When I visited: May 2013
Team: Thomas Keller (Chef / Proprietor), Eli Kaimeh (Chef de Cuisine), Elwyn Boyles (Executive Pastry Chef), Francois Hiegel (Executive Head Baker), Sam Calderbank (General Manager), Martin Repicky (Service Manager), Michel Couvreux (Head Sommelier)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 3 stars
What to wear: Men – smart trousers and shirt; women – smart dress
Ambience: Smart, great view of Manhattan
Course of the meal: Four Story Hill Farm’s “Pied de Cochon” – Wilted ice spinach, la ratte potato puree and “pruneaux d’Agen”
If I could change one thing: Tone down portion sizes on ‘main’ courses
Per Se is everything that you would expect a 3-Michelin-star restaurant to be, and if you are in NYC and want a full-on meal, it’s a good choice with a good view. I went there around a birthday and we got printed menus to take home with ‘Happy Birthday’ and my name on them, which was a nice touch. We went for the Chef’s Tasting Menu at lunchtime, which was $295 for 9 courses with service included – good value for a restaurant of this calibre.
When we got there we were seated in a pre-meal area with extensive iPad drinks menus to get us started (quite a trend at the time). We were then shown to our table, which despite the rainy day, had a great view of some of the most striking buildings in NYC and really added to the atmosphere – we were sat virtually side by side which we like.
As for the food … our first choice was between a cauliflower “panna cotta” – island creek oyster glaze and sterling white sturgeon caviar, or a Tsar Imperial caviar dish with a $75 supplement – we went for the cauliflower, which was a delicious and creamy start to the meal. Next came a choice between Hawaiian hearts of peach palm “Bavarois” with sweet pepper glaze, pickled ramps, charred eggplant and basil or a “Torchon” of Elevages Perigord Moulard duck foie gras with preserved green strawberries, forono beets, graham cracker, bitter chocolate and Belgian endive for a $40 supplement. I went for the Hawaiian hearts which were perfectly balanced.
The next two courses didn’t involve any choosing so we had bacon-wrapped Atlantic skate with cornbread stuffing, melted savoy cabbage, Granny Smith apples, mustard cress and “Sauce Choucroute” followed by butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster, with globe artichokes, oven-roasted sungold tomatoes, Picholine olives, arugula and “Anchoiade” … simple, right?! These middle courses were really where the chefs showed their skill, melding together a huge variety of ingredients. However, the course of the meal came next … we had to choose between meat courses and we went for the Four Story Hill Farm’s “Pied de Cochon” (pig’s foot) with wilted ice spinach, la ratte potato puree and “pruneax d’Agen” which serves 2 people. It was nice for us to be able to share this course and it was an absolute highlight, but I have to say it was also enormous and this was the point at which I began to worry about being able to finish this amazing lunch.
We then had more choices on this meat-heavy menu, between Herb roasted Elysian fields Farm’s lamb with garlic confit, French breakfast radishes, heirloom carrots, sugar snap peas and “Palois” reduction, or charcoal grilled miyazaki Japanese Wagyu with Holland white asparagus, cepe mushrooms, bing cherries, petite lettuces and bone marrow “pudding” for a $100 supplement. Although I said at the beginning of this review that the tasting menu is good value for the quality of the restaurant and food, I do think that a few too many courses here came with hefty supplements, so that that good value only fulfils itself if you avoid those courses. I think that this restaurant is something of a high-end destination in NYC though and I’m sure several guests would be only too happy to pay the extra. In this case, we went for the non-supplemented lamb which was sumptuous but after the pig’s foot I was probably craving something lighter. Before moving on to sweet courses we were given Jasper Hill Farm’s “Moses Sleeper” with Black Mission fig “Newton”, celery branch, petite mache and black winter truffle “gastrique”. As readers will know I love my truffles and this course was a good transition from the ‘mains’ to the desserts.
Some simplicity in the first dessert of “rhubarb and custard” was welcomed – this dish came with Swiss meringue, rhubarb soda, chamomile custard and buttermilk sherbet and was perfectly refreshing. We then chose between “toasted popcorn” with salted caramel ganache, chocolate-almond crumble and toasted “pain au lait” ice cream, and a coconut “parfait” with mango rice pudding, whipped champagne mango and coconut sorbet. I found the parfait to be lovely, fruity and light after the heaviness of the mains.
Of course that wasn’t the end … we ordered green tea to help us digest all the food which came with the obligatory petits fours (called “mignardises” in this case) and we’re talking trays and trays of them, with tons of different types …
As much as obviously it was our choice to opt for a 9-course meal at lunchtime, and as much as we should have known from our experiences that 9 courses means more in a place like this, I was so incredibly full at the end that I couldn’t enjoy many of the delicious-looking petits fours, which was just upsetting. If I were to make a criticism, it would be that Per Se should make the portions smaller in this tasting menu as I don’t think many people would be able to finish everything and it’s a shame to feel too full before the end, as I did.
As a parting note I should say that we had that great happy drunk feeling afterwards after eating and drinking so much, to the extent where my partner Owl went and bought a pair of bright yellow trousers which have been worn maybe twice … drunk shopping is the best.