Per Se opened its doors in February 2004 and has since garnered three Michelin stars and accolades from diners and critics around the world … that is, from many critics who aren’t named Pete Wells.
This week, the New York Times restaurant critic obliterated the venerated New York restaurant in his latest review, stripping it of two stars and painting a picture of a revered restaurant’s fall from grace.
Yes, you could certainly find a cheaper meal in this city, and it might even be just as enjoyable; but for someone who simply wants to share a unique dining experience with loved ones, in a restaurant that is still one of New York’s most important, Per Se is just fine.
I recently got the chance to eat at chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant, where no detail is spared. Fortunately, I did not experience a dirty bong water bouillon or a limp yam dumpling like Wells did. Instead, I experienced dishes that were playfully arranged, ingredients that were thoughtfully sourced, and a staff that was attentive but not suffocating.
Here’s what it was like, from my (very hungry) first steps entering the restaurant to my last stuffed and satisfied steps out.
Enter Per Se, located on the fourth floor of the Time Warner building in Midtown Manhattan. You'll be greeted by a set of iconic blue doors, also seen at Keller's restaurant The French Laundry in California. By the way, these blue doors don't actually open -- the entrance is to the side of them. Per Se is playful in this way, and it's a theme that will reoccur throughout the meal.
The dining room is modern, minimal, and effortlessly classic. You'll see only a few materials used throughout: wood, steel, and flowers.
The wait staff wasted no time getting us seated and situated. They even brought out a little stool for my purse so that it didn't rest on the ground. If you're drinking wine for the night, there's an iPad wine list. Don't hesitate the ask the sommelier for suggestions.
After you choose a wine, out comes a menu. Though some standards remain, the restaurant's menu changes daily depending on what's available at the market that day. If it's a special occasion you'll likely see a nod to that as well.
Once you decide on what you're eating, the parade of food starts. While we waited for our first course, some Michelin-star calibre snacks came out to hold us over. These are warm gougères filled with Gruyère cheese. Just to put things into perspective, they are about the size of a marble, and I could probably eat a hundred of them.
Then they brought out something a bit more substantial to eat. This salmon tartare cornet looks like a very tiny ice cream cone.
Out came the first course. This is the very aptly named 'Oysters and Pearls,' which is really just oysters and a very generous heaping of caviar.
It comes with two kinds of butter (salted and unsalted) and six kinds of salts that hail from all parts of the country, like Utah and Hawaii.
And then there's this bread basket which will likely make more than one stop at your table. Pro tip: If you've been fasting for a day in preparation for this meal, as hard as it may be, try not to go crazy when the bread basket comes. You'll regret it when you have no room for dessert.
Just when I thought foie gras couldn't get any better, this came out. Behold: Foie gras with spring onions, preserved green strawberries, and salt baked yams.
Then the third course, a bacon-wrapped Siberian sturgeon, came out. Even non-vegetable enthusiasts like myself will fall in love with Per Se's greens. They're delicious and bring a freshness to the salty bacon and tangy 'hydromel' sauce.
After a while I started to lose track of the courses, but this was Per Se's butter poached lobster. Depending on the season, it will likely be dressed up with a different sauce or greens.
After I finished the quail breast with cherries and brown butter, eight courses was starting to feel a bit excessive, and I felt the strong urge to tap out.
But then I saw this beautiful cut of Wagyu beef and got my second wind. Those green dots are avocado puree, which I thought was an odd combination, but like much of what's done at Per Se, it's a playful twist that works.
Now for dessert! Though it's an eight-course meal, the dessert courses are seemingly endless. This is Per Se's strawberry shortcake.
And this is their chocolate cake. Since I was celebrating my graduation, they placed a graduation cap truffle on top of the cake. No detail is too small at Per Se.
My second wind was starting to fade, but I could always make room for ice cream. Tonight's flavour was burnt honey ice cream with popcorn.
This is their 'coffee and doughnuts' dessert, which is coffee ice cream topped with foamed milk and served with a side of doughnuts, which are like luxury Munchkins. Again, I could always make room for ice cream.
Just when I was ready to call it quits, a waiter came out with this beautiful box of 24 handmade chocolates -- which, impressively, he had memorized -- and asked what we'd like. You can request as many chocolates as you'd like, but one was all I could manage.
At this point my food coma was in full swing, and no macaron, truffle or caramel could pull me out of it. That didn't stop them from putting out this dessert box, which swung open to reveal more layers of treats to eat with coffee.
By the end of dinner the dining room looked something like this. Peaceful enough to nap in if it weren't for the cappuccino keeping me up.
As I slowly made my way out from my amazing dining experience, the hostess said, 'Wait, we have something for you!' A box of shortbread cookies, a menu for memento, and a booklet with information on all of Per Se's food suppliers were neatly packed away in a bag to make sure every guest brings a little piece of Per Se home with them.
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