Monday, August 1, 2011

Per Se

Per Se or the French Laundry has been on my list of top restaurants to visit for a long time. I've read about Thomas Keller and his devotion to food in the kitchen and outside of it. He is a chef who really understands sustainable food as well as complex skills to represent those flavors to the best of their abilities. So when I had the opportunity to dine at Per Se one night for a very special occasion, I was ecstatic. Even though I was drawn aback by their 10-course tasting menu for $295, I still wanted to see what will it was all about. Will this meal change my life? Will everything I've ever read about Thomas Keller be realized?

The restaurant sits in the AOL Time Warner center in Columbus Circle in New York City. There's no separate entrance. Instead, you ride the elevators through the mall filled with high end shops until you reach the top. On the left is Masa (the most expensive restaurant in the city) and on the right is Per Se. You will recognize the large blue doors made famous by the French Laundry. Once inside, you'll be greeted by the hostess. If your table is not ready yet, they'll seat you in the salon for some drinks. If you're not into the whole tasting menu aspect of Per Se, you can order a la carte in the Salon section of the restaurant. However, we were there for the whole shebang. So we sat and ordered drinks: French Martini ($20) for me, and Kettle One and Sprite ($20) for him. Both drinks were very well made with the right mix of ice and mixers. They were strong but well balanced in flavor.

Past our reservation time (which occurs in 2 seatings: 6:30p or 9:30p), we were finally led to our table in the main dining room. We both sat at a booth facing the windows. The view was spectacular with the lighted fountain and Central Park in the background. The rest of the dining room was filled with other patrons both young and old. The space itself is quite small with maybe 20 tables max and one private room.

Our waitress came by to greet us and hand us the menus which had our names printed on top (for us to take home after). She briefly went over some information and left us alone to peruse the options. There aren't many things to pick when it comes to a tasting menu but there were a couple of choices to be made and some supplements to consider.

We finally made our choices, then sat back, made a toast, and watched as the plates of food danced around one by one to our table in beautiful executed fashion. The first to appear were the gougeres which is a cheese bread/puff. These small buttery pieces of bread were filled with liquid cheese. It was an amazingly decadent bite but just enough to remain light. However, that wasn't the amuse bouche. It was just a small bread service. The amuse was actually a small cone filled with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The crispy cone gave way to the deep smokey flavor from the fish only to be balanced out by the very light creme fraiche. A really thought out bite to start the meal.

And now the tasting menu began. First, the ever so present Oysters & Pearls which included a sabayon of pearl tapioca with caviar and oysters. The flavors were amazing. Briny yet creamy. Thick yet light. I loved this dish for its amazing taste and textures. I wanted to lick the bowl clean but it's a nice establishment.

After the first course, a small bread service was introduced with warm dinner rolls and 2 separate butters and a salt tasting. The salt included: Maldon, fleur de sel, Brittany grey, Himalayan pink, Hawaiian lava salt, and Hawaiian mud salt. I loved this. If you read my blog often, you know that I love salt. Having the chance to try all these different salts at one time really shows how each has a different salinity. I sprinkled each one over the butter roll separately and ate them with a happy smile. So simple and yet so satisfying. And this was the bread service!

For the second course, Mr. M&P and I picked difference dishes. He had the Big Island Hearts of Peach Palm Panna Cotta which was actually the salad course. Interesting. Although salad may sound quite boring, this one certainly was not. The rich and creamy panna cotta really kicked it up in flavor. The different vegetables (heirloom carrots, pickled ramps, watercress) played with each others' flavors well. The finishing fig chocolate glaze added a richness to the dish. He enjoyed this salad very much. I had the Terrine of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras (suppl $40). The serving was very large. The fattened duck liver was rich and creamy as it should be and perfectly executed. The accompanying Mutsu apples, compressed radishes, beet greens, and aged balsamic vinegar acted as great complements to the dish adding freshness and tang to cut through the richness of the fattened liver.

The third course, Esturgeon Confit, included a sturgeon which is a dense and fatty fish. It was well cooked and it didn't seem oily at all. The cauliflower ravioli was really creamy and soft. This was certainly Mr. M&P's favorite dish of the night. Shortly after this course, another bread service was introduced. This time we were offered different breads: baguette, sourdough, pretzel, and mulitgrain. The bread were freshly baked and still warm. I especially enjoyed the pretzel one.

For the fourth course, we had Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster. The tail meat was cooked supremely well being soft and delicious. I loved it. The lobster came with violet artichokes, Persian cucumbers, romaine lettuce, with a Meyer lemon butter sauce.

The fifth course was split between 2 choices: Four Story Hill Farm's Rouelle de Pintade and Pied de Cochon. The former is Guinea hen meat wrapped in a rouelle and cooked lightly so it remained juicy and tender. The garnishes were bacon wrapped green asparagus, poached sequoia cherries, and Jidori hen egg puree. Mr. M&P had this dish and really enjoyed it. He was hesitant at first because of the Guinea hen. However, he really enjoyed it. I had the Pied de Cochon which is meat from a piglet's trotter made into roulade. The meat was tender, fatty, and gelatinous which was delicious. The garnishes include lentilles du puy, pickled green tomatoes, and frisee. Great accompaniments to a rich meat.

The next course was Elysian Fields Farm's Carre D'Agneau which was a lamb chop. The meat was slightly fattier than what we would have liked but it was well balanced with the vegetables which included green garlic bulbs, fava beans, Sungold tomatoes, petite basil, and finished with Bearnaise Mousseline.

The seventh course was the cheese plate. The cheese was called Hittisau which was very creamy but tasted slightly pungent. Great flavor and well aged. The cheese came with Savoy cabbage, Tokyo turnips, red streak mustard cress, and pumpernickel-prune bread. I didn't really enjoy the bread too much. It was actually more bread-like and kind of resembled a doughnut.

At this point we were stuffed. Even though each dish was small they were rich and filling. So the eighth course came at the perfect time. It was the palate cleanser. The Pimm's Cup was strawberry glace, English cucumbers, and Pimm's lime granite. Really refreshing and just what I needed at the time.

And now the dessert courses began. The first course was the Chocolate Milk. It was a dark chocolate torte, caramelized milk jam, toasted hazelnuts, and Battenkill Farm's milk ice cream. This was really rich and decadent. It's definitely a chocolate lover's dessert.

The second dessert and last course of the night was the Ambrosia. No this wasn't the weird bowl of whipped cream and canned fruit dessert made popular in the 1970s. I'm not sure why anyone would have liked this fruit salad back then but this version was amazing. Per Se's Ambrosia was made from coconut parfait, compressed golden pineapple, and lime genoise. It was served with a side of salted cashew ice cream. The Ambrosia was very light and was a nice way to end the meal. The salted ice cream was really salty which was a nice contrast to the sweet dessert.

As any other fine dining restaurant, they served us some mignardises at the end of the meal with some coffee. The decaf that they offered was very good quality. I nice rich roasted flavor without tasting burnt. The mignardises included a malted and cinnamon macaron, nougat, and caramel. The macarons were interested flavors. The cinnamon one reminded me of Big Red gum. They also offered us from truffles and chocolates from the bon bon trolley. However, we were absolutely too full at this point. So they offered to put the chocolates into a box for us for later consumption.

The next day when we opened the gift bag, we were surprised to find some more goodies. Inside was a book that reviewed several high end fine dining restaurants around the world, shortbread cookie sandwiches with chocolate creme, and our chocolates. The shortbread cookies were really buttery. You could tell from the crumbling once they go into your mouth. The chocolate filling in the middle was rich, creamy, and sweet.

The chocolates included dark chocolate, peanut butter truffle, milk chocolate, coconut truffle, milk chocolate, and spicy chili chocolate. All them were delicious and the quality of the chocolate was superb.
Per Se was really great. I enjoyed everything and didn't have a single complaint. Food was fantastic, service was impeccable, decor was beautiful. So the question is: was it worth it? Yes and no. Yes, I think everyone should have the chance to eat at Per Se or the French Laundry. No, I don't think I would ever want to go back. The way I like to describe it is that it's definitely a very great restaurant. Is it $300 great? Nope. Is it $200-$250 great? Yes, indeed. It's also very annoying to have to pay a hefty supplement for several dishes. If I'm already paying $300 for a meal, it should include everything on the menu. Oh well, can't have it all. But I have no regrets.

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019-1219
(212) 823-9335
perseny.com

9 comments:

  1. 20 BUCKS for a vodka sprite......That is some BULLSHIT! Thanks for letting me know never to buy a drink if I end up there. I will have to come tanked before I arrive.

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  2. @goats: Why would you go tanked to a dinner like this? You should actually try to enjoy and remember the meal.

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  3. I want you to do a salt tasting with me. I have like 8 different types of salts and I've wanted to post about it for a long time but never have. Let's do this.

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  4. It sounds like a wonderful meal!!!!

    Mmm chocolate milk. Glug glug glug. I mean munch munch munch since it is a torte.

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  5. How wonderful! I've had some of the things you describe, but I long to go for a full tasting menu someday.

    Great writeup for someone living in a cardboard box!

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  6. I don't mean "high fiving the waiter" buzz...Just a "pleasant buzz"--though it'd be so cool in an inappropriate way, to start high fiving a waiter at per se....

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  7. i agree. once is probably enough with this place.

    i am still in shock that i actually ate there.

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  8. wow! I wanna go...one of these days! :)

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