Last night for the big 4-0, my parents took me to the esteemed new temple of Manhattan haute cuisine. Here is my review.....
Since my parents were coming in from Connecticut, we had reservations for 5:45. We were welcomed and promtly seated in one of the best tables, by the window. Being an avid chowhound site user, I knew from this board that tables that are seated early usually get turned over, and I informed my parents not to be surprised if we were a little rushed. More on that later.
After not too much thought we ordered the nine course tasting menu, and a couple Per Se aperitifs to start (my Mom doesn't drink much). We also told the waiter to let the wine steward pick a couple half-bottles of wine for our meal (again Mom hardly drinks), one white and one red, that he thought would go well with the meal. Overall the Per Se drinks were nice, but my father and I both agreed that for a summer drink, it had a little more "bite" than we would have liked. We gave the drinks an '8'
My father, who will pay anything for food, but doesn't like getting gouged for wine, mentioned the word "house wine" when he asked for the half bottles but said nothing about price ranges, clearly hoping the waitress would "get" that he was looking to only spend a modest amount for the bottles. I noted this and hoped the outcome would reflect the intent! Guess we would have to wait until the bill came to really find out.
Amuse course. For starters, we had the ice cream cones, the famous Keller starter with smoked salmon and creme fraishe. Hard not to love those. 9.75
First course. Supposed to be the famous "oysters and pearls". Since we don't eat oysters we asked them to substitute something else if possible. Our waitress, who I must add was OUSTANDING, smartly asked us if we wanted something with caviar since thats the main ingredient of the dish. My father and I happen to LOVE caviar, and said "sure!" They ended up putting the caviar on a cauliflower mousse. Really top-notch Ossetra caviar, the sharp bursting flavors being set off well by the blander, pure cauliflower essence. Mom had a complete subsitution which I wasn't able to write down. It was some concoction in an eggshell. Overall dish 9.5.
Second course. Dad and I had the peach melba, foie gras (again in mousse format) with onion, pickled peaches, peach jelly, and homemade rice crispies. Needed a second round of melba toast to sop up all that foie gras. WOW! Pure cholesteral injection. I asked my Dad if he had an extra Lipitor tablet on him!
My mom had the salad of heirloom beets and young leeks (yes she did try the foie gras!) Anyway, foie gras gets a 9.75
BTW, somewhere in here they also brought us a selection of breads (a ciabatta, a seven-grain and a regular crusty french) with two different kinds of butter, a salted one from France and an unsalted one from Marin county, CA. My vote went to the Ciabtta and the slightly less rich but, in my opinion, more satisfying butter from the USA.
White wine. Actually both wines were outstanding and when my father and I tasted them (and we know a reasonable amount about wine), they were so good we joked that they didn't hear the word "house" and we were gonna get stuck with a huge wine bill! The white was a Reisling/Pinot Gris blend from Germany of recent vintage. Excellent, supple, very refreshing, but some real complexity to it, and went great with the fish dishes to come.
Third Course. Sauteed Hawaian Pomfret w/ hearts of palm, braised radishes and sweet carrot puree. The sweet carrot puree against the beautifully done white fleshed fish was super. Can't do any better with those ingredients. But unfortunately it had to be compared with the course that followed...9.5
Fourth Course. Nova Scotia Lobster, chanterelle mushrooms and corn chowder, with the most thinly sliced piece of applewood bacon you ever saw. My family are HUGE lobster lovers, and this was the dish I will remember from this night. The lobster was as succulent as any I ever had, and the mushroom sauce was seriously amazing. And that little piece of applewood smoked bacon! Whoa! Easy 10.
Red wine. Was a 2001 Vosnee Romanee and I didnt get the Producer name. But it was absolutely outstanding. Rich, light-to-medium body, complex, gorgeous color. Even better than the white. My dad and I were definitely looking at ourselves thinking, uh oh, it must be a 100 or 150 dollar half bottle!
Fifth course. Cavendish Farms Quail, simmered gooseberries, and wilted spinach. My parents don't love game, but I thought it was a great dish, if not a little out of the ordinary for a hot summer night, Actually eating nine+ courses is a little out of the ordinary on a hot summer night! I think it was my first gooseberry experience! They are kinda cool. 9.5.
Sixth course. Elysian Fields Farm Lamb with polenta cake and pole beans. Ok, this was the one course we all agreed was not cooked perfectly. The lamb was definitely a touch tough. But the polenta (which I love) in the shape of a little French Fry partly made up for it!! I also discovered I'm not a huge fan of pole beans! 9.25.
Seventh course. Cheese course. Three small pieces of Spanish goats milk cheese (didn't get the name), honey glazed figs, roasted peppers, arugula with a little drizzled balsamic. Served with two little slices of bread, walnut and raisin. I love all these ingredients and loved the dish. Very satisfying. My parents were a little less enthused, wondering just a little what the dish was really trying to accomplish. I might have to agree the parts were a bit greater than the sum. 9.25.
Eighth course. Lime Sorbet. Vanilla braised pineapple and avocado coulis. OK but not something I'll ever remember. 8.5.
Ninth course. Milk chocolate mousse, hazelnut streusael with condensed milk sorbet, sweet salty hazelnuts and 'pain au lait' sauce. Very nice, the hazelnuts were great counterparts to the chocolate. Execellent, though not one of the best chocolate desserts of my life. 9.25-9.5.
Mignardises. I love mignardises-and they were some of the best I've had. 9.75 on the mignardise scale! What can I say!
They sent us home with nicely wrapped packages of cookies. Haven't tried those yet!
1) We had a great waitress, but the servers were robotic and spoke out the ingredients so fast and softly that my parents and I could barely hear the words being spoken.
2) Pacing. I had warned my parents with the early seating we might be just a little rushed. And it definitely happened. The pace was a bit too fast, we were interrupted in mid-sentence on about three or four occasions so the servers could jam the plates down and announce the dishes.
We were also presented with the cookies and bill at the same time without being asked, clearly a nice way of saying..."your time is about up!" Can't say I was surprised , but this happened at about 8:20 and we had been sitting only just over 2.5 hours. When we walked out there was no one waiting, so I think somehow they ought to have paced us a little more slowly. Not terrible, but not great either.
3) I have decided that I am more a fan of single-proprietor-type spaces than the kind at Per Se. Yes the room is beautiful, the woods and color-scheme are gorgeous, the comfortable chairs, the flowers, table wear, glasswear, etc. Actually a little Jean-Georges-like in feel. But there is just something about a little townhouse space like March or the old Bouley (or even the new one) or any of the old classic French places that somehow takes a food experience and makes it just AN EXPERIENCE!. For some reason I just find it a tiny bit diffcult to get over the fact that you are basically eating in a MALL!
Last but not least, what about that bill? Well I can tell you when my Dad originally got the bill, he looked at it and had a puzzled look on his face. Turns out they had completely forgot to bill us for the wine! So the saga continued. My all-too-honest father pointed this out to the waitress, she thanked him and took it back to recalculate.....well it's safe to say that when the bill came back my father and I were both shocked. The two half-bottles we had thoroughly enjoyed and suspected might be stupidly expensive together totalled $82 dollars, $39 for the white and $43 for the red. We almost felt like we won the lottery! Well maybe not quite!
Total bill, tax and tip included. $765. Not bad for what we got, thats for sure.
A memorable meal and fantastic night.
Thanks Mom and Dad!