîche
Lovely saltiness from the salmon that lingered on the mouth, salmon had a very strong flavor. Sweetness of the Sesame tuile came through right after, and tasted good with the sweetbread creme fraiche. Light and lovely way to start the meal. Good
We were then presented with a tiny spoon, I asked the server what it was made of and I was told it was Mother of Pearl. When you are presented with cutlery like that, you know good things are coming.
Chefs Tasting Menu 01: “Oysters and Pearls” – “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
And it was good. Very good. In fact, this is one of the best things Ive ever tasted, 2 perfect(perfect), warm oysters that imparted a delicious smoky combination of flavors, a orgasm in the mouth. An Oysgasm. It was topped with caviar, served atop a sabayon so rich and decadent I’ve heard it described as “a buttery mayonnaise”. And it didn’t disappoint. A taste that I will never forget. Superb
Chefs Tasting Menu 02: “Salad of compressed Summer Melons” – Fennel Bulb “Batons”, Pickled Holland Peppers, Watercress leaves and Nasturium Caper dressing with aged balsamic sorbet
When I first entered the restaurant, I told the server to inform be if anything was cooked sous vide, because I was interested in the technique. He told me that the vegetable and the melon components in this dish were vacuum packed sous vide(not cooked though) to impart new consistencies and flavors.
The Sorbet was made using a 40-year old aged balsamic vinegar that added a nice refreshing component to the dish. Melon was fresh and sweet. But the picked holland peppers left a very acidic taste in my mouth that lingered.
My least favourite dish of the night. Bad
We were then presented with 2 Kinds of butter: A sweet butter made by the Straus Family Creamery in California, and a Salted butter made by fleur de sel from Vermont, exclusively for Thomas Keller(Salted butter was better, better butter, ha). Why was this served? To be eaten… With a single soft roll. Not just any soft roll. The best soft roll I have ever eaten.
Yeast in bread form doesnt usually get me excited. But dont be fooled by the picture. This was the epitome of a soft roll. Crisp on the outside, but one pull and a silky soft, warm interior is revealed. Amazingly good.
I also took a sourdough bread, and a Pretzel stick(very good) from bread service
Chefs Tasting Menu 03: “Herb Roasted Fillet of Chatham Bay Cod”
Squash Blossom “Croustillant”, Toybox tomatoes, garlic scrapes, and creamed pea tendrils with nicoise olive oil
The cod was prepared to look like a scallop, a nice and playful illusion. Cod was well cooked, meat was soft but had a good bite, although a little under-seasoned . And Garlic scapes(The flower stem produced by the garlic plant) were incredibly sweet. Very well executed dish. Okay
Chefs Tasting Menu 04: “Pan Seared Day Boat Sea Scallop” “Nuage de Chou-Fleur”, La Ratte potatoes, Globe Artichokes, Bluefoot Mushrooms and Mustard Cress with pickled Mustard Seed “Ravigote”
Of course, what followed was an actual scallop. One swipe of the knife, and a perfectly cooked scallop is revealed. Crisp skin on the outside, Lightly cooked on the inside which left a somewhat chewy but delicious core. Pickled mustard seed sauce was sweet-salty, and provided a mild spicy kick. My favourite main of the night. Good
Chefs Tasting Menu 05: “All Day Braised Meili Farm’s Pork Shoulder”
Ragout of Brentwood Corn Kernels and Rainbow Swiss Chard with shaved Summer Truffles
I hate to say this, but the first thing I ate of this dish was the corn. And it’s the only thing I remember about this dish- the corn kernels. Easily the best corn I have ever taste. It has a unbelieveable crunch and sweetness to them. The pork, well, it was good. truffles dont really do much for me. But the corn… Okay
Chefs Tasting Menu 06: “Snake River Farms Calotte De Boeuf Grillee”
French Breakfast Radishes, Lemon Cucumbers and Glazed Greenmarket Carrots with “Vinaigrette Bordelaise”
Buttery beef fat the moment you start chewing, and the perfect red wine sauce to compliment it. Whats not to love. Good
Chefs Tasting Menu 07: “Catskill”
Toasted Pine Nuts, Belgian Endive, Thompson grapes, and Cilantro Shoots with Cilantro syrup
Cheese course.Very creamy and soft, but the richness is very nicely cut by the grapes. I was asking about the cheese and the server told me that the dish is named ‘Catskill’, after the location the cheese is shipped in from. He was talking about how the French Laundry uses the freshest ingredients because they have a garden right outside the restaurant, and Per Se does not have similar privilleges; I then proceeded to say, “Oh, well you guys beat them this year.” The server looked at me in horror and immediately took a step back and said, “well, we are a family”. So much for friendly competition. Good
Chefs Tasting Menu 08: “Blueberry Sorbet”
Blueberry “flapjack” with madagascar vanilla fudge and blueberry crisp
Hands down the best sorbet I have ever eaten. My friend turned to me and said “You can taste the earth that the blueberry plant grew in”. Im not that crazy, but I knew what she meant, you could taste every blueberry that went into the sorbet. This is what sorbets should taste like. Very Good
We were then served 2 different desserts each
Chefs Tasting Menu 09a: “Mud Pie”
Dark chocolate mud cake, Liquid Caramel, Chocolate “Cremeux” and Caramel Parfait with Sassafras Ice cream
Chefs Tasting Menu 09b: “Peaches and Cream”
Rose-Scented Frog Hollow Farm’s Peaches, Mascarpone Mousse, and Sugar Wafers with peach Vacherin
I was unfortunately served Peaches and Cream, a good but somewhat boring dessert. Multiple individual tiny components laid out on the plate- peaches done several ways, but whether you eat everything seperately or combined, it never popped. Bad
The mud pie, on the other hand, was delicious. I only got 2 bites, but the liquid caramel center defied all logic and was actually not too sweet and never overpowered the dark chocolate, a superb balance between both ingredients, very well executed. Good
This was the end of the 9 course tasting menu, the rest of the dishes were mignardises. And the next dish served was a
Not sure if a creme brulee can be considered a mignardise, per se (hahahaaa). But it didnt matter, Im very glad I got this. Perfectly burnt sugar atop one of the lightest custards Ive ever tasted. It was rich in flavor but somehow it never ever bloated me up like most creme brulees do. Good
More mignardises: Petit fours, Caramel Sweets, Almond Nougat, Chocolate truffles, sweets, chocolate covered hazelnuts
At this point. We were pretty much done with our meal, but I had read about a dessert and I assumed that it was going to served to us some point during the meal, but it never was. So I asked about it, the server immediately told us he could put in a special request to the kitchen, it would just take 10 minutes. And 10 minutes later, we were served…
Coffee and Donuts
I am very glad I asked for this, and bear in mind that at this point my belly was on the verge of blowing up, thats saying alot. This was a perfect donut,perfect. It was perfectly fried, very very moist on the inside. It almost had a cake-like consistency, it was that soft, covered in sugar and cinnamon. Unfortunately, the “coffee” was actually a Cappuccino Semifreddo, and I was not ready for more ice cream. Nevertheless, it seemed rude not to finish, and I eventually did. Happy but very bloated end to the meal. Very Good
Then I was presented with the bill
After which, we were asked if we would like a tour of the kitchen. Of course, we agreed. The server told us that the Maitre d’ would come around and show us the way to the kitchen. This was right in the middle of service, and the Maitre d’ was somewhat rushing us, but he pointed out several important sections of the kitchen.
He pointed to a large television screen at the top right hand corner of the photo, and told us that it was hooked up to a live feed at theFrench Laundry in California, and the French Laundry had the same thing for Per Se. I asked if this was so that Thomas Keller could keep an eye on Per Se, and the Maitre d’ quickly reiterated once again that Per Se and the French Laundry are a family. Is noone that works at Per Se secretly happy that they overtook the French Laundry? Is noone going to cave in and admit it?
Finesse: Refinement and delicacy of performance, execution, or artisanship.
Its not easy to sum up a meal at Per Se. Its more of a dining experience than a meal. The food is excellent; yes, not every dish is a winner, but you leave knowing you have been fed well.
The service is by far the best I have ever received. Every server was knowledgeable about the food, the ingredients, and how it was all prepared; not to mention attentive and very friendly. Did I also mention that if, for whatever reason you are left alone at the table, a server immediately approaches you to strike up conversation. While we were having dinner there was a lone diner who constantly had at least one server chatting with him while he was waiting for the next course, and trust me, he was in the restaurant for over 3 hours. Service is very personalized, and they are very accomodating to special requests(I requested the menu to be printed without prices, and I ended up taking back the menu, signed by the head chef)
Whether you want to celebrate a special occasion, or you simply have too much money to spare, Per Se is definitely worth a visit. Just remember to book early
Per Se Restaurant