We went to Per Se last night and did the tasting menu with wine pairings from the restaurant. We were disappointed with the food as well as the wine. Thank God we had such fantastic company because the food and wine suffered.
The food was good but should have been extraordinary. None of the dishes were creatively ground-breaking let alone sublime. Nothing made you question what you were eating because the flavors lacked complexity, depth and basically any daring on the part of the chef. It seemed the flavors in the dishes were built on a foundation of subtlety and a generous use of butter rather than bold innovative flavors. In short, the intellectual component was missing in the eating experience.
The first course was a dish called oysters and pearls. This dish consisted of ossetra caviar paired with small oysters on a bed of tapioca. The salty, briny ossetra paired well with the oysters and the tapioca texture was an interesting counterpoint to the seafood, but the tapioca was saturated with too much butter. Way too rich. The butter tempered the brininess of the oysters and caviar too much. The excess butter weighed down the dish instead of balancing it.
The second course was a salad with hearts of palm, pickled dates, carrots, and a cilantro infused oil. These elements were deconstructed and presented seperately on the plate. This dish was OK but not particularly interesting. The highpoint was a little bird's nest-like bundle of carrots that had a tasty, tangy marinade. However, overall it was unmemorable. In our opinion deconstructed ingredients should be very considered and of stellar quality. They should hold their own if eaten alone and if eaten together should create interesting juxtapositions and/or harmonies. These deconstructed ingredients did not seem to be well chosen. We tried each separately and in various combinations and found nothing compelling about any of it.
The third course was a small filet of black bass with a sauce of fennel and olives. The bass was well cooked. But you can get well cooked bass easily in New York. The sauce was overwhelmed by an excess of butter. The fennel and olives which could have offered a nice savory/fresh combo were all but eclipsed by the butter. While this dish could never have been called innovative it could have been at least deliciously savory and robust because of the selected ingredients. However, it was completely marginalized by the heavy handed use of butter.
The fourth course was a lobster tail served with beets and leeks and a thin layer of crispy fried potatoes on top. This dish was very bland. The lobster was cooked with an excess of butter completely muting the flavor of the beets and leeks. This dish could have been amazing but fell completely short.
The fifth course was a cod dish served with tomatoes. This dish was good but nothing special or innovative. The acidity in the tomatoes was a nice respite from the butter in the previous dishes.
The sixth course was a single scallop served with black trumpet mushrooms. I liked this course. The mushrooms were really good. Earthy and full of flavor.
The seventh course was a mild sheeps milk cheese served with their version of quince paste. The cheese was a fairly uninspired choice and the quince paste was surprisingly bland. The various quince pastes we've had in the past are usually packed with dense flavors.
The eighth course was a grapefruit sorbet served with a eucalyptus foam and licorice dust. The sorbet itself was good paired with the licorice dust. In this case, the licorice was subtle in a positive way as licorice is such a strong flavor. Its subtlety balanced nicely with the grapefruit flavors. The eucalyptus foam was devoid of flavor. It's one of those things that sounds good on the menu but doesn't stand on its own. If this type of dish sounds good to you, WD-50 is a restaurant to visit. They imploy these same cooking and preparation techniques, however the chef consistently goes out on a limb taking risks with flavors and ingredients.
The ninth course was the best of the night we thought. This dish was interesting and delicious. It consisted of a condensed milk sorbet served with a hazelnut/chocolate mousse in a crispy chocolatey shell. Well balanced. The condensed milk sorbet, which was sweet and loaded with flavor had a surprisingly light texture, married well with the chocolate almost candy-like mousse.
And the wines... We did the pairings suggested by the restaurant. Not a smart move. They charge you $150 dollars a person. There were four of us so that's $600. For $600, you could get two killer bottles of wine. Instead we got a mostly mediocre series of wines.
The first wine was a nice crisp Italian chardonay/sauvignon blanc blend from Alto Adige. This wine was fine. A nice light, crisp wine to start off with.
The second wine was a 2001 Meursault Perrieres from Matrot. A great vineyard. They should give you great wine here. This was an incredibly lean wine lacking the appropriate balance of fruit. It is not that hard to find a nice fat meursault for a reasonable price. No excuse here.
The third wine was a 2002 Chambolle Musigny 'Beaux Bruns' from Barthod. Again, not a great quality burgundy. There are lots of great 2002 red burgundys drinking well now for reasonable prices. Again, no excuses here.
At this point we complained about the lack of quality in the wines. They got better. The fourth wine was a 1990 Barolo from Borgogno. A nice wine with a great nose but lacking on the palate. A better wine than the 2 burgundies.
The did well on the fifth wine. They gave us a 1994 Y'quem. It was delicious. No complaints here.
The sixth wine was a 1985 Dow's port. OK port.
In my opinion, Per Se is not a great restaurant. We wanted to love the food and had anticipated this being a great meal. It completely fell short. For us, we would rather go to a place like WD-50. We think their food is much more innovative, the flavors more interesting and complex with a strong conceptual component, and you can trust them with wine selections. We went to WD-50 two nights before Per Se and it was fantastic. Some of the more interesting dishes we had there were:
-Shrimp noodles with smoked yogurt, chinese prawn crackers, and crushed nori
-Scallops with parsely jus and beet yogurt
-Octopus with parsely root puree, dehydrated tuna, almonds, and smoked pineapple
-Lychee sorbet with celery soup
-Mulled apple cider with ginger cotton candy