My love of Per Se is much documented and includes an overusage of superlatives like most and best. Accordingly, my Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend this year was a lunch reservation that included all of the caviar and foie gras and general over-the-top-ness you want and expect from this restaurant that somehow ends up coaxing an entire paycheck out of you by the time you leave.
Our server tried to tell us that there’s no set wine pairing, which was either a change from our other visits or a very strange falsehood. The only time we’ve had to give any input on the wine was when we had the extended menu, which required extra glasses if we wanted one with each dish. This time, we had to tell her how much we wanted to spend ($200-$250 each), and the sommelier chose a selection of glasses and half-bottles for us. I want to feel like my sommelier has thought long and hard about the pairings (even though, you know, the menu changes daily), so this spur-of-the-moment tell-us-how-much-you-want-to-spend stuff didn’t work for me. That said, the wine was excellent, and the sommelier took great care of us.
One perfect bite of pastry stuffed so full of smooth cheese that immediately disperses and coats your mouth. And of course I love that giant handle-less spoon they’re served on.
I also liked these new mounts for the salmon cones, which weighed approximately fifty pounds each. The cone was better than ever, with so much citrus flavor in the salmon and so much red onion in the creme fraiche base.
The signature Per Se dish, where the main flavor is butter and the main texture is buttery and the main desire is for a piece of bread to sop it up with.
This supplement to the tasting menu is one we’d never think of skipping. Past iterations of the foie gras have included strawberries and creme fraiche, pistachio and turnips, and celery and leeks, but this banana version was the most surprisingly delicious. The hazelnut-banana cake base made it like eating candy; I couldn’t quite pick out the hazelnut and banana flavors when I ate them along with the creamy foie gras, but they instead all formed this amazing new flavor all its own. The nutty balls of banana were a textural pleasure, the tart of the yogurt cut through the richness of everything else, and the mizuna was just a nice little peppery juxtaposition to all of that sweetness.
A roll to spread the foie gras on, replaced at regular intervals to ensure sustained warmth for every bite.
A tasting of salts from around the world to top the foie gras. Amidst all of the pink Himalayan and the black volcanic salts, my favourite was the less-exotic fleur de sel because of the evident crunch it provided.
See those well-cooked carrots flanking the halibut? They’re red pepper piperade! And they were the best part of this dish that was my overall favourite of the day. I love red pepper for one, and the playfulness of the presentation delighted me. Sauce ravigote is meant to “reinvigorate” a boring protein, but this version of ravigote was itself reinvigorated with the addition of the sour, acidic squid ink and the most wonderful minced orange. The La Ratte potatoes (little guys from Denmark) seemed as if they had been soaked in olive oil for two days, and the halibut was firm, flaky, and succulent.
My boyfriend said the smoked foie gras sauce tasted like a Slim Jim and made the lobster taste like pastrami. (donuts4dinner.com can be counted on for the most high-brow descriptions, eh?) The crumbly texture of the chestnut was a standout, as was the bitter, tender, acidic radicchio. I always associate lobster mitts with Per Se and wasn’t let down by this surprisingly complex dish.
I don’t believe I’ve ever called a rabbit “creamy”, but this one was. The dish was a combination of salty bacon, a rich sticky sauce, the crunch of almond, sweet carrot, the unique texture of the sausage next to the loin, and that tender baby bunny. The perfect lead-in to an even richer beef dish.
The view out of the windows of the Time Warner Center, onto Central Park. Note the “beautiful” white NYC winter sky.
Another sticky sauce made this round of calotte rich and lip-smacking. It looked way too red on the inside at first glance but was of course tender and perfectly cooked in the end, especially thanks to the crisp sear on the exterior. The short rib cube on the opposite side of the plate was a fell-off-the-bone wonder that might have been slowly cooked for two days straight. The raw radish was beautiful but not my favourite accompaniment, but my boyfriend said it reminded him of the fresh vegetables and herbs you eat alongside Persian kebab. The hen-of-the-woods, which is my favourite mushroom, was mostly flavored like deep-fried batter, but no one’s complaining about that.
Past cheese courses at Per Se have been so memorable, but this one was merely fine. (Which is to say much better than the cheese course almost anywhere else but not at the level I expect from Per Se.) There was very little punch to this cheese; the flavor that really came through was that of the pear slivers, which I mistook for olives at first. Imagine the delight of putting what you think is a salty, mushy olive in your mouth and instead finding that it’s a sweet, firm pear. Bliss! The stack cake was fruity, moist, and understated, but like the cheese, it was too understated for me.
So sour! I thought I loved the slimy strips of young coconut mixed in, but now I’m wondering if they were actually rambutan, which I didn’t even realize I was eating. Every time I visit, I need my Per Se waiter to say, “YOU SHOULD BE IMPRESSED BY THIS,” so I know to look out for an ingredient I haven’t had before. Hmph.
I always consider Per Se desserts pretty sparse, so this big ball of cheesy ice cream had me drooling like a wide-eyed kid. I loved all of the freshness of this but was surprised to find that what seemed like a boring, old apple cake was actually the most delicious part.
For a lover of chocolate and fruit combinations and a lover of plates that have so much going on I don’t know where to put my fork first, this was dreamy. I found pave niçoise on a menu from 1933 where fresh beluga caviar was $1.75 and filet mignon was $1.45, so it’s kind of exciting to see that Per Se is recycling these old techniques in a completely modern way. Working my way through the “paved” dollops of orange was so much fun, and I loved the crunchy chocolate circle encasing orange foam and orange segments, but the best part was the simple but oh-so-sour orange sorbet.
Looked like Golden Grahams cereal but was actually shortbread with an orangey flavor.
Per Se famously brings around a wooden box with individual spaces for approximately 30 chocolates in the most exotic flavor combinations at the end of the meal, and my boyfriend and I famously only take two or three each both because we’ve been eating for three hours at that point and because we care about keeping up appearances. This time, we did the same, but I asked the chocolate guy how many people ask for the entire box, and he said A FEW TIMES A DAY. He added that the only couple he’s actually seen finish it was the pastry sous chef and his girlfriend, so that means a few people a day are taking that whole foot-long box of chocolates and wasting it. It’s only fitting for a meal this lavish.
Coffee semifreddo, thicker and richer than any ice cream.
Doughnuts, so full of air the kitchen has to roll them in sugar just to make them heavy enough to not float away.
I forgot to take a picture of the mountain of mignardises this time, so here’s a picture of the usual three-tiered behemoth from our last visit. There was fudge, French macarons, and truffles, and of course we didn’t have the stomach-room to even begin on them, and of course they only sent us home with one of each thing when I asked to have them wrapped up. I’m going to get that whole box of chocolates next time, eat two of them, and then casually melt all of the leftovers with my hands and hot breath so no one else gets to enjoy them. Because I can.
To take home. To remind you of how a month of anticipating that reservation and the food that comes with it is over. Tastes amazing with a side of your tears.
It’s almost boring to talk about how good Per Se is at this point. The place is perfection. It’s the best super-fine fine dining restaurant in NYC. If you’re not eating here, you’re wasting your time elsewhere. Although once you do eat here, you’ll be ruined for everything else. Take heed.
The last time my boyfriend and I left Per Se, we were unexpectedly underwhelmed. We’d called ahead and requested the extended tasting menu, a many-extra-course/many-extra-dollar fine food feast that left us feeling as if we were actually treated worse by spending more. The responses to my review were generally along the lines of “it’s a privilege to get to eat there, and you’re paying for the opportunity to be one of the elite, so quit complaining”, which left me with an even more sour taste.
But Per Se is the best restaurant in the city. It’s the most lavish and the most luxurious, and it lends any special event the sort of weight that only a bowl of caviar and oysters served six plates high can. So when my boyfriend passed the California bar exam recently, we considered other options momentarily but probably knew all along that we’d ultimately go with Per Se once again.
And this time, there was nothing to complain about.
The setting was simply elegant as always, with big comfortable armchairs you don’t mind settling into for three or four hours. We were seated at the same table as last time and given a set of menus congratulating my boyfriend. I chose the usual chef’s tasting menu, this time with non-alcoholic beverage pairings, and he chose the vegetarian tasting with wine pairings.
The usual Gruyere gougères started the meal in the huge handle-less spoon I love so much, but if it’s even possible, they were warmer, filled fuller, more flavorful than ever before.
My cone was the traditional salmon with creme fraiche and was just as much like a sour cream and onion chip pulled from the ocean as I remembered. His was markedly lemony with a nice grainy texture from the pureed beans.
A clever accompaniment to my caviar, his salty, umami-ful panna cotta was flanked by “roe” formed from dashi broth. Scallion was the stand-out flavor, but the dish wouldn’t have been the same without the spice of the jalapeño sliver.
On my third time enjoying this signature dish, I found still more to love about it. The oysters were still as melt-in-your-mouth as always, but the tapioca in the creamy base seemed larger and more abundant and acted as a link between the smaller but firmer caviar and the larger but more tender oysters.
One of the densest foie gras preparations I’ve seen, this torchon was thicker than peanut butter and barely wanted to spread on our soft rolls. It was sweet and mild, complimented by the strawberry slices and contrasted by the sour pickled onions. The bread, sprinkled with cartoonishly large cubes of salt and replaced three times by our server to ensure its freshness and warmth, peeled apart in crescent-shaped hunks to form the perfect vessel for foie gras filling.
From the black lava salt to the 3,000-year-old pink salt to the flaky fleur de sel, I’ve thought the salts that have accompanied our foie gras supplement have been interesting in texture each time, but this is the first time that I’ve actually tasted flavor differences as well. Either my palate is improving or my imagination is.
Our server told us that a woman with six Jersey cows makes the salted butter for Per Se. You kind of want to roll your eyes and give her a hug at the same time.
My dish may have been mushroomier, but they were more the star of his dish, highlighting the egginess and the density of the custard with their savory flavor and airy texture. He loved the crunch of the honey nuts especially.
Perfectly cooked, of course, with a hardy crust that I welcomed amidst a bowl of otherwise tender elements. The thick, near-gelled sauce tasted of dill, and the array of tiny marinated mushrooms seemed like they must have been labored over back in the kitchen all morning.
non-alcoholic pairing: chamomile tea with cardamom and a strong honey/lemon flavor
Tender, peppery, with an incredibly flavorful little cake, the so-called “subric”. Amazingly, we both liked this better than the lobster.
With the sweet carrot and fresh peas, this was the perfect representation of summer. Though I loved the texture of this lobster in particular–ignore what they say about avoiding shellfish in months that don’t contain an R–I like my lobster a little richer and less healthy.
non-alcoholic pairing: grapefruit tonic with basil leaf (two of my favourite things in life together in one glass)
This was the only dish of the day that we weren’t gaga over. It wasn’t as flavorful as endive should be, and the breading was at odds with the stringy vegetable. Though the breading was delicious, it seemed like a way to cover up a sub-par filling, though of course everything at Per Se is meticulous, so I’m sure the endive wasn’t supposed to be an afterthought. The fava beans with Parmesan were the highlight of the dish; I could’ve done without the endive entirely.
I can’t say for sure that it was invented by him, but chef David Chang of Momofuku Ko made famous the shaved frozen foie gras torchon, and we’ve had it on all four of our visits. There, it’s paired with sweet elements like pine nut brittle, lychee fruit, and Riesling jelly. Here, it took on an entirely different personality over the peppery pastrami-style spices of the squab. The burnt-bread-crumb flavor of the sauce had me scraping my plate for every drop.
I’ve eaten more peeled grapes in the past month than I have in the rest of my life combined. I love the attention to detail, but who doesn’t love grape skin?
Pasta! Truffle! Onions! Citrus! It was all of my favourites in one dish. Creamy, truffley, cheesy, and orangey.
The peppery coating on the tender, not-the-least-bit-funky lamb went so well with the fresh cucumber spheres, which tasted to me like the green rind of a watermelon.
non-alcoholic pairing: English breakfast tea, cola, black pepper (“Cola and tea?!”, I thought. But they were perfect together.)
Everything on this plate tasted green, from the mint sauce to the pea pastry. I’m only just developing a taste for the salty bitterness of olives and thought the flavor worked well here with the overall sweetness of the dish.
I was worried that the summer menu would include tomatoes (still my most-feared ingredient) in every dish, so I only cried a little when this was put in front of me, and I even tried a little bit just to make sure that yep, I still hate them. Otherwise, I loved the fresh, salady flavors of this dish, which managed to make cheese–which is a shell of semi-soft mozzarella with creamy super-soft mozzarella inside–seem like a light, summery affair. It didn’t compare to the tempura-battered Hittisau we had last time, but the cheese course at Per Se is always memorable.
These flavors were at odds. The super-moist banana bread and sorbet were so sweet themselves, and the pineapple only added another dimension of sweetness. The dollops of white gel–no clue what they were–tasted like lavender soap might. It was a sweet, flowery, romantic dish. And then I got a taste of the black sesame buttercream. It was bitter and sour and never got any less intense, but it wasn’t uncomplimentary to the banana, and I loved the complexity of the dish.
Fizzy and ultra sour with a cooling yogurt center and a buttery, crunchy base. The different crunches of the frozen top layer and cookie bottom layer made this a pleasure to dig a spoon into.
My final non-alcoholic pairing. It was fizzy like an egg cream, and our server refilled it when I finished it halfway through the mignardises, god bless him.
I’ll never know if my boyfriend really wanted this dessert or not, because I exclaimed so much when I saw it as a choice on his menu that he might have just ordered it to be nice, but I don’t think he regretted it either way. Because this used the best. maple. syrup. ever. (BLiS Gourmet, I’m coming for you and your $20 bourbon-barrel bottle of glory.) The dish was sweet and sour, warming and cooling, haute and homey.
At the end of your lunch at Jean-Georges, your server will bring out a giant glass pharmacy bottle full of housemade marshmallows and pluck one out for you with a pair of tongs. She’ll make a ceremony of it, and it will seem like a big deal at the time. But hidden in this dish at Per Se was a much, much better marshmallow, and no one made a big deal of it at all. Except for my boyfriend and me, I mean. I believe the word we used was crazy. “This marshmallow is crazy.” I loved the crunchy honeycomb, the fruit-leather-like compressed cherries, the rich honey of the ice cream. The sponge cake was too light for me and needed about a pound of icing on top, but I appreciated the airy texture amidst the other dense elements.
In celebration of my boyfriend’s bar exam achievement, he was presented this simple, elegant little mousse cake. I’ll take any chance to eat more of Per Se’s chocolates.
The famous tiered mignardise box with dark chocolate, vanilla, and coffee fudge on top, passion fruit and mint chocolate French macarons in the center, and root beer, salted caramel, and lemon truffles on the bottom.
Arnold Palmer, maple, and grapefruit chocolates from a wooden box full of approximately thirty, which a server opens for you before reciting the flavor of each chocolate from memory. And all of them sound amazing–balsamic vinegar, curry, fennel–and you want the box to be left at your table, but your stomach is nearing implosion at this point, so you only take three or four.
One of the desserts I hope for (and receive) each visit, the creamy coffee semifreddo with sugared beignets. Behind the “coffee”, you’ll see the tiny frozen balls of buttered popcorn ice cream, which are so savory as to be closer to popcorn than ice cream.
The parting gift: a bag of cherry nougats, caramels, hard candies, and a mint chocolate wrapped in gold.
Think of the taste of any food you like and multiply that times ten if you want to understand what it’s like to eat at Per Se. Think of the taste of any food you just feel ambivalent about, and suddenly you’ll be Googling to find out when fava bean season is so you can have more. We’re always terrified when we see the bill–our drink pairings were $300+ even with me getting the non-alcoholic ones (which I highly, highly recommend)–and we always leave saying things like, “For that much at such-and-such, we could’ve eaten twice,” but the truth is that every now and then, I like my food a little precious. I like houndstooth plates stacked three-high and half-eaten bread taken from me because the kitchen wants each bite of my foie gras eaten on a fresh piece and take-home boxes of fudge tied with branded ribbon in branded gift bags. And no one does any of that better than Per Se does.
Stepping through the sliding glass partitions to the left and right of Per Se‘s unmistakable and infamously nonfunctioning blue door should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a country gal like me, but I’m fortunate to have a boyfriend with an insatiable appetite for tasting menus (okay, okay, it’s not just him with the appetite). So when I was finally able to make a reservation for my birthday (after an hour and a half of nonstop calling and then holding), he started tossing around the idea of the extended tasting. He’d read that it was a couple hundred dollars more for a number of extra courses, and since we’d also heard that repeat visitors are lavished with attention, we figured we’d have a nice, simple, four-hour, 21-course lunch and then quietly explode later that evening at home.
We’d called ahead with our request for the extended tasting, so our server told us that a special menu had been prepared for us and sent the sommelier over to discuss pairings. Knowing that in the past, we’ve hit the outer limits of enjoyment after the 10th pairing, we requested eight glasses, including one Riesling and one cocktail. The sommelier asked our budget, and when my boyfriend said he was looking to spend about $150 per person, the sommelier very matter-of-factly told us that the restaurant recommends $250 per person. Which divides out to a little over $31 per glass. Which is about what our favourite wine costs by the bottle. But what was my boyfriend going to say? “I know it’s her birthday and all, but she’s not that special to me, so could you stick to the $12-a-glass wines? Thanks.”
The meal started with two familiar sights from our first visit to Per Se earlier this year:
Ridiculous? Or ridiculously cute? This little guy packs a lot more filling than you’d think possible; the creamiest cheese oozes onto your tongue the moment the bread is broken.
I mostly loved the serving vessel, which is like a giant spoon without its handle. I may have picked this up and pretended to scoop things off the table and shovel them into my mouth with it, and my boyfriend may have given me The Look.
I’d somehow forgotten that there’s cream cheese at the bottom of the cone. This is everything I want a Philadelphia roll to be but never is. The best part is the oniony cone, thicker and crunchier than you’d expect.
A shallow bowl of truffles arrived,
and a thick almond soup was poured around them.
We’re right between truffle seasons at the moment, so Per Se boils and then freezes their summer truffles, our server told us, to preserve them for these non-truffley months. They had a different flavor that I would describe as more like above-ground mushrooms; they were still earthy and rich and slightly crunchy but not quite as intense. We were impressed that the grapes in the soup were slices from the midsection instead of just halves and loved imagining the chef using the intricate work as punishment for some back-talking line cook. The bottom of the dish was lined with chopped almonds that added texture and coaxed more flavor from the soup.
Per Se’s famed “oysters and pearls” can be described in one of two ways:
1) sour cream and onion chips from the ocean, or
2) chicken and dumplings made with seawater.
It’s just not what you’d expect, at every level. The caviar doesn’t pop in your mouth like salmon roe does, nor does it get stuck in your teeth like flying fish roe does; you wouldn’t know you were eating it if it wasn’t for the saline taste. The oysters, tiny to begin with, fall apart in your mouth at the slightest notion from your teeth. It seems as if the texture of the tapioca would be too similar to that of the roe, but it really adds to the sense that you’re just eating a dish of mama’s creamy dumplings.
We thought this presentation was hilarious. Four dishes for four bites of food? Probably not necessary. But for me, little luxuries like the opportunity to dirty four plates are what’s missing at your less-acclaimed restaurants. It seems like a lot of thought goes into not just the arrangement of the food on the plate but the plate that it’s being arranged on. The houndstooth pattern is supposed to mimic the design on a chef’s pants. The lined plate you’ll see later with the uni dish made for what I think are some of my prettiest photos ever. And there are of course the very specific dishes for the egg custard and the salmon cornettes. These are the kinds of things that make Per Se feel special.
I loved the texture of this fish. It was citrus-cured, so the very smallest bit of each edge had a slightly firmer feel, while the interior was left tender and fleshy. The first flavor to hit my mouth was citrus, and the dish in general was all fresh, bright, and light. The very hearty radish leaves complimented the crunch of the tempura, which complimented the crisp of the radish bulbs straight from the French Laundry garden.
I love to taste each component separately, which many times leads to a realization about how important each ingredient is. Here, the hazelnuts added a saltiness, the cauliflower panna cotta was like buttery mashed potatoes, and the dab of coffee gel was the most unexpected partner to the bitter uni.
This had much more of the distinct truffle flavor than the soup did, and the richness of the white truffle custard under the black truffle ragout was like a direct punch to the wallet. The custard was airy, the ragout more of a syrupy gel. Paired with a leggy Madeira, this could have been a dessert course.
This dish elicited a response my boyfriend heard from me several times that afternoon: “I won’t even have to describe this in my blog based on how awesome the ingredients are!” It was sticky and sweet, hearty and tongue-coating. The turnip puree provided a smooth, vegetal contrast to the succulent, tender beef and the brittle papadum. This was a standout course for me and really needed to be a full-sized entree.
I really can’t praise this dish enough. It turns out that the parsnip, when not shunned to the bottom of a plate as a puree, is a meaty and firm-textured, much like a cooked carrot. The banana was so unexpected it confused me at first–my boyfriend had to name the flavor for me–but the sugariness of the fruit paired perfectly with the spiciness of the curry-like vadouvan, used here as a sauce and a layer of gelatin that contrasted the caramelization of the parsnip. This is what lesser Indian desserts (I’m looking at you, gulab jamun) aspire to be.
Dr. Boyfriend and I had the foie gras during our first tasting menu at Per Se as a $40 supplement and didn’t understand that the flower-shaped display of salts that arrived just before it was actually part of the course. Of the foie, I very ironically wrote, “We secretly wanted to spread it all over the soft rolls from the salt tasting course, but the crusty brioche was nice if extremely messy.” Hilarious! We seem so inexperienced, looking back.
This time, we were old salts. (See what I did there? Salts? Haha! No? Okay.) We had each had one bite of brioche before our server brought a fresh slice for each of us; it’s amazing how fast the stuff goes cold and stiff. Even though all of the salts tasted the same, I was really able to appreciate the texture of each. The courser salts were an incredible contrast to the smooth foie and its sweet vanilla gel. The bready pistachio base and the gelled duck consomme topping made the plate of foie its own dish, but the salt pushed it into five-donut territory.
This time, this was definitely a $40 dish.
This somehow tasted like fast food French fries and a fried fish sandwich. We thought it pretty funny that the server specifically mentioned the potatoes were fork-crushed, but the bit of texture did add to the dish. The tomato marmalade was sweet and chunky, the Pommes Maxim crisp and delicate.
My boyfriend told me about visiting relatives in Paris as a kid and standing outside Maxim’s and watching as a couple walked up and jokingly pretended to open the door; Maxim’s was too expensive for just anyone to dine at. I loved the irony of the story as we sat sipping champagne in a three-Micheline-star restaurant overlooking New York City; I guess I should congratulate Kamran for having “made it”.
How adorable is it to call them “lobster mitts”? The mushroom was one of the major flavors on the plate, while the taste of the “lost bread” was really only evident when combined with other elements like the Hollandaise, which looks mayonnaisey in the photos but was actually formed into a dome that “broke” under the pressure of our forks. We loved the texture of the spinach bread and really wanted more of it; it’s funny how when you read the menu (which we did for weeks leading up to our visit, as it changes every day), you assume that every ingredient is going to be some massive, plate-hogging thing. And then it turns out to look like this tiny, one-bite afterthought. In the most well-balanced dish, though, every bit of the plate is important.
It’s almost too simple to be good and too simple not to be. My boyfriend called it “singular”, which is a nice way of saying that it’s just some pasta, but of course this ain’t Olive Garden, and “just pasta” at Per Se is pasta covered in, you know, one of the most expensive ingredients in the world that had to be plucked out of the ground by pigs. (I love that part.) It was perfectly al dente, creamy, and sinful. And you can bet I scraped every last one of those truffle shavings off the side of my bowl. I think the gnocchi with black truffle at Eleven Madison Park was superior, but that may just be because I’m biased toward big, fat gnocchi.
The only way to make pork more delicious is to wrap it in pastry; the shell was crispier than skin alone could ever be. I appreciated the juxtaposition between the sweet fig and bitter olive, but I have to admit that I just wasn’t sold on the olive puree, even by the end of the dish. Now, I’m an active olive-hater, but I’m really open-minded about it and have actually enjoyed it in other preparations; here, it was just overpowering, and I found myself avoiding it so as to not ruin the pork.
I wonder if our servers, who had to be watching us from the sidelines to be at our sides the moment we finished a dish like they were, screamed “Noooo!” when they saw me cut into this without taking a picture first. If you can get past now knowing how badly I massacre my plates enough to keep reading, you’ll be pleased to note that I ripped this dish apart out of enjoyment. Sure, the lamb wasn’t quite tender enough, and the eggplant was far too vinegary for my taste, but as my boyfriend said, “They really captured the essence of the halal cart here.” With the deliciously spicy oregano-flavored sauce and the red peppers, it also reminded me of a pizza. A pizza with falafel.
Slightly sweet to begin with, this Hittisau cheese made for the perfect transition from the savory courses. First, there was the fact that it was tempura-battered, and you know a country girl loves her fried cheese. Then, there was the sweet walnut spread, which retained its nutty texture and complimented the nugget of homogenous cheese. The celeriac was the slightly less-sweet element on the plate, but even it reminded me of a sugary cole slaw full of apples and raisins. The crunchy freshness of the tiny pear bulbs was the perfect finishing element.
I don’t think this was meant to be anything more than a way to get our tongues ready for the real dessert, but it may have been the highlight of the sweets. It was so intensely flavored I could’ve been drinking straight out of a bottle of slushie syrup. With the fizziness and the acidity of the lemon, it was a dessert fit for a five-year-old. And that’s basically what I am.
Dr. Boyfriend complained that I never take pictures of the wine, so this is for him alone.
We had this on our first trip to Per Se, even though we don’t believe it’s usually included in the regular tasting menu for first-timers. I actually think I liked it better this time, when we had done far fewer wine pairings and hadn’t already eaten enough dessert to keep five pastry chefs employed. The semifreddo was thicker than ice cream and more flavorful, too; it was like a half-frozen triple-thick milkshake. The donut was so delicate it was ready to deflate at the slightest touch.
All of my favourite dessert flavors on one plate! The wafer crust had a wonderful crunch, the vanilla marshmallows a super stickiness. I would never have thought to match chocolate and peanut butter with a cinnamon foam, but it really worked. And flavors aside, it’s just exciting to eat a dish like this, all deconstructed and ready for my custom rebuilding.
This was served with a firefly, a cocktail of vodka, grapefruit juice, and grenadine, and it was easily my favourite pairing of the night. The drink itself is so much like a dessert that it felt like an extra course.
A little milk chocolate mousse round for my birthday. Simple but elegant.
A server brought around a wooden box as wide as his torso with indentations in the base to hold individual chocolates. I obviously wanted him to just leave the entire thing at the table, but we controlled ourselves and chose pineapple tamarind, orange marzipan, Arnold Palmer, madras curry, maple walnut, and dulce de leche. Each was interesting and flavorful.
At the end of every meal, Per Se famously serves guests a three-tiered tray of petit fours. For me, a meal couldn’t end any more perfectly. I mean, I love a plated dessert. I think those little dabs of peanut butter placed so deliberately next to the s’mores are the most perfect thing in the world. But I also get a real joy from just stuffing myself heedlessly, Willy Wonka style. We were of course already quite full by this point, so I asked our server pointedly if it would be too much trouble to wrap the tray up for us; my boyfriend had seen another blogger’s photos of three little boxes of mignardises, so we knew it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but I wanted to be polite.
Well, this is what we ended up with. One little box, with one of each treat inside. Not even two of each, so we could at least both sample everything without having to hand over a half-crushed French macaron to each other after taking a bite. She really thought the people ordering the extended tasting menu wouldn’t want all of their mignardises? And more importantly, what did she do with the rest of them? Throw them out? Because that’s almost offensive. Save them for the next table? Because that’s much worse. I’ll tell you what–if I had known this was what I was going to find in the bag I was handed on my way out, I would’ve sat there all afternoon and finished every last one. And used a lot more of the fresh hand towels in the bathroom. And stuffed the entire bread service in my purse. How many thousands of dollars do we have to spend before we get to take all of our leftovers home?
Per Se is the most technically perfect restaurant in New York City, and Per Se knows that it’s better than you. It knows that I’ll have to force myself to say a negative word about the food just to write well-rounded reviews, and it knows that the service is so impeccably timed that I’ll feel like Big Brother must be watching me. It knows that I’ll be on the phone the moment the reservation line opens up 30 days in advance of the date I’d like to visit, and it knows that if I’m not, someone else will be. And that I won’t complain when it doesn’t seat me by the window as I requested and that I’ll still want to go back.
In Sam Sifton’s much-talked-about final review as The New York Times‘s restaurant critic, he wrote of Per Se: “No restaurant in New York City does a better job than Per Se of making personal and revelatory the process of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on food and drink.” And I think that the problem for me was that this time, it didn’t feel as personal and revelatory. We spent a full $800 more than we have at places like Daniel, EMP, and Momofuku Ko. It was our second visit, and my birthday, and we actually felt like we weren’t treated as well as well this time despite letting them know this time before we even came in that we were going to spend $200 more per person on the extended tasting.
And the extended tasting, by the way? It came out to about six extra courses, making each course more than $30 each. For two bites of short rib, two slivers of fish, and one fewer dessert than we had the time when it wasn’t my birthday. While I think Per Se’s regular tasting is well-priced at $295 per person including service, the extended tasting seems to be just for the expense account guy who doesn’t really care what he gets in return for a month’s rent.
We’re not that guy, and we felt the sting of that this time at Per Se. With the mignardises being held back at the end, finding that the wine list couldn’t accommodate our paltry budget, and being told that “a la carte items are served in the salon” (the less-formal area) when I was just trying to tell the server that I liked some of the dishes so much I’d come back more often just to order them. I almost hesitate to complain about these things, because like I said, Per Se doesn’t need us. We’ll never buy its most expensive bottle of wine, and we’ll never bring “high net worth individuals” by for expense account lunches. My hard-working Ph.D. and I are just a drop in their bucket, and anyone who’s going to quibble over a couple hundred dollars probably shouldn’t be eating at Per Se.
But I still want to.
I only became interested in Asiate because someone recommended it in an old Chowhound post I happened to find about undervalued Restaurant Week restaurants. The tasting menu–with its uni cream and its butter-poached lobster–excited me so much that I gave up my three Restaurant Week reservations in order to get at it as soon as possible.
Thirty-five floors up inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel, it has a better view than Per Se and the other Columbus Circle restaurants. It also has an entirely different aesthetic: bright, white, stark, and airy. We were struck the moment we walked in the door by the giant silver entwined-twig sculpture hanging from the ceiling and the overall simplicity of the decor that let the floor-to-ceiling windows speak for themselves. Unlike the dark, plush surroundings of restaurants like Daniel, Asiate feels less stuffy and pretentious. And the food is just as simple and elegant.
Compared to the gougéres we’ve had at Per Se and Tocqueville, these were sadly lacking. While I appreciated the spiciness that followed much later than the nori and cheese flavors, I found these crusty, too dry, and not nearly cheesy enough. My boyfriend reminded me of the liquid-center gougéres at Per Se, and we both gazed out the window with dreamy looks in our eyes.
I’m not an egg-hater by any means, but I sure liked that this little egg-looking amuse was actually a spherification of melon. Its skin, so thin as to be almost indiscernible, burst open in our mouths, filling them with light, slightly-sweet melon juice. It would’ve been better cold versus room temperature, but maybe mine had just gotten warm while I tried to figure out how to use my new camera on it.
Tuna Dégustation: Schramsberg, Brut Rosé, North Coast, California 2007
This preparation was too subtle for us; the cucumber “pasta” was surprisingly the standout flavor, and the remaining ingredients were almost entirely bland. I did love the play between the tender tuna and the crunchy cucumber but needed something spicy or salty to make the bite more about flavor than texture.
I decided recently that I either need to have some really awesome uni or give it up completely, because I keep being disappointed and sometimes even a little grossed out by it. This was the perfect preparation to bring me back around. The tuna was pleasantly chunky and imbued with a citrus flavor that managed to lessen the usual bitterness of the uni. I wrote in my notes that the roe was a good addition, but that can’t be right, can it?
This was again an unfortunately bland bite, but I think I need some more tataki in my life. Biting into this little hunk of tuna was like chewing on a piece of steak. I really mean that. And I swear I hated fish up until a couple of years ago. The crunchy little rice balls on top were also a plus.
Schramsberg, Brut Rosé, North Coast, California 2007
When this dish was presented to us, my boyfriend said, “Look! All of your favourite things!” And it’s true that the sight of sturgeon roe, salmon roe, uni-flavored cream, and nori might have made me pass out in the not-so-distant past. The flavors in this dish were, in fact, all very oceany–the nori was the foremost one–but the pasta really brought it back to the land for me. I was concerned about being overwhelmed by the fishiness, so I secretly mixed all of the ingredients together and ended up with a perfectly-balanced, perfectly creamy bite every time.
Shirataki, “Sara Wind”, Junmai Sake, Japan
On the restaurant’s website, this was listed as “blue prawn, scallop, Meyer lemon”. On one hand, I was excited about the prospect of shrimp, scallop, and lemon together. And I thought that as a twenty-five-year hater of seafood, it was a big deal for me to admit that. But then my boyfriend saw a picture of the dish in which the head and legs were still attached and warned me. I said, “Maybe I’ll just ask the kitchen to remove the head and legs before they serve it.” He said, “That would be embarrassing for you and offensive to the chef.” I offered that I’m paying for the meal, that I should get to eat what I want, and that having to see the head and legs would lead to a diminished experience for me. He countered that a chef’s presentation is a form of artwork and that I wouldn’t paint an extra nose on a Picasso. In the end–and it took a while–we agreed that I would have the dish served as-is for the photograph’s sake and that he would then remove the head and legs for me if they were bothering me.
And then of course we were brought an entirely different dish that turned out to be perfect. The texture of the clams was so pleasantly chewy and cut into just the right-size pieces. The bite and crunch of the radish next to the sweeter watermelon really stood out. The fruity, refreshing marinating citrus juices were so delicious my boyfriend wanted to drink them when he finished eating all the solid bits, and our Sauvignon Blanc–which I usually don’t care much for–tasted wonderfully grapefruity.
Kingston Family Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, “Cariblanco,” Casablanca Valley, Chile 2008
This was my first time eating pattypan squash, the fruit-vegetable with the cutest name ever. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, the fish itself was even delicious. It was super-salty but in the best way, and it just flaked so perfectly. (I don’t actually think I understood what it meant to describe a fish as “flaky” until that moment. The way it was breaking off into equal sections was impressing me so much that I looked to my boyfriend for a way to describe it, and he said, “Um, that’s what they mean by ‘flaky’.” Ohhhhh.) The potato noodles added a nice crunch but little flavor, but luckily, there was a giant pile of enoki mushrooms hidden under one end of the fish that had soaked up some of the miso broth and was earthy and flavorful.
Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot, Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy, France 2009
Whoever decided to pair vanilla with lobster long, long ago was a genius. And whoever in the Asiate kitchen decided to pair their vanillaed lobster with a sauce that tasted like Fruity Pebbles cereal should at least get shortlisted for a Nobel. The snap of the beans with the buttery chewiness of the lobster was nice, and I enjoyed the creamy-gritty texture of the polenta sprinkled with vanilla bean. I absolutely could have done without the rubbery mushrooms, but I understand some people actually enjoy the look of the common mushroom cap.
Hirsch Vineyards, Pinot Noir, “Ngima’s Cuvée,” Sonoma Coast, California 2009 (this tasted like the smell of Band-Aids to us!)
You know how people are always saying, “Kobe beef is unmatched,” and “Oh, sure, my much more sensitive palate can totally tell the difference between Wagyu and traditional American beef”? And you know how you’re always like, “I’ll just stick to my big, fatty porterhouse, thanks”? Well, Asiate is doing something different than everyone else, because I actually felt like I was eating a more-delicious chunk of beef. It seemed more tender, more flavorful, more perfectly-cooked. Plus, there was visible salt on top of the hunk, which is the best steak topping next to butter. Everything else on the plate was just okay, but like anyone’s paying attention to you, asparagus.
Château Côte de Baleau, Grand Cru, Saint-Émilion, France 2007
Whether it was because we were enjoying the savory courses so much or just because we’re gluttons, we weren’t ready for dessert yet. Having a giant dessert assortment placed in front of you is a pretty good way to take your mind off of that, though.
I’m glad we tried the grapefruit first, because it was the least-sweet element on the plate and would’ve tasted bitter after anything else. The little chocolate cake round was very rich and dark with a lovely gold-flecked liquid frosting. The coffee ice cream didn’t taste of coffee to us at all but of blueberry and yuzu. The red velvet cake was one of the more interesting elements with its lychee and celery topping; I just love celery in general but especially in dessert. The strawberry consommé looked very light and refreshing but was actually thick and viscous but for the lemony foam on top.
I wouldn’t say we disliked anything on the plate, and in fact, all of it was delicious. The problem with assortments like this one and the one at, say, Nougatine at Jean-Georges is that there’s just too much going on to ever seem like a well-composed dessert. As much as I like the novelty being able to sample the entire dessert menu, little bites only get my palate all excited for a big finish, and when there isn’t one, I feel unsatisfied. I think a better choice would have been to serve the consommé first (as the menu had indicated) and the follow up with a bigger version of any of these components.
Brachetto d’Acqui, Coppo, “Passione,” Piedmont, Italy 2007
At this point, we were allowed to sit for a while without any other sweet treats and may have started to murmur some misgivings about the 4.5-donut rating I had been considering. I mean, charge me whatever you want for your tasting menu, but wow me at whatever price point you set, right?
But then this little plate of mignardises arrived with the check, and everything was set right.
Chocolate cake (very moist), pâte de fruits (passion fruit or guava), macarons (lime!), peanut butter and jelly chocolates (with flavor that lingered well after we left the restaurant).
I don’t think I should’ve liked Asiate as much as I did. Asian flavors are interesting to me, but they’re usually too unfamiliar to provide that perfect balance of comfort plus ingenuity that makes for my favourite kind of meal. Yet in each one of these dishes, Chef Brandon Kida managed to combine something that may have scared me off in the past–multiple preparations of uni, roe all over the place, nori taking center stage–with other ingredients like steak and noodles that feel homey.
Plus, this tasting menu and wine was about half the price of those at places like Per Se and Daniel. Certainly we missed some of the service aspects of those restaurants that have made them the institutions they are–unexpected courses, take-home treats, personalized souvenir menus–but this made for an excellent alternative to those sometimes-pretentious, luxury-claustrophobic meals.
For the longest time, I was saying that the best meal I’ve ever had was at Tom Colicchio’s Craft. And maybe it still is the best meal I’ve ever had. It was my first tasting menu, my first meal over $100, my first time eating bay scallops and sturgeon and cocoa nib. Since then, I’ve had meals that have blown my mind more, but there’s sure a lot to be said for almost being made to cry over some Brussels sprouts for the first time.
Since then, I’ve had pretty stellar experiences at Craftbar and Colicchio & Sons, so my boyfriend and I were pleased to get to try Chef Colicchio’s newest venue, Riverpark, which is situated aaaaaaaaaall the way over on 29th Street behind the infamous Bellevue Hospital, overlooking the East River. It turns out that the interesting views are really the only reason to go.
My boyfriend was a little surprised when an entire baby octopus was planted in front of him, but it was pretty impressive. Chargrilled and just slightly fishy, it had a great firm-but-not-chewy texture. We both loved the cilantro on top, but I thought the clams tasted of funk. In general, it was just a little overwhelming to be handed the whole mollusk; a thoughtful preparation of octopus parts is more our speed.
The dense pasta coupled with the thick sauce made for a rich, homey dish. I loved the crispy herbs in contrast to the soft peas, and the classic combination of long-cooked lamb and mint proved its worth once again. I was looking forward to what the horseradish would bring to the dish but unfortunately couldn’t taste it. If I think about one dish from this night, it’s this one, just for those paper-thin greens.
Served over super-buttery potatoes, this was mushy texture after mushy texture, so every bit of that crunchy fennel was welcome. I liked all of the flavors that were present but noticed almost immediately that something was missing: spice. For me, the dish really needed something to brighten it up.
I’m only now beginning to actually enjoy seafood a little, so it was a major step for me to order this as my main dish, and luckily, it didn’t let me down. The sear on the scallops was just perfect, and I loved the lemony flavor of them. The bacon on top was extra-crunchy, and the vegetables on the side were extra-tender. I love the onions, especially. It maybe wasn’t the most soul-satisfying dish I’ve had, but I pleased myself by enjoying it.
The entire dessert menu was impressive, but my boyfriend and I decided we had to go for the very craziest thing on it. We love soufflés, and we love beets, so how could it be bad? Well, it was bad, and we knew it was going to be from the very moment it hit our table. It just looked wrong. And then our server took a spoon to scoop the center of it out and pour in the créme, and it was clear that the thing was much less a soufflé and much more an omelet.
It was so eggy. So eggy that we couldn’t eat it. We tried the beet sorbet and liked the way it was not sweet at all on its own but actually tasted like dessert when eaten with the pistachio brittle. Still, we were so disappointed with the soufflé that we couldn’t even enjoy it.
To tell the truth, I was almost a little excited to write a negative review about it, because we’ve been going to so many great restaurants lately that everything has been four and five stars. But when I almost apologetically mentioned to our server that the egginess had turned us off a bit, he said that the chef would be happy for our feedback, because it was the first night the soufflé had appeared on the menu, and they weren’t sure how it was going to go over.
The restaurant entirely made up for it by sending us a plate of the most wonderful housemade sorbets and ice creams in creamsicle, brown butter, and pineapple.
It kind of pains me to give Riverpark such a low rating, but all of the dishes were just so-so. Nothing blew our minds, and nothing offended us, but we had such better meals at Craft and Craftbar that our expectations were high. The most my boyfriend could muster was, “It was amazing . . . that I ate a whole octopus.” And I think that about sums up my feelings, too. Go for the views of the water and the creepy old Bellevue buildings, but try one of the other Colicchio restaurants for the food.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)