Last month, my wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary (since we started dating) at Per Se. A great experience from beginning to end. We have grown less and less interested in overly formal dining experiences over the last couple years and have been turned off at formal places like EMP and Daniel. I would go back to either in a heartbeat but sometimes the service just seems to too stuffy for us. Of course that's the deal when seeking food from those chefs and it's almost always worth it in the end.They work like well oiled machines and I am often impressed but I'm sometimes distracted by the whole operation and feel like it can take away from the food. Anyway, despite Per Se's elegant room and flawless service, I felt that more effectively than at any other 4 star place in NYC, they maintained a sense of fun. This was the most pleasant surprise of the evening.
We were welcomed and given a great table with plenty of room. By far the most space I've ever seen allocated for a two-top in the city. We opted for a wine pairing, mostly from half bottles.
We started with the oysters and pearls. This dish was brilliant in terms of texture and flavor. I usually don't love cooked oyster dishes but this one embellished the delicious brininess of the oysters, added a rich and buttery base, and then punched the brininess with the caviar. I would go back to order just this dish with a glass of champagne. They paired the dish with a generous pour of a blanc de blanc from Jose Dhondt. An unusual champagne I thought with a fresh tart apple thing going on that was perfect with the dish.
Our next course was the salad with hearts of palm, rhubarb, radish, and black truffle. I loved this dish as well. Not only was it the most beautiful dish of the night but it was truly a 'winter salad' with strong, rustic flavors. I love when food can be this refined and earthy at the same time. I think the rhubarb and radish made this tough to pair with a dry wine so we were offered an off-dry riesling that more than did the trick. Wonderful.
Our next two courses were halibut with a brown butter and a poached lobster with romaine lettuce. Both were good although I thought the lobster was the tiniest bit overdone. My wife said she liked it but said she preferred the lobster I make at home. Yes, that's a nice thing to hear as a home cook.
: ) Both dishes were paired with a white burgundy (a 2009 Meursault) that was buttery as well. Great pairing but our least favorite savory dishes.
Next was a chicken dish with lentils and turnips. The chicken was perfectly cooked although it's not usually a protein I would order out. The lentils on the other hand were unusually rich and I think stole some of the focus from the chicken. Like the previous dishes, it was beautiful.
Our favorite savory dish was the venison tasting. I love venison but this was the most flavorful I have ever had. Even the tenderloin was flavorful and meaty. We also had a sausage and another cut that I believe was braised. I've sometimes been disappointed with darker meat preparations at some high end restaurants as I've found them tender and certainly elegant but lacking any real meatiness. I don't think we're going to see many duck thighs on the menus of restaurants of this caliber but I often prefer that meatiness to the more delicate pork or beef tenderloins. This dish somehow did it all. We had also told our waiter that we liked funky and earthy wines and that like our favorite meats, we sometimes choose fuller flavored over more elegant or refined. I realize that many wines do both but the French red that they paired with the venison was so wonderfully earthy and was exactly what we had asked for. I can liken it only to the dark and earthy flavors in good pinot along with some of the richness of a full bodied Barolo or something like that. Really a treat.
The desserts were plated perfectly and started with the coconut and lemongrass float. The float was light and almost floral and acted as a palate cleanser for the far richer 'Opera' with chocolate mousse and marcona almonds. I have never tasted anything with marcona almonds that I didn't love so I'm probably not a great objective judge of this dish but it was great.
We finished with both a dessert wine and with a full bodied red from Sicily. Both worked perfectly and finished off the meal nicely.
I really admire a restaurant that can offer service and dishes without acting too self-important and yes, with a sense of humor. At one point, we were talking with the waiter about the PJ Wine website which used to have a picture of a donkey at the top of the 'Earthy Wines' page. We were pleased then when he returned and started decanting a bottle that he described as 'Very earthy, though not quite as earthy as that donkey from the website." Service was charming and comfortable but always felt special at the same time.
We had a great night.
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
4898 Broadway, New York, NY 10034