Pictures in their original context are here: http://www.donuts4dinner.com/2011/03/...
Proving I like seafood enough to make a trip to Per Se worthwhile has been my goal for a couple of years now. I’ve made an effort to eat every oyster, every bit of fish roe, and every octopus mosaic my boyfriend, Kamran, has offered me in the hope that I could weasel the tasting menu out of him. So when he finally relented, it felt like a real victory for me. Even if he really just wanted to reward himself for finishing the New York bar exam.
Getting a reservation at Per Se is quite a complicated maneuver, at least in our experience. We watched OpenTable for weeks and never saw a Friday or Saturday night free, and calling the restaurant was always fruitless, too, but they’re very quick to offer to put you on the waiting list for a stretch of three nights. Starting a week ahead of time, you can also check OpenTable for weeknight availability. I put us on the waitlist for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and did get a call about a Sunday spot early in the week, but we saw a Thursday night on OpenTable and took that instead so we wouldn’t be drunk on food and wine for Monday.
And all of the work was definitely worth it. Here’s the chef’s tasting menu in all of its having-to-wait-for-it-makes-it-even-better glory:
• Gruyere cheese gougeres
I’m a lover of choux (especially its pronunciation), and this half-a-bite of pastry stuffed with cheese was an excellent indication of what was to come. It tasted exactly like a Nips cracker! But didn’t leave the nasty soggy bits clinging to my teeth.
• salmon cornettes, chives
Biting into this was like eating a fishy potato chip. With chive!
At this point, our server brought me a tiny cushioned stool for my purse (apparently this is a thing now) and a Per Se notepad. I was taking notes in the little 3″x5″ notebook I always use, but apparently he thought it was too small and offered me the notepad. I declined, but he left it at the table just in case, and I ended up liking it and the protective cardstock cover that wraps around it so intricately that I’ve since used it at other restaurants, no doubt causing jealousy and scorn.
• “Oysters and Pearls”: “sabayon” of pearl tapioca, island creek oysters, sterling white sturgeon caviar
If you’ve never had oysters because you’re afraid of the texture or don’t know how to eat them, these are the first you should ever try. Unlike raw oysters, which you sort of massage between your tongue and teeth to extract the flavor before swallowing them, these cooked oysters fell apart in our mouths. That pure, clean ocean flavor I associate with oysters was still there, but otherwise, it was like eating a bowl of dumpling soup made extra-thick by the tapioca. Caviar is one of the more recent fruits of the sea I’ve begun to sample, so I usually find myself remembering what it is and getting weirded out halfway through any dish and leaving some of it behind; this just blended with the thick broth and the bite of the scallions so well, though, that I finished every last bite.
wine: Jose’ Dhont, Blanc de Blanca, Oger MV
• egg custard, black truffle ragout, potato chive chip
The custard filling this eggshell (one of the best presentations possible, right?) was unflavored save a slight egginess, but I think it was the dense texture that was the point of it. The flavor came from the rich black truffle ragout, a buttery layer of liquid on top of the custard. The chip was oddly chewy but made for a nice truffle vessel.
• salt tasting
We were given salted and unsalted sweet butter, warm brioche rolls, and this array of salts ranging from Hawaiian volcanic to Himilayan to deep ocean. We basically had no idea what to do with them, so we spread a little butter on our rolls and sprinkled a little salt on top. Because of the tininess of the rolls, we were each only able to sample two or three of them. We were a little bewildered. As expected, we couldn’t taste the differences between them, but the texture differences were . . . interesting.
• cauliflower panna cotta, Iberico ham croquette, Big Island hearts of peach palm, compressed Granny Smith apple, hazelnuts, cilantro
Kamran called this “the baby food course” due to the texture of the dish’s focal point. The panna cotta was perfectly creamy, sweet, and salty with cool, refreshing tones provided by the apple and cilantro. The croquette, surprisingly, seemed like an afterthought; it was just a breaded chunk of ham. On the opposite end of the surprise meter were the simple hazelnuts sprinkled on top of the panna cotta, which were highly present both in their flavor and crunch.
• terrine of Hudson Valley moulard duck foie gras, white celery glaze, “Parisienne de Betteraves” (Parisian beets), baby leeks, sorrel, Blis Elixir (sherry vinegar), toasted brioche
This was the creamiest little sliver of foie gras with absolutely none of the bite organ meats sometimes have. We loved the ring of pepper on one side of the plate and the very pungent celery flavor from the glaze. We secretly wanted to spread it all over the soft rolls from the salt tasting course, but the crusty brioche was nice if extremely messy.
• herb roasted sturgeon “ail confit en persillade” (garlic confit and parsley): violet artichoke, parsley shoots, English pea coulis, Meyer lemon emulsion
This dish was such a pleasure because it was such a surprise. The drab colors on the plate made us think it was going to be a boring, throwaway course, but in fact, both the fish and the garlic packed a punch in entirely different ways. The confit garlic was soft enough to be made into a paste with the slightest fork-touch and sweet enough to not even be recognizable as garlic. The sturgeon was soaked through with this wonderful salty, smoky flavor that really complimented our dark, almost leathery wine. But as always, we couldn’t used a lot more lemon in that lemon emulsion.
wine: Selbach-Oster, Riesling, Kabinett, “Zeltinger Sonnenuhr”, Mosel 2009
Willi Schaefer, Riesling, Auslese, “Graacher Domprobst #6″, Mosel 2005
• butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, brioche melba, caramelized salsify, romaine hearts, watercress, Squire Hill Farms’ hen egg purée
The menu changes daily at Per Se, so I was not only super-pleased but also a little relieved that it was a lobster night and not an octopus night. It makes sense that the colors in my photo look like neon puffy paint from the 90s, because this dish was a stand out. I wrote the word “buttery” down on my notepad three times, if that’s any indication of what the overarching flavor of it was. Even the romaine lettuce, probably the most boring ingredient ever next to boiled chicken, shocked me with how buttery it was. The crunchy melba with the springy lobster and the creamy puree was dreamy. The pairing of this with our wine made the wine taste like butterscotch.
• Liberty Farm’s Pekin Duck (Long Island duck, not Peking duck!) “Rôti á La Broche” (spit-roasted): Meiwa kumquats, Persian cucumbers, French breakfast radishes, red ribbon sorrel, basil-sesame purée
Maybe it was the sesame, or maybe my mind was tricking me with the distinction between Pekin and Peking, but this dish did taste Asian-influenced to me. I loved the spicy radish with the cool cucumber and the crispy skin of the tender duck.
wine: Patrick Javilier, “Les Tillets”, Meursault 2008
• tenderloin of Marcho Farms’ veal, “coeur de veau” (veal heart), pickled cabbage créme fraîche, new crop potatoes, braised shallot, mâche
Beef heart! It was new to me, but the way it was sliced so thin made it taste as familiar as deli lunchmeat. The tenderloin itself was entirely undersalted, but we realized why when we tasted the salty accompaniments like the sour cabbage and soft potatoes.
wine: Switchback Ridge, Merlot, Napa Valley 2007
• “Caerphilly”, heirloom carrots, young fennel, arugula leaves, fennel pollen grissini (breadstick)
This hard white cheese from Wales had just the right amount of funk to contrast the sweet yellow carrots (with their tops still on!) and to compliment the bite of the arugula. We loved the bacon, the spicy mustard, and the wheat beer pairing.
wine: Allagash Brewing Co., “White”, Maine
• Young Coconut and Lemongrass “Float”: young coconut and lemongrass mousse, passion fruit meringue, coconut sorbet
This was a neat way of introducing the DESSERT ONSLAUGHT that was to following. The layering of different flavors in a cup is nothing new–I can’t count the number of times we’ve had a palate-cleanser of one or two bites thrown into a shot glass–but this one added a texture dimension that kicked it up a notch with everything from freeze-dried to foam. I can still taste the passion fruit meringue with its super-concentrated flavor.
• “Opera”: candied Marcona almonds, Manjari chocolate mousse, almond ice cream, “Whiskey Tonic”
The best thing about this dessert was that alienesque chocolate ball. Its gelatin-like chocolate skin enveloped the chocolate mousse, so it was a weird, though enjoyable, soft-on-soft texture combination. Being a lemon freak, I loved the citrus gel and the way it so smoothly transitioned us into the next course of pure tang overload.
• “Florida Cocktail”: ruby grapefruit “biscuit,” Buddha’s hand soda, candied Cara Cara oranges, Okinawa brown sugar ice cream
This was another dish that displayed all that the Per Se pastry chefs can do with texture. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t pay better attention to the server’s description at the time, because this is certainly the first time I’ve ever been served Buddha’s hand, and not only can I not remember it, but I can’t even see anything in my photo that resembles soda. Maybe someone else who’s had the dish can remind me where I tasted it.
wine: Felsina, Vin Santo, Chianti Classico 2001
Domaine Huet, “Clos du Bourg”, Moelleux, Vouvray 1985
“MIGNARDISES”: the barrage of post-dessert desserts that you have absolutely no chance of even making a dent in
• homemade chocolates
The best. We only took two each despite the lesson we learned at The Modern, but that’s okay where there are THIRTEEN KINDS OF SWEETS coming your way.
• bottom layer: coconut, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate truffles; middle layer: French macarons; top layer: caramels
I mean . . . come on. These are all of my favourite things in one neat little tri-level hinged box. To call these desserts “the best way to end a meal. ever.” is to do them a total disservice. The truffles were solid on the outside, creamy on the inside, and the kind of complimentary flavors that make you want to start over at the beginning once you’ve had all three. One of the macaron flavors was cinnamon, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t let Kamran have a single bite of any of those. The caramels weren’t the super-chewy, get-stuck-in-your-teeth kind but the super-homemade, melt-in-your-mouth kind.
• hard candies
These little slivers of candy were about the thickness of a chive and packed that much flavor, too. Even the anise one was delicious. We didn’t want to waste the already-nonexistent space in our bellies, so Kamran just shoveled handfuls of these into his jacket pocket so we could enjoy them for days afterward. Don’t tell anyone.
• chocolate-covered hazelnuts
These sweet nuts were dusted in about a pound of cocoa each, making for a thick layer of chocolate to bite through. It was perfect for those people I have nothing in common with who like not-sweet desserts.
• popcorn-flavored ice cream
This one-bite dish really did taste just like buttered popcorn! The outer shell was solid and had the crunch of the popcorn bits on its side, but the inside was pure creaminess.
• “coffee and donuts”: coffee ice cream and beignets
I like coffee, but I love coffee ice cream, so it was a real delight to dip my spoon into my little cup and find out it wasn’t filled with liquid. The beignets were perfectly light and fluffy and tasted much better with the coffee than they do with your usual chocolate sauce.
And that was that! We didn’t get to eat nearly as much of the dessert deluge as we wanted to, and I’m sure we could’ve knocked some more of it out had we been able to stick around longer, but A tasting menu with wine pairings is always much easier in thought than in execution. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t do it over and over again a thousand times.
my rating: 5 stars
Everything about Per Se is impeccable, from the service staff who know just how much attention to pay you to the houndstooth place settings to the ribbon-tied chocolate cookie sandwiches they send home with you. The view overlooking Central Park is one of the more romantic in all of NYC (so be sure you request a seat near the window when you make your reservation), and the decor is deep-hued enough to feel rich but modern enough to feel unpretentious. The food is the kind you remember long after you’ve forgotten what you had for lunch just yesterday, whether it be the actual taste of it or just the way your spoon felt in it. It’s truly a special kind of restaurant where you feel like the chef really considered everything from flavor to texture to what little extra might really knock your socks off when he imagined each dish. You sense that this is a restaurant always striving to do better than itself.
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019