Per Se … eat until you can’t

When I visited: May 2013, September 2019

Location: NYC

Team: Thomas Keller (Chef/Proprietor); Corey Chow (Chef de Cuisine); Francois Hiegel (Executive Head Baker); Anna Bolz (Pastry Chef); Sam Calderbank (Director of Operations, East Coast); Sandra Schaeuffele (General Manager); Michel Couvreux (Beverage Director)

Rating in the Michelin Guide: 3 stars

Dining Owl Hoot rating: 4/5

What to wear: Men – smart trousers and shirt; women – smart dress

Ambience: Smart, great view of Manhattan

Course of the meal: 1st visit – Four Story Hill Farm’s “Pied de Cochon” – Wilted ice spinach, la ratte potato puree and “pruneaux d’Agen”; 2nd visit – langoustine or the light ball doughnuts

If I could change one thing: Tone down portion sizes on ‘main’ courses

Review:

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.

1st visit:

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 …

Per se

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.

2nd visit:

This time, we visited for dinner and were seated straightaway. We had a tasting menu again, with paired wines, which still included many bonuses. I was a little concerned about whether I would be able to finish everything, given that these days I have a decreased appetite and I remembered how big the meal was the first time, but I found the food mostly OK to finish, although I had to stop finishing the wine glasses fairly early on.

We started with a beautiful little amuse bouche with cheese in it, followed by an amazing fennel soup, before the first ‘named’ course on our printed menus – “Oysters and Pearls” – “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Regiis Ova Caviar. I don’t normally like oysters at all but this was really good.

The next course, a “Pastrami” of Hudson Valley Moulard duck foie gras with young delicata squash, California pistachios, ruby beet puree and crispy oats was less successful – to be honest, it felt as if there was too much going on. Foie gras is obviously a fatty and  indulgent type of food and it only works if you can really taste it. (I don’t think I’ll bother eating foie gras in general from now on anyway, as there are less guilt-inducing tasty foods to try.) However, the next course, Green Walk Hatchery rainbow trout with marinated pole beans, toasted almonds, frisee lettuce and whole grain mustard emulsion, was very nicely balanced, and was followed by an amazing langoustine course.

Moving onto more savoury courses, we had an egg with umami elements inside, which was good but maybe looked better than it tasted, then a very satisfying “Bread and butter” course – caramelised tomato English muffin and whipped “lardo”.

We opted for Wagyu beef rather than lamb for our ‘main’ and this was a charcoal-grilled Miyazaki Wagyu with “Pain perdu”, glazed pearl onions, broccoli forettes and xzechuan peppercorn “Mignonnette”. This was one of the best courses, although a little big given how many courses we were attempting to eat. Instead of a sorbet to separate it from the dessert courses, we go the Maplebrook Farms “Burratini” – stewed black mission figs, fennel bulb, pine nut oil and aged balsamic vinegar. This was perfectly nice but I think a traditional sorbet would have been better to cleanse the palette between the numerous savoury courses and the very numerous sweet ones.

I had no complaints about the desserts at all. They brought them all out almost simultaneously: the “Eclair aux fruits d’etes’ – macerated raspberries, yuzu “pate de fruit” and Frog Hollow Farm Cal red peaches; the Diane St Clair’s Animal Farm butter ice cream with coconut “mochi” and “dulce de leche”; and the K+M “Nicaragua” chocolate “cremeux” with blackberry “fluff” and candied lemon peel. These weren’t massive but it was still quite difficult to finish them all, especially as they then also brought use “mignardises”. These were a highlight though – the most amazing, lightest ball doughnuts, and our choice(s) from a box of chocolates:

image1.jpeg
I should say that we also got takeaways … our own fresh box of these chocolates (which had the names of each chocolate written on the bottom) and a small silver box each of mini chocolate-filled shortbread sandwiches.

Our paired wines were: a Savart, Pinot Noir, “L’ouverture”, ecueil MV, with the first couple of courses; a sake – Hyaku Moku, Jumai Daiginjo, with the fennel soup; D’Oliveiras, Malvazia, Madeira 1994, with the foie gras; J B Becker, Riesling, Spatlese, “Wallufer Walkenberg” Rheingau 2008, with the fish courses; Domaine J-L & F Chavy, Puligny-Montrachet 2016 with the egg course; Domaine des Comtes Lafon, “Les Duresses”, Monthelie Premier Cru 2015, with the bread and butter course; La Rioja Alta, “Gran Reserva 904,” Rioja 2010 with the Wagyu beef; Kiralyudvar, 6 Puttonyos, Tokaji Aszu 2007 with the desserts. These were all delicious but I stopped finishing them very early as knew I wouldn’t be able to get through them; the Riesling was especially nice though.

The service was impeccable throughout, and the manager gave us a tour of the kitchen afterwards, which was cool. He also asked for our frank feedback on the best and worse courses, so we praised the soup and langoustine and beef but told him our view of the foie gras, which he said was fair.

I think Per Se still deserves its 3 stars and makes for a stunning food experience. I would give it 5 hoots if they removed one or two of the bigger courses and maybe focused on making a couple of the other courses more standout or innovative.

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