The first reviews of San Franciso’s Mission Chinese Food outpost here in NYC were written by professional critics and were, by my estimation, universally adoring. The New York Times said James Beard Rising Star Chef award-winner Danny Bowien “does to Chinese food what Led Zeppelin did to the blues. His cooking both pays respectful homage to its inspiration and takes wild, flagrant liberties with it”. The blog reviews that came soon after were less excited. I read complaints about the prices, which range from $4 for the vinegar peanuts to $14.50 for the mapo la mian. I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly spicy. Then I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly bland. I didn’t know what to think, so I thought I’d just go find out for myself.
Since I’m a woman who loves making and having reservations, I was pleased to find that Mission Chinese Food takes a very, very limited number of reservations per night. The website begins accepting them at 10 a.m. each morning, and 5 seconds later, they’re all gone. I had a few mornings of absolutely no luck and one morning where I was offered a reservation but then double-checked my calendar and lost it before I actually got a spot for a Wednesday night.
Walking in the door, which itself was almost too tiny for a person to fit through, we were underwhelmed by the little room we found ourselves in. There was a counter, a cash register, a window into the kitchen, and this backlit menu with only slightly better photos than your generic Chinese take-out joint:
After an uncomfortable five-minute wait, though, we were led through a hallway past the kitchen to the dining room, which was like a whole different world. I felt like a soldier in Vietnam in the 60s, off duty for the night and looking to forget my troubles with help from the cocktail-slinging bartender in the corner. I have no idea why I thought Vietnam, since there were Chinese lanterns everywhere and a huge dragon snaking through the beams of the ceiling, but I kept expecting the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to start playing. The whole place glowed red, and the servers were in tank tops and frayed denim shorts, appropriate to the Lower East Side location. In a few words, it was really fuckin’ cool.
My boyfriend knew he wanted the pig tails, and I knew I wanted the thrice-cooked bacon, but everything else was off-the-cuff. Here’s what we went with:
Beer brined sichuan pickles, with Chinese cabbage, carrot, chili oil, peanut, and sichuan pepper, and Beijing vinegar peanuts with smoked garlic, anise, and rock sugar. I expected the pickles to be spicy and hoped that the vinegar peanuts would provide some relief, but these were equally loaded with heat. Being more a fan of chili than vinegar, I preferred the bowl of pickles and probably wouldn’t have ordered both of these had we known that the pickles would also be peanut-heavy.
Eeeeeasily the best thing I tasted here. And you just know it wouldn’t have been nearly as good had the bacon only been cooked twice. Like the rice roll at Congee Village, I could eat these rice cakes for every meal ever. They’re a little bit chewy, a little bit gelatinous, and a lot purely satisfying simple carbs. This dish was spicy in a way that I’ve never experienced spice. It wasn’t the eye-watering, nose-running spice of Thai food or Indian food. It was a red pepper spice that literally made my mouth go numb. In a good way. In an I-don’t-want-to-ever-stop-eating-this-why-did-we-also-order-the-whole-side-of-a-fish way. It’s hard for me to express how much I loved this plate without writing a full-on love letter in drool.
If you’d told me I’d someday find myself holding onto a fin and yanking the meat off not to torture a fish but to eat it . . . but this was a) fried, b) boneless, c) fishy as all get-out but strangely delicious. The breading was thick and crunchy, like a shell. And the fact that it was coupled with those fatty, buttery biscuit halves didn’t hurt.
I only ate one of these, because clams are weird. But: basil.
Everyone, including me, somehow assumed that pig tails would be curly and skinny. But these were big and thick and meaty. If I hadn’t known they were tails, I’d think they were ribs. Only the meat was a little tougher and almost gamier, like it was on its way to being venison jerky. The smoky sauce made it a spicy/sweet mess that evoked all sorts of backyard barbeques when we added the meat to the white bun and potato salad.
My descriptions of these dishes are a joke next to the actual flavors. As someone who’s suuuuuper picky about traditional Chinese food, I didn’t expect to walk away from Mission Chinese Food exclaiming over how delicious and exciting everything was. Especially since it was SO spicy. But in addition to loving the food, I really, really loved the cool, transporting-you-to-a-different-world-ness of the place in general. I’ve still been talking about it so much that my friends all want to go and have been, like, name-dropping it on their OkCupid profiles without ever having eaten there. I’ll just remember to bring a big flask of milk with me the next time.
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.
My boyfriend and I were looking for a tasting menu for last weekend. We mentioned Corton and then moved past it, figuring that there’s a whole world of NYC restaurants we haven’t been to. For days, we mulled over Gramercy Tavern, Corton, Scarpetta, Corton, Ai Fiori, Corton, Aldea . . . and then we actually read the menu on Corton’s website. SOLD. “Wacked-out modernist cuisine”, my boyfriend calls it. With two much-deserved Michelin stars to boot.
This is the $155 tasting menu with wine pairings also at $155:
This cracker with a micro shiso leaf (that’s Japanese mint, although it has a flavor all its own) came way too fast for me to have my memory-bearings about me. You can’t beat the cuteness of that leaf, though.
Soft and slightly bitter, with a kick of blue cheese.
The tuile (or crispy wafer) tasted like Froot Loops, and we seem to think the fried balls were cheesy, but don’t make this your sole reason for making a reservation just in case I’m wrong. They were served alongside a homemade XO sauce (that’s Chinese dried seafood sauce, although I think any non-seafood-lover would like it), and we love XO, but the fried ball was sadly the wrong vessel for the sauce, and I didn’t get the flavor of it at all.
Pretzels in the bread basket make me swoon. So did the candied square of chestnut at the center of this roll.
There was about an eighth of an inch of custard in this pot, but it packed a salty flavor punch with notes of bacon and leafy greens. The confit citrus peel was a deliiiiicious crunchy addition. Black bean and orange–who knew?
I love how the menu calls this a “classic foie gras and black truffle spiral”. I’ve never seen anything remotely resembling it before. The foie torchon (so smooth, so creamy) was surrounded by a gelee layer of black truffle that was unfortunately overpowered by the flavor of the liver, but the dish overall was really nice and really savory. For someone who likes the flavor of mushrooms but thinks they’re kind of weird-looking and weird-feeling, this completely homogenous sauce-like preparation was perfect, and the apple sliver and crisp kombu (kelp) strip added the necessary crunch. A scoop of radish added brightness and sourness. The toasted buckwheat roll on the side was perfectly soft on the inside but provided enough structure to make a great foie vessel.
The juxtaposition between the rich potato gnocchi and ham consomme and the fresh leaves and tiny romanesco (prettiest vegetable ever, right?) made this a much more complex dish than I expected at first glance. The egg nestled next to the gnocchi broke to spread a single drop of balsamic, making the consomme even richer.
I was excited to try my first cod cheek (foreground), but the sliver of smoked mackerel (background) was actually more flavorful and more tender. This wasn’t the first fish in whey I’ve had recently, and I still love the tenderness and simplicity it lends to a seafood dish. I also liked the crunchy whole-grain mustard and the meringue-like texture of the triangular black . . . thing.
This little sweet and sour ball was delivered in a box dotted with ripe calamansi (sour citrus) fruits. I almost didn’t expect it to be sweet, coming so soon in the meal, but it was a whirl of orange-y, lime-y, yuzu-y ice cream wrapped in a mochi skin. I loved the little speck of gold leaf, because I am a glutton for luxury.
Wonderfully gelatinous charred turbot belly (foreground right), a curry-like sauce, sweet apple gel, a tender mussel, cabbage stuffed with chopped chestnut and resembling a little brain (background left), a tiny caterpillar-like cylinder of something crunchy like a radish (background right). The “tarte rouge” served on the side was like a side salad with fresh beets and radishes and a cracker instead of croutons. The yuzu cream on the edge of the plate–heaven.
This dish was a huge mishmash of textures and sour and bitter flavors. I’m not sure how composed you can call a dish with so many elements, but I’m not sure I care about composition when everything is so delicious and interesting.
I’ve had a soup dumpling or two hundred in my time in NYC, but this sour-rich-deep-dark one was completely new to me. We debated about whether the oxtail, truffle, and sweetbreads were all necessary since none of those specific flavors came through, but we decided that the dumpling wouldn’t have tasted the same without each one of them, that the overall outcome was more important than the presence of individual ingredients. My boyfriend said it reminded him of a Persian beef stew with Persian lime.
Also: gold leaf.
Apparently the calotte de boeuf is the meat that forms that cap of a prime rib. This is either the best part of the cow or the part that butchers throw away, depending on which blog Google directs you to. Apparently this cut is sometimes called deckle but is different than the deckle used in pastrami. I’m confused. But I’m not confused about how totally tasty, totally homey, totally sausage-y this calotte was–completely at odds with the sour black miso and onion served on the side. I loved the tender artichoke slice (foreground right), but the best part of the dish was the little chilled cube of gelatinous tea (background left). Something about how delicious it was just sent me over the edge, and I had to stop eating for a second to keep from crying. WHAT.
Served on the side of the calotte was this tartare with chive and onion flavors and that sweet and fatty gelee underneath. The “bread” was a puffed beef tendon similar to the one we saw at wd~50 a few months ago. It’s like a packing peanut covered in movie popcorn butter. This one wasn’t as buttery as theirs, but I was happy to see it on another dish at all.
“These cows graze on shoots”, our server told us, “so it’s a very floral cheese.” What he meant was that this was going to taste like a really stanky barnyard. Luckily, it was diluted by the sweet fig and Malabar (Indian) spice-covered bread sliver that reminded us of gingerbread. The gelee was unfortunately unflavored, but overall, I thought it a well-composed dish.
This was shown to us whole and then whisked away to the kitchen so that we’d forget about it and enjoy the two bites that would arrive on our next plate.
The sommelier, if it’s not clear, was excellent.
This blood orange sorbet tasted like the white Smarties candies. My boyfriend observed this with his extra-attuned palate, and he was entirely correct. The tart was like an old-fashioned cream pie with a pink iridescent top, and the sorbet was almost too sour for how tame the flavor of the pie was, but both were delicious in their own right. They also made our glasses of Sauternes taste herbal. I can’t find any information about what a culinary dentil is that doesn’t involve Chef Paul Liebrandt, but its traditional definition calls it an architectural detail, so maybe the delicate slice of blood orange candy garnishing the sorbet is the architectural detail on this dessert in Chef Liebrandt’s eyes.
There was again no discernible flavor to this gelee, but the creamy dark Brooklyn chocolate with notes of peanut butter made up for that in spades. I loved the texture of the seeds in the fig and the fact that it was cold.
Also: gold leaf.
Just as bursting with flavor as you want them to be.
Is anything more seemingly-boring and yet actually-delicious than nougat? It was so good that I got distracted and have no idea what the pastry was. But I do know that the chocolate on top is Chef Liebrandt’s initials.
A tray of French macarons being lowered onto the table.
Included a grapefruit one that we both agreed was straight-up gross, and I say that as someone who simply loves grapefruit. Luckily, I had saved the salty caramel one for last and made up for it.
Even as someone who has given Corton a perfect rating both times I’ve visited, I can see why the reviews of it include extreme highs and extreme lows. It has, for instance, only three and a half out of five stars on Yelp but also two out of three Michelin stars on a list that only includes about fifty New York City restaurants. The “problem” with Corton is two-fold:
1) There are a LOT of ingredients on the plate. You can rarely taste all of them, which leads you to question how necessary they are.
2) The portions are extremely small. It’s not a matter of my being a glutton, because I always leave Corton satisfied with plenty of dessert left on the table. The problem is that I want to taste each element on its own and with the other elements on the plate. This just isn’t possible when there’s one bite of smoked mackerel, one petal of artichoke, a piece of turbot belly that isn’t even equal to a single forkful. Once you taste it, it’s gone. I think this could come off as too precious to someone who doesn’t have patience for rarefied food.
Despite these complaints, the overall effect of the dishes at Corton is still, for me, sheer bliss. To me, the preciousness feels special, not stupid. Because there’s so little of everything, every single bite has to be perfect. And I haven’t been anywhere in NYC that’s making this kind of tiny-yet-hugely-thoughtful food. But let me know if you do, because my life is pretty low on five-donut dinners at the moment.
The moment the four-star, accolade-laden reviews started rolling in for Atera–not all of them from people who had actually been to the restaurant, naturally–I called for a reservation. And then freed up every Saturday for a month in case the waitlist paid off and my boyfriend and I could get a spot. It was being compared to Momofuku Ko, our favourite restaurant in NYC, and Brooklyn Fare, our favourite restaurant in NYC to hate on. The chef, Matthew Lightner, trained at the #1 restaurant in the world and the #3 restaurant in the world, was named Best New Chef and Rising Star and everything else in Portland, and has brought his foraging-centric cuisine to NYC, where foraging is kind of foreign.
Luckily, this isn’t just nuts and berries but molecularly gastronomical concoctions made to look like nuts and berries. And also rocks. And moss. And it tastes just as natural as it looks.
This whipped frozen macaron started airy and sweet and melted within seconds, leaving a cheesy finish.
Crisp, with a note of coriander and pine nuts to add texture.
Sunchoke skin rolled into a crunchy/chewy vessel for bright herbs and sour buttermilk cream.
This meringue “bun” was made with yeast to add bread flavor and filled with some of the sweetest lobster meat.
Frozen but dissolved immediately, leaving behind nothing but pure horseradish flavor. The halibut was strangely lacking for both of us, but there’s a reason this is called a horseradish parfait and not a halibut one.
Sweet, salty, creamy, and just a little funky.
Not actually an egg but a thin skin holding a dollop of aioli. It was like eating a spoonful of garlicky mayonnaise, and I’m quite sure I couldn’t have eaten more than one.
The burnt bottom of this cracker helped to cut through the richness of the foie and aioli. The charred flavor was verging on unpleasant, which is how I like all of my food.
Slices of clam with a thick edible shell of bread. Plenty of ocean flavor packed into just a few slivers of shellfish.
Yes, lichen. As in algae. Really taking that foraging thing seriously. The dominant flavor was fennel, and a sort of rock salt formation covered the skin. A malt vinegar and herb emulsion dotted the underside like moss on a rock.
Another truly foresty dish, this combined the cool temperatures of spring with the florals of summer. The licorice-dusted disc broke to reveal a savory yogurt center surrounded by the ring of flowers. Artful and inspired with a perfect Austrian mead pairing that really accentuated all of the right flavors.
mead: Die Hochland, “Lime Blossom”, Austria
Strips of creamy scallop, the packing peanut texture of freeze-dry, juicy but sour pickled strawberries, a burst of citrus in the crevasse on either end. The meat was so mild it’s hard for me to imagine even my scallop-hating friends–yes, these people exist–resisting.
sake: Kamoizumi, Komekome, “Happy Bride”, Hiroshima, NV
Gelee studded with chewy tapioca, topped with sweet shredded crab and crisp, vegetal red snap peas.
chenin blanc: Francois Chidaine, “Clos Habert”, Montlouis, Demi-Sec, 2008
Salted rye bread with a distinct coffee flavor and a doughnut-like roll basted in mangalitsa pork fat, served with house-made butter made from creme fraiche and Winnimere cheese rind.
This bowl arrived with curlicues of noodles on one side and a packet full of herbs and spices in a thin gelatinous skin on the other. A server poured a test tube of mild but lovely chicken broth on top, disintegrating the packet so the noodles could be seasoned. I loved the powerful cilantro, but even better was the onion, which tasted just like French onion soup. We knew the noodles were too chewy to be pasta, but we couldn’t decide if they were tofu or squid. The smallest hint of ocean flavor confirmed the squid for us, and our server cemented it when she delivered the next dish. We were wondering, though; if we hadn’t asked, would she have told us? Did anyone without our vast food knowledge and achingly discerning palates (j/k) notice?
It looked like a chunk of stone fallen off the side of a mountain, surrounded by smaller shards, but our knives sank into it just like any old beet. The roe wasn’t just salty but added a real ocean dimension that the crustacean sauce was oddly lacking; it actually tasted just like Parmesan cheese.
riesling: C.H. Berres, “Urziger Wurzgarten”, Auslese, Mosel 1997
One of the simplest and yet most striking dishes I’ve had in a while. The line-caught halibut was poached in whey that draped over it like a warm icing, a cooking method that left it tender and unfussy. The garlic was roasted until sweet and provided the only strong flavor, yet it somehow seemed like a wonderfully complex dish.
furmint: Kiralyudvar, “Sec”, Tokaj, 2009
A tart vinegar sauce soaked this sweet, sticky squab and its accompanying pear skins. A lemony herb and the mild bite of the garlic scape rounded out the profile with bright, “green” flavors.
sangiovese: Felsina, Chianti Classico Reserva, “Berardenga”, Tuscany, 2008
Spice-rubbed pork as savory as bacon was topped with chewy sprouted wheatberries in a thick, rich duck egg yolk sauce. The oniony flavor of the leek the perfect compliment.
nerello mascalese: Calabretta, Etna Rosso, Sicily, 2001 Magnum
We opted for a cheese course in place of one dessert and were a little put-off that it didn’t have the same level of creativity as one you might see at Per Se or Momofuku Ko, but we nonetheless enjoyed what we were given, namely the Rupert and the Mountaineer hard cheeses. The supermoist apple bread with chunks of fruit baked right into it was a lovely accompaniment, but with all that space left in the breadbox, we wanted jams and honeys, too.
Bergamot orange sorbet in a shell with the consistency of chocolate but the taste of a popcorn hull on a bed of brown butter crisp. It was super acidic, wildly tart, and as clever as it was delicious.
muscat: Jaillance, “Cuvee Imperial”, Clairette de Die, Rhone Valley, MV
A study in textures from slick banana ice cream to chewy marshmallow to crisp shards of milk skin. It may have been delicate in presentation, but the banana flavor was bold.
semillon: Chateau Petit Vedrines, Sauternes 2007
This is evidently . . . salsify? We’ve had it roasted and caramelized and used in place of potatoes, but never have I seen it like this. Sure, the churro was uncharacteristically chewy, but I never would’ve guessed it was anything but dough. I may have taken embarrassingly small bites of it to make sure I had enough churro to pick up all of the Nutella, but I may not be sorry about it.
bual: Vinhos Barbeitos, “Boston Bual”, Madeira, NV
The perfect amount of booze in a super-melty ice cream that was more icy than creamy. This was so simple but left a big impression on both of us.
As chocolatey as they look.
Actually salty caramels, presented in the most beautiful way.
I’m not sure we said a bad word about this place. Maybe we wanted more substance on the cheese plate, and maybe I could’ve used some spice on the churro, but the overwhelming sense was that Atera was everything everyone said it was and more. Never once did it seem kitchy or schticky. Never once did we question a flavor pairing nor a preparation. Mostly, we compared it to the restaurants it’s being compared to and found that it comes out on top. The one thing Momofuku Ko is lacking in–desserts–Atera had so many of we gave one up for a cheese course. (Oh, yeah, and you can take pictures at Atera, unlike at Ko.) And Atera was basically everything we’d hoped for from Brooklyn Fare: cool music, unstuffy service, comfortable chairs, and an atmosphere worth dressing up for. Maybe the food at Ko and Brooklyn Fare is more assertive, but I loved the subtleties of Chef Lightner’s food, the pear skins and the milk skins and the lichen. Where food like this can often come off as frou-frou, these dishes all tasted like they really had just been plucked from the forest. And at $150 for 22 courses, it’s the kind of place you can return to as often as the menu changes. Not that you can get a reservation.
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.
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)
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• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)