I know Per Se reviews are potentially staid on this board, but I was fortunate enough to have dinner there for the first time- to celebrate my 30th birthday, as well as my husband and my 1-year wedding anniversary- and I couldn't resist writing up my experience. It was a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, that I dare say was "worth it." More details + photos of each course can be found on my blog: http://healthypantz.com/2012/05/21/pe...
A couple of tidbits worth noting about our evening:
1. I've never been made to feel so normal about my dietary preferences while dining at a restaurant. I loved Per Se for that fact. The reservationist took down our litany of dietary restrictions and preferences without comment or judgment (no meat, very limited dairy for me; no chocolate for Hubs since he's allergic), and all was accommodated.
2. The wine list was on an iPad. COOL!
3. Speaking of wine, we kept it low key with the booze, considering all the food we were taking in. A glass of champagne + a glass of German reisling for me, and a glass of Austrian reisling + a glass of red (a Brunello, I think) for Hubs was a perfect amount. There's only so much room.
4. The service was not stuffy at all (as we'd wrongly assumed it would be.) While professional and attentive, the staff was young and very relaxed, so we actually felt right at home.
5. The meal described below took about 3.5 hours to eat. The courses weren't all that far spaced out, either. So much delicious food. I'm salivating writing this review...
Here's an overview of the millions of courses and delights that we were served over the course of our celebration:
Taste 1: Warm gougeres
These little warm morsels of gooey goodness are a Thomas Keller signature. Just a little taste of the fun to come.
Taste 2: Salmon Cornets
This, too, is a signature treat for Chef Keller: crème fraîche stuffed tuile cones topped with salmon tartare. I literally ate mine like an ice cream cone until all the salmon was gone, and then handed it over to E to finish off the crème fraîche part. (He's the yin to my picky-eating yang.
Taste 3: The bread basket
For E, 2 types of butter were first presented along with a single warm pillowy roll. The exact details of each butter evade me now, but I recall that one was salted and one unsalted. Noting my dietary restrictions, 2 types of fresh pressed olive oils were offered to me. Color me impressed. As if the heaven pillows weren't enough bread, we were offered 4 additional different types from a basket: pretzel, sourdough, buckwheat, or baguette. Hubs and I opted for a piece of pretzel and buckwheat each. The pretzel bread tasted like what soft pretzels from street carts taste like in my dreams: soft, warm, lightly salted, addictive. I had to physically muzzle myself so I wouldn't ask for more.
Course 1: Oysters & Pearls
I was really excited to try this Per Se staple of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and Sterling White sturgeon caviar, and possibly even more excited that it was intended to be eaten with an adorable mother of pearl spoon. I like kitsch. Whatever. So this dish was as good as I'd hoped it'd be. Salty, creamy, and exotic. The portion looks teensy in comparison to the 800 pieces (okay, 3) of china it rested upon, but it was actually properly sized given its richness. Plus we still had a marathon of eating ahead.
Course 2: Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm
Diagonally placed across the plate were alternating bites of avocado, compressed granny smith apple, brioche melba, beet crisp, toasted pistachios, red ribbon sorrel, and of course hearts of palm. We were told that Hawaiin hearts of peach palm are actually sweeter and milder than other hearts of palm, and that they are flown in twice a week from Hawaii to New York. This dish was light and refreshing art in salad form.
Course 3: Pave of Spanish Mackerel
Atop this filet was a cornbread "panade" which added a great texture and slightly salty/sweet accent to the already perfectly flavored mackerel. Jingle bell peppers (the most festive pepper!), braised globe artichokes and a really spicy swipe of salsa verde accompanied the fish. For a tasting menu, this piece of fish was really large, so it was at this point that I became concerned with my ability to eat the remaining courses. (Don't worry, I prevailed.)
Course 4: Poached Nova Scotia Lobster
I think this course may have been our favorite savory item. My lobster was poached in olive oil, while E's was poached in butter and came wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon. Both preparations were served with green almonds, pickled ramps, and cauliflower cream. There was also an almond crust atop the lobster that was absolutely incredible. I think if bandits tried to take this dish away from us we would have thrown them out the window in defense of this perfect lobster.
Course 5 (mine): Endive en Feuille de Pommes de Terre
I swapped out the carnivorous next course for this item off the vegetarian menu: braised endive wrapped in crispy potato, and served with ragoût of fava beans, Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley coulis. It was crispy and salty on the outside, earthy and creamy on the inside. E had food envy, so I shared. In return, he let me pick a cherry off of his quail dish. That's love, folks. :)
Course 5 (E's): Diamond H Ranch Quail En Crepinette
This quail somehow only had one bone in it (which made it look like a lollipop), and came dressed in foie gras-madeira emulsion. Brook cherries, red radishes, and frisée accompanied it. The cherry I was gifted tasted like summer and sunshine, and E was a happy camper, so let's just assume it was flawless like everything else.
Course 6 (mine): Broccoli & Semolina Agnolotti
I subbed the second meat course with another option from the vegetarian menu, which, I'll admit, didn't sounds all that incredible when described as "broccoli pasta." I should not have been surprised when I was presented with the most elegant, delicate version of broccoli-filled pasta that I could imagine. There were sweet little young onions, broccolini, and navel orange confit in a sauce of black winter truffle "mornay." Every flavor was distinguishable from one another, and complemented each other perfectly. I ate this in the teensiest bites possible in order to stretch out the deliciousness.
Course 6 (E's): Lysian Fields Farm's Selle D'Agneau
We were told that this medallion of lamb came from the saddle of the animal, which is located right under the ribs. The mental image grossed me out slightly, but the unphased E said it was delicious. The lamb came with Oregon morel mushrooms (which I tasted and wanted to eat all of), English peas, sweet carrots and "Paloise Mousseline."
Course 7: Isle of Mull
This cheese course consisted of a creamy cow's milk cheese, and was accompanied by a Pearson Farm’s Pecan set inside medjool date steamed pudding, white celery glaze, and whole grain mustard. Truly the most interesting interpretation of a cheese course I've ever seen. Plus, i hadn't had real cheese in so long that this was a real treat.
Course 8: Raspberry & Oats
We were presented the "sorbet course," and my first thought was "every meal should have a sorbet course!!" Layered in the sundae glass were toasted oat crumble, Greek yogurt panna cotta, and raspberry soda, topped with granité de crème de cassis. There were a lot of audible "Mmmmm"s. I thought I was stuffed when this arrived, but it turned out I could have eaten a few more helpings.
Course 9 (mine): Gataeu Marjolaine de Fernand Point
My dessert was a french cake with alternating layers of vanilla, chocolate, wafers, meringue nut cake, and glory. It was topped with vanilla and chocolate "glace." The dessert was so rich that I could only sample it to get a taste, but each delicate layer was sweet and uniquely delicious.
Course 9 (E's): Pamplemousse Rose
This was described as "the grapefruit dessert" but it was really so much more interesting. There were a lot of tastes on that little plate: vanilla génoise (a sponge cake), grapefruit bavarois (fluffy pudding), fennel bulb "relish" and olive oil sorbet. I think I liked this better than my dessert. (I'm glad I dined with a sharer!)
Course 9.5: Chocolate Birthday Cake
Okay, this was really thoughtful. Though it was not on the menu, I was presented with a small piece of chocolate birthday cake, accompanied by a scoop of buttered popcorn gelato. It contained one lit candle, and was tactfully placed on our table for me to blow out. I was more stuffed than a Gund bear at this point, so I could only manage a bite of the rich cake. But what a decadent bite it was!
Post dinner Mignardises
We were so full that when we were asked if we would like a sampling of mignardises to complete our meal, our eyes nearly popped out of our heads in disbelief. I asked if it would be possible to box up the treats so that we could truly enjoy them the next day, and of course, the answer was yes. We lingered over perfectly foamed cappuccinos for a little while. On our way out, we were handed a gift bag filled with delicious treats: 2 bags containing various nougats and caramels, and 2 boxes containing chocolates, fudges, and macarons. Full disclosure: after our long meander home from Columbus Circle (yes, we were so full that we walked the 2.25 miles home- I Google-mapped the distance) we had managed to make enough room in our bellies to devour the 2 macarons. They were mint chocolate and orange creamsicle flavored, if you were curious.
So there you have it- our glorious dinner date celebration at Per Se. Sorry to sound cliche, but it was truly everything we'd hoped it would be, and an incredible way to celebrate our 1st year of marriage and my 30th birthday.