Per Se


: Ten Columbus Circle, New York

Phone: 212-823-9335

The Per Se "blue door" entrance, modeled after French Laundry's.
Is this restaurant a replica of the French Laundry or is it worthy of its own accolades?

Celebrating birthdays with fine dining is customary to a lot of people. As Sarah's birthday approaches this year, it was very clear to me that there would only be one restaurant in America that can satisfy the food blogger. It has to be the best in America.

Chef Thomas Keller's journey from NYC to California to launch the American culinary institution that is French Laundry has been etched as one of the most significant juncture in the annals of food history. What he has achieved out in the wine country has elevated America into a world class destination for food connoisseurs. That's why it's amazing that he would risk so much and come back to NYC to embark on Per Se. One of the main reasons for the success of Per Se is its Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan Benno. At the time of our dinner at Per Se, the food blogosphere were abuzzed with the rumors (and subsequent confirmation) of Jonathan Benno's pending departure from Per Se. It's just one more reason for us to make a visit to this highly touted restaurant.

My first impression of the restaurant was that it's much more formal than I thought, in terms of service and decor. Not French classical formality as Taillevent in Paris, but more formal than Le Bernardin and most of the restaurants in New York City, with a modern touch. On arrival, we were ushered into a booth in the lounge and were offered aperitifs, a very nice glass of champagne. The decor is urban modern and minimalistic with clean lines, appropriately set with the beautiful south Central Park West as the backdrop. But I'm glad that the formality did not come with any stuffiness and arrogance. Our waiter Jim was friendly and professional, he made us feel comfortable and was very attentive to our every need including offering to provide his own nice personal pen and a scratch pad for us to write down our thoughts for the night.

Joyeux Anniversaire, mon amour

We went with the Chef Tasting menu, which covers 11 courses of dishes, including desserts. The other was the Tasting of Vegetables menu. We have not been to French Laundry, so every dish on the menu was new to us. We thoroughly enjoyed all the dishes on the chef menu, but one in particular was a huge disappointment, the French Onion Soup. We thought the soup was extremely salty and overly concentrated. A mere blemish to otherwise, an excellent progression of a very well executed dinner.

Our favorite dish on the menu turned out to be Grilled Pave of Spanish Mackerel; the perfectly grilled fish left us with a wonderful "heat-burnt" after taste that kept us wanting more. It was easily the best dish we've had that night, a good balance of the fatty spanish mackerel fish oil, and the very savory medley of spring vegetables. Surprisingly, the grilled fish also reminded us of the amazing dishes we had at Asador Etxebarri. Their signature (an import from French Laundry) Oysters and Pearls is luxurious and decadent, the salad of mushrooms was earthy and appetizing and the foie gras, classic and done elegantly. We also thought the Epaule de Lapin, meat ball on fork with rabbit jus highlighted their multi-dimensional talent in cooking not just seafood but meat as well. There had been many highly rated restaurants that had impressed us on seafood but disappointed us in the meat dishes. Per Se had certainly deserved kudos for being able to continue to impress us with this slightly more gamey meat. The Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster was so succulent and poached superbly. Couldn't have asked for a better cooked lobster than the one we ate here.

I was so obsessed with this soft roll that I had to request for a few more after the first bite
Crispy on the outside, soft and piping hot on the inside
with 2 types of butter: california sweet butter and salted

Amuse bouche - Sweet Onion Cornash with Salmon and Creme Fraise

OYSTERS AND PEARLS - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon
Aromatic with nice smooth creamy texture. Luxurious!

SALAD OF MARINATED FOREST MUSHROOMS - Hadley Orchards' Medjool Dates, French Breakfast Radishes, Snow Peas and Pea Tendrils
Refreshing. Texture of different mushrooms was playful to the mouth.

SAUTEED HUDSON VALLEY MOULARD DUCK FOIE GRAS - Whole Grain Mustard "Pain Perdu," Hakurei Turnips, Yellow Nectarines and Mustard Cress with Duck Jus.
Perfectly crisp on the outside and moist on the inside

GRILLED "PAVE" OF SPANISH MACKEREL - Braised Sunchokes, Global Artichokes and Rainbow Swiss Chard with Manzanilla Sherry "Ravigote"
PERFECT! The vegetables complemented the perfectly grilled Spanish Mackerel. One of the most appetizing and delicious fish dish ever. YUMMY!

BUTTER POACHED NOVA SCOTIA LOBSTER - Confit of Marble Potatoes and Celery Root "Remoulade" with "Jus de Truffle de la Saint-Jean"
We were still salivating after finish eating this. Very juicy. The celery root was intensely flavored and had a nice crunchy texture

24 CARROT FARM's "EPAULE DE LAPIN" - Romano Beans, Pickled Holland Peppers and Green Tomatoes with Rabbit Jus
Now you see it. Now you don't. There's a certain Asian spiced flavor to it that made it familiar. The strong, sticky, flavorful rabbit jus sauce was an equal to the strong gamey rabbit meat. Chef Keller used an antique French utensil-handle. It's a more refine way to eat a meat drumstick using your fingers. 24 Carrot/Carat - Cute

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM'S "CARRE D'AGNEAU ROTI ENTIER" - Slow Baked Beets, Compressed Aian Pear and Watercress Leaves with "Sauce au Poivre"
A feminine dish. Colorful and pretty in the presentation. Coarse salt used brings out the flavor. Another well executed meat dish. Not an easy feat to be good in both seafood and meat dishes all together.

"FRENCH ONION SOUP" -- "Comte Fort des Rousses" "Soupe a l'Oignon et Crouton de Brioche Grille
One word - dissapointment. Luckily, this was pretty much the only one for the night.

BLUEBERRY SORBET - Blueberry "Flapjack" with Madagascar Vanilla Fudge and Blueberry Crisp
All blueberry through and thru :-)

Amuse Bouche Float - champagne ice with layers of moose, praline crumble, jelly

Coffee and doughut/beignet

"TORTA DI CILIEGIE E NOCCIOLE" - Piedmont Hazelnut "Praline," Compressed Brooks Cherries, Hazelnut "Financier" and Cherry Reduction with Yogurt-Tarragon Sherbet

"MUD PIE" - Dark Chocolate Mud Cake, Liquid Caramel, Chocolate "Cremeux" and Caramel Parfait with Sassafras Ice Cream

Petit Four - truffles
We also received a "gift bag" with truffles and granola bars. The truffles were as good as Kee's Chocolate's and the granola bars were as good as any we've had. They were determined to remind you even after you leave the restaurant on how much they put an effort into their food, down to the last detail of every product leaving the kitchen

The best part about eating at Per Se that night, aside from its world class food, was definitely our visit to the restaurant's world class kitchen, which was aptly nicknamed The Gold Vault. Our dinner ended late at 1am, so most of the staffs have left the restaurant, with only a handful of people doing some cleaning ups and prepping for the next day. We had visited some famous kitchens in the world, but we had never seen a kitchen as well equipped and enormous like Per Se's! We were told the size of the kitchen equally matched the size of the dining room. I bet it's every chef's dream to be working in a kitchen like the one there.
Ever felt overwhelmed by the gluttony of glossary for the different kitchen personnel in a restaurant, especially one like Per Se? There's an excellent article "Understanding Per Se's Kitchen" on NYMag's Grub Street which would show you running a kitchen is not much different than running a well run Fortune 500 company. Clear lines of authority and responsibility as well as management of staffs, along with the fancy French sounding titles: Chef Patron, Chef de Cuisine, Executive Sous-Chef , Saucier, and Garde-Manger.

The Gold Vault

Live television feed from French Laundry Extension of the kitchen for Chef Keller's empire

Will the real yaokuis, please stand up?

Chefs discussing tomorrow's menu at 1am in the morning

Special kitchen section for soup/sauce preparation
Mark of a true French kitchen

Restaurant's Motto "SENSE OF URGENCY" @ 12:20am

In house Chocalatier

Bakery department for Bouchon Bakery

From the moment we stepped through the blue door til the moment we exit, and even now while I'm writing this review, it is hard not to be impressed by the refinement and detailed execution of everything that is associated with Per Se. I don't know if this can ever be possibly attributed to a single entity, a legendary chef like Thomas Keller or an enigmatic and up-and-coming bright chef like Jonathan Benno. This is a collective effort from the entire staff. It's a philosophy, of collaboration and of cultivating a culture of learning and passion. The end result may sometimes not be well received but in the end, as food lovers, we truly appreciate and recognize the risks taken in the makings of a great restaurant. Per Se is a must try, a once in a lifetime opportunity, despite its exorbitant cost.

Sarah, Happy Birthday and I hope that you had a happy meal that night, as much as I had.
Here's wishing for more great food adventure to come in the many years we have together ahead of us

Per Se on Urbanspoon


Nanette said...

ahh.. we've been waiting for this review! Glad you really enjoyed your time there (and the food of course)! You guys continue to inspire to eat good food :)

Hungry Hedonist said...

Great review and exquisite photos, per usual. I haven't commented before, but I love your site. Really admire your selection of restaurants!

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