Date Visited: June 14, 2013
Price: $295 for Chef’s Tasting Menu
***Per Se is a 2013 3-Star Michelin Restaurant
Jason and I booked a trip out to New York City early in the summer, and without a doubt, Per Se was the one restaurant that we have bookmarked for a while. As residents of the Bay Area, almost every San Franciscan knows of Thomas Keller and his famed 3-Michelin starred restaurant in Yountville, The French Laundry (TFL). It is one of those experiences that you put on your bucket list and hopefully you’ll get around to it one day, but unfortunately for us, available reservations are hard to come by. Eater labels The French Laundry as one of the eleven toughest reservations in the world.
This year, Per Se earned its spot as the #11 best restaurant in the world. It all started back in 2001 when Chef Keller had aspirations of returning to NYC where he opened his first restaurant, Rakel. A few years later on February 16, 2004, the doors opened and the team from TFL came over to carry over the culture it had instilled from the past decade.
A meal at Per Se follows the nominal nine-course pattern (minus the amuse bouche and the plethora of treats at the end) as that of The French Laundry. The name Per Se solidified when Thomas Keller was asked if the sister restaurant in New York would be named after The French Laundry. While Keller wanted something unique that can stand on its own, he also wanted to pay homage to his flagship establishment where it all began. Keller responded,
“It would not be like the The French Laundry, per se, but rather an interpretation.”
It was a rainy and windy evening when we arrived at the Time Warner Center. Fortunately, that didn’t drown our excited spirits. Per Se is on the 4th floor along with another 3-Star Michelin restaurant, Masa. When we first approached the entrance, we couldn’t help but notice the iconic blue doors, which is very similar to the entrance at The French Laundry. The interesting part is that as you walk towards the entry, glass doors on either side open and a hostess welcomes you into the restaurant. The significance of this is that Per Se was going to be different, even if subtlety so.
Thomas Keller’s star pupil, Eli Kaimeh, currently heads the restaurant as the Chef de Cuisine. Many people praise that it’s just as impressive as the original, TFL. You’ll even notice subtle similarities such as the lamps, which are borrowed from TFL. The location of Per Se itself, within the Time Warner building overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, represents the epitome of opulence. The New York restaurant is beyond grand and the staff reflects the same quality of discreet and friendly service.
Every evening, there is a choice of the Tasting of Vegetables, Chef’s Tasting Menu, and a Salon Menu (a la carte). We chose the Chef’s Tasting Menu.
To start off, we were served complimentary glasses of Blanc de Blancs champagne.
The first amuse was the Gruyère gougères, a warm fluffy pastry ball filled with Mornay sauce. These cheese puffs went nicely with the sparkling champagne.
The second amuse was the famous smoked salmon tartare cornet with sweet red onion crème fraîche in a thin sesame tuile. We ate it like an ice cream cone. The crispy tuile complemented the lightness of the raw salmon and vegetal crème fraîche.
Thomas Keller’s signature dish, Oysters and Pearls, came out as the first course – a spoonful of sterling white sturgeon caviar atop a “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with two Island Greek oysters. This classic dish has always been on the menu at both Per Se and The French Laundry. The slight firmness of the tapioca balanced the soft textures of oysters and caviar on the plate. The caviar was incredibly rich in salinity and worked great with the buttery saboyon sauce and juicy oysters.
The second course was the Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm: Hadley Orchard’s medjool dates, jingle bell peppers, sweet carrots, cilantro, and Romesco. The colorful plating was decorated with vegetables and arranged like a 3×3 grid. The romesco puree was rich, but the gelatinous and raw vegetables did not reflect unique flavors. Overall, the presentation of the dish outshined the flavor profile of the salad.
I chose sourdough, crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside with a slight hint of sourness.
The third course was a tender Atlantic Halibut atop a bed of savory chanterelle mushrooms, pickled ramps, fava beans, upland cress, and a creamy “Chowder” emulsion.
Course four was one of my favorites of the night. The plump sea scallops were seared to perfection with sweet juices from Granny Smith apples and the pomegranate vinaigrette. The sweetness was balanced out by savory grilled sunchokes, english peas, hearts of romaine lettuce and creamy foie gras.
A beautifully plated course five included a juicy poularde with Cherry Belle radishes, young squash confit, petite lettuces and Greek bottarga.
The “Calotte de Boeuf” surprised me with a decadent beef flavor alongside the semi-sweet black strap molasses. The vegetables, Garden State green asparagus, compressed English cucumbers, and marinated tomatoes, offered a refreshing balance to the beef.
The cheese course: prune pudding, Belgian endive, toasted walnuts, mache leaves, and a semi-sweet Black Winter truffle “Gastrique.”
The icy palate cleanser was presented in a cup with a refreshing white tea-scented champagne mango mousse, orange blossom water, and wild pepper meringue. This was a great transition into the dessert courses.
Jason picked the malted banana dessert, which was decadently plated with curved, thin strip of chocolate, a slice of spongy malt genoise, a chocolate ball, creamy banana parfait and chocolate creme.
As for me, I chose the Strawberry “Delice” with Phillips Farms’ strawberries, elderflower cream and lemon-strawberry ice cream. The ice cream was rich in lemon and strawberry flavors, and its creamy consistency balanced out the medley of airy and gelatinous textures on the plate.
We also received a complimentary lemon custard from the kitchen as a celebratory gift. Rich in lemon tang, it reminded very much of Tartine Bakery’s lemon tart which is one of my favorite desserts.
As for the mignardises, we were served with chilled raspberry sherbet sandwiched in between shortbread cookies. These were bite-size with a subtle raspberry sweetness.
Next up, we were offered a selection of decadent chocolates. The server told us we could choose however many we would like. At this point, I was too full to eat anymore desserts, but chose two of my favorite flavors, green tea and raspberry.
Little did we know, the chocolates were just the beginning of a plethora of desserts to come. The server brought over a tin cylinder which opened up into a three tiered compartment filled with sweet treats; the bottom tier contained lime, milk, and dark chocolate truffles, the middle tier stored macarons, and the top tier held caramels and nougats. The rest of the table had already called it the end, since we were all stuffed to near-maximum capacity. I took a small bite of the lime truffles which were delicious, but took home the caramels and nougats.
For the ending dessert, our server brought over Thomas Keller’s signature “Coffee and Donuts” dessert: cappuccino semi-freddo and cinnamon sugar-coated donuts. The creamy semi-freddo was topped with light cream, and the warm donuts completed a truly extraordinary meal.
As per custom, we visited the kitchen and observed the entire team in action. A mounted TV on the wall live-streams The French Laundry’s kitchen on the west coast. The kitchen is very spacious for the flurry of activity in between preparatory stations, and the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed and focused with no yelling or shouting.
At the end of the night, we reminisced over the entire experience. The service was impeccably noteworthy and the ending desserts were phenomenal. The desserts were like a dream come true for my sweet tooth, yet it was a little overwhelming as my brain wanted to eat everything and my stomach kept refusing. Overall, the meal was excellent with true traditional flavors and sensibility, and we would absolutely revisit the next time we have that chance.
10 Columbus Cir
New York, NY 10019 (map)
Tel: (212) 823-9335
Mon-Sun 5:30 pm – 10 pm
Fri-Sun 11:30 am – 1:30 pm