In terms of monumental dining experiences, to visit a Thomas Keller restaurant ranks at the top of culinary excursions in the US. I find it difficult then to share this experience because I presume the expectations for describing it are as high as my expectations were going into this meal. I’m not sure how to do justice to such a lavish adventure so I’ve decided to just break things down. I’m sure that we will be featuring Per Se again, so think of this as an introduction, as it was for me.
Per Se serves the same menu at lunch and dinner, changing daily. There are two prix-fixe nine-course menus to choose from: Chef’s Tasting Menu and Tasting of Vegetables. Both are set at $250. I was extremely enticed by the vegetable tasting menu, particularly since it was lunch and I was leaning towards a lighter repast, but for my first meal at Per Se, I opted for the full experience with the Chef’s Tasting Menu. I’ve posted the menu below. For any course that required a choice, I have highlighted the one I chose.
Chef’s Tasting Menu — February 8, 2007
“OYSTER AND PEARLS”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
SALAD OF HAWAIIAN HEARTS OF PEACH PALM
Satur Farm’s Carrots, Medjool Date and Candied Marcona Almonds with Cilantro-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
“TERRINE” OF HUDSON VALLEY MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS”
Black Winter Truffles, Frisée Lettuce and Balsamic Reduction with Toasted “Brioche”
SAUTÉED MEDITERRANEAN ROUGET
“Confit” of Violet Artichokes and “Brandade Barbajuan” with “Sauce Rouille”
BUTTER POACHED NOVA SCOTIA LOBSTER
“Topinambours en Trois Facons,” Meyer Lemon “Suprêmes,” Young Sorrel and Meyer Lemon “Mousseline”
SIRLOIN OF HALLOW FARM’S RABBIT
Wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon, “Petite” Onions and Forest Mushrooms “à la Grecque” with Rabbit “Jus”
“FRICASSÉE DE CERVELLE DE VEAU”
“Gnocchi Parisienne,” California Crosnes and Wilted “Roquette” with Black Winter Truffle-Veal Sauce
SNAKE RIVER FARM’S “CALOTTE DE BOEUF GRILLÉE”
Crispy Bone Marrow, Toasted Farro, Braised Swiss Chard Leaves and “Sauce Bordelaise”
Per Se Coleslaw, Red Wine Poached Gala Apple, Garden Mâche and Blis Maple Syrup
“Crème de Yaourt Frais,” Black Licorice “Dust” and Pomegranate “Nuage”
“TENTATION AU CHOCOLAT, NOISETTE ET LAIT”
Milk Chocolate “Crémeux” and Hazelnut “Streusel” with Condensed Milk Sorbet, “Pain au Lait” Sauce and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts
The food was magnificent! Particularly the calotte de boeuf grillée, which I had heard raving reviews about before. As explained to my dining companion and I, “calotte” is the cut of beef wrapped around the rib eye that butchers usually discard. Thomas Keller decided to make use of the cut of meat that’s usually disposed of and we are so glad he did! The calotte is marbled and tender, a juicy cut of meat in and of itself but in the sauce Bordelaise it was so scrumptious that I devoured the entire dish even though I had only picked at some of previous dishes because I was so full. I’m a bone marrow fanatic and found this little piece of lightly deep-fried tempura-like marrow so elegant! The farro and Swiss chard were so beautifully paired in this dish that it was sheer perfection!
The fricassée de cervelle de veau, or sautéed beef brains, was another winner. The dish is extremely rich, what with the gnocchi, the black winter truffle-veal sauce and the brains themselves, but oh-so-good! The crosnes, small white tubers from a plant of the mint family — they look like strings of connected pearls and taste like Jerusalem artichokes – was a delightful crunchy surprise in contrast to the softness and chewiness of both the brains and the gnocchi.
The butter poached Nova Scotia lobster was also outstanding. Once again, Thomas Keller’s decision to pair succulent lobster meat with the refreshing tastes of Meyer lemon and the smokier and richer fullness of sorrels was mind blowing.
My favorite dessert was the guava sorbet. I always attribute my attachment to guava to my childhood, eating the fruit and drinking the juice both in Taiwan and Hawaii. I’m not a fan of licorice, but the licorice dust was subtle in flavor and the texture gave it the effect of finely pulverized Oreos, without the sweetness. The crème of yogurt and strawberry and the pomegranate cloud — a poetic interpretation of foam — was beyond just right. I often find desserts to be too heavy and rich, and am so delighted when there’s something as original in thought and flavor as this work of art.
The Chef’s Tasting Menu was amazing! And the cost of the meal is well worth it. You are right if you feel a “but…” coming on. But… with wine pairings and other extraneous add-ons, the tab came to about $600 per person, including service. Since I am just breaking things down, I’ll be concise. The three main factors for judging a dining experience usually are: food, atmosphere and service. Per Se has mastered the first category hands down. In fact, the food is so good that it will make up for what it lacks in the second two categories. And when I say lacks, I mean in relation to its price point. Even though the interior of the restaurant is pleasant and there is a gorgeous view of Central Park, I hate feeling like I’m eating in Vegas mall environment. Going to the Time Warner Center for a three star meal doesn’t feel luxurious but actually cheapens the experience. The service is professional but seems too rehearsed and insincere. It’s a routine that they have down pat, but while all servers are pleasant, I found them to be too robotic and lacked warmth and attention to detail. At the end of the meal, a tour of the kitchen is part of the show-and-tell. But simple requests like a copy of the menu were forgotten, and even when requested by phone there was no follow-up. While I found the meal memorable, the service made me feel like us diners were rather forgettable and inconsequential. I am looking forward to future meals at Per Se but I do hope that their hospitality will have improved by then.