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Manhattan

Per Se review (long)

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Per Se review (long)

Caviar | May 28, 2004 01:56 PM

Actually, I went in early May, shortly after they reopened, but I haven't had a chance to do the write-up.

It's not so much a restaurant as it is a very well oiled food perfection delivery machine. Not everything was 100% perfect, mind you, but the things that weren't were mostly of no consequence (or wrong only out of convention and not in the sense of being, say, inferior in any way), and only served to add character to the things that were.

I can't remember the last time going out to eat gave me the giggles.

To say that the food was exquisite is missing the point - it's just in a different class altogether. Every bite is full of both genius and playfulness. Keller's lighthearted flavor fugue is all over the place, and it shows. For example:

Bread. They start with a choice of three kinds of bread - 9-grain, "simple" country white, or a french bread roll, with two kinds of butter. All great. But then later, they bring out something else - "this is the only bread we make here". It's a "Parker House roll", little quatrains of fleur de sel crusted puffy cubes. Imagine a pretzel crossed with a croissant, and you're mostly there. But it doesn't stop. At the end of the explanation of the bread, the service captain tells us "we'll revisit this later". The dessert course has a
bunch of amazing simple things on the plate; one of them is a little puddle of cream. "Remember I said we'd come back to the Parker House rolls?" The cream is '"Pain au Lait" Coulis', and it's made out of the rolls. They pulverize them in a food processor, then cook them down in a process I don't entirely understand. But it's outstanding.

Wine. The wine was reasonably priced. We had a bottle of Neyers 2002 Chardonnay ($50), which was great. The captain recommended individual glasses of sharper whites (which I don't remember) for the second course, which we did and was the right decision. The bottle went with everything, one bottle lasted the meal, and it hit a perfect match with the lobster course. The wine list is a staggering book of much more expensive choices, but I think this was a fine selection.

They have over 200 kinds of plates, most of which were custom designed by Chef Thomas with Limoges. This attention to detail is in every aspect of the meal and the decor.

We each started with the Per Se cocktail - ciroc vodka with a white port, glasses washed with a fruity liquor, and garnished with two red grapes. Extremely refreshing, and smooth.

A note on the service. About halfway through the meal, we got fairly confused about who was doing what and had to have it explained. There were no fewer than 6 people involved in various parts of our meal - the waiter, the sommelier, two or three servers, and also a service captain to top it all off. They were very well coordinated, and the service was exceptionally attentive and, for lack of a better word, bright. I felt like everyone was extremely proud of their job, and rightly so.

Shortly after drinks, we ordered, and Chef Thomas's signature amuse-bouche was presented to us - salmon tartare "ice cream cones". A black sesame tuile filled with onion creme fraiche, topped with salmon tartare. Delightful and fresh.

Some highlights from the menu (9 course, which is actually more like 12 total):

Oysters and Pearls - Fantastic! Thomas Keller talks a great deal about the texture of luxury in his cookbook. Strain strain strain. This is it. A sweetish custardy pudding with droplets of oceanic salty goodness.

In a sea of a meal of the best things I've ever tasted, the foie gras stands out. Wow. Foie gras and peaches. Perfectly smooth, fruity, creamy, and surrounded by crunchy crisp bits of melba toast and rice krispies.

Butter Poached Lobster. Yeah... It's just indescribably good. I can't even try.

Fish, Quail, Lamb, and so on ... lots of courses, lots of things to like. Nothing even resembling disappointment.

The several separate dessert courses were uniformly great, light, and full of flavor. The cookies were tasty and buttery, but the standout here was the filled chocolates, particularly one with a rosemary and thyme cream.

I'm quite pleased that more high-end restaurants seem to be offering high-end teas.

I had a fabulous time. Previously, I didn't really feel up to the task of tackling any of the recipes in the French Laundry cookbook, but now I feel like I have some idea of where they're supposed to go. This is unmistakably one of the standout meals in my appreciation for the art of cooking.

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