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Per Se critical review

OK-while it's still fresh in my mind the morning after: beautiful room, incredible views. The 2 tiny gougeres amuse bouche were good though the basket I had at Artisanal last week were as good. The salmon tartare mini-cones (the word "mini" applies to all courses) with creme fraiche was delicious and even Mrs. GG who is not fond of raw onions enjoyed it. The oysters and pearls was great in terms of textural and temperatures coming together and I enjoyed the tapioca, oysters and caviar though felt a little disappointed that it was American Sterling and not osetra. The sommelier/waiter upsold us 2 glasses of Riesling to pair with the foie gras even though I had already ordered a $300 Latour a Pomerol (1998). It made for a nice pairing but not for $50. The foie gras (a $30 supplement) was very good with almonds and peach gelee and brioche but was not as good to a very similar dish I had 2 weeks ago at CityZen in Washington D.C. ironically prepared by Eric Ziebold, Keller's former sous-chef. The Hawaiian snapper was good but also continued Keller's predilection for onions, ramps and chives in every dish and may have had the slightest "fishy" taste to it. The breads and butters were good though no seconds were offered of the breads. The butter poached lobster was excellent. Mrs. GG went to powder her nose and they took her napkin and never replaced it until I asked. I couldn't care less but found it amusing given the reputation for service. The quail was wonderful-boneless except for a tiny leg-again reminded me of the boneless crawfish stuffed quail of many years ago at Commander's Palace before the flood though only a pale imitation of the New Orleans dish. My wife had the veal and sweetbreads which she also compared to the veal at CityZen a few weeks ago though Per Se's was not as good. After recently having had a single piece of Wagyu beef seared atop nigiri style sushi at Ushi Wakamaru I went for the $100 supplement Wagyu beef. Two small cubes not much bigger than my sushi that were seared on all but one side and which were overwhelmed by a dark sweet sate sauce and avocado coulis with an interesting vegetable tempura. The mango sorbet was terrific. The cheese "selection" was good though was neither a selection (where's the cheese cart?) nor did it come with the normal accompaniments. The single microscopic piece of morbier was the best morbier I'd ever had but was again overwhelmed by a tomato marmalade that looked like quince but was extremely oniony and by an asparagus soup that looked (and tasted) more like an espresso. The pana cotta and creme brulee dessert amuse bouches were overkill though nice and the chocolate4 ways was also passe. Interestingly, my recent vacation to Washington D.C. resulted in 4 meals that I thought were superior: CityZen, Citronelle, Maestro and the Inn at Little Washington though they were all certainly influenced to some degree by Keller, as well a recent meal at Degustation in NY at 1/10th the price. The total damage (which really is not part of my criticism): $1150 for two. Glad I went but won't be back soon. P.S. consistent with my name-I believe that I am the only person in history to eat at Per Se and King Yum (see Outer Boroughs board) within 24 hours.

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  1. Thanks for the detailed report. Not surprising at all. I always thought that Keller is more pomp than substance.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Vinous

      Big fan of the inn at little washington, preety much agreed with per se analysis-
      p.s. they did refold my wife s napkin

      1. re: Vinous

        Good report, though my experience @ Per Se was near perfection. Perhaps the best service I have ever had, surpassing many a French 3 star.

        1. re: tbear

          I fortunately have had the same experiences with Per Se as tbear. The combination of food, service and atmosphere makes this my gold standard for restaurants.

          Every request I have ever made at this restaurant has been granted with grace and generosity. I asked for the names of the wines I had with dinner. I got every label from the bottle on a separate cardboard sheet with the name of the retaruant on it. (And I didn't buy anything over $125 that night). We were too full to eat the chocolate truffles after one visit, and we took all 12 truffles home in a box to enjoy the next day (I would have been happy with even one). I have never been served as much white truffle as I got on my White Truffle Risotto (You should have seen my eyes widen when they just kept on shaving and shaving and shaving...) On the night of the white truffle miracle, i was with a party of four. We all ordered the tasting menu, but all of us asked for changes to the menu. Now I will admit, we all made changes to add more fat, expense and calories. I added the white truffle dish. chose the fois gras option and changed one of my dishes to kobe beef. My partner did the same. The third person did fois gras and the white truffle. The fourth person decided he liked fois gras so much that he went for 2 courses of fois gras(done two different ways). We were quite concerned we were being very high maintenance. I love tasting menus, and usually it is hard to get substitutions. The server was gracious and non-judgemental (Cause the calorie count was really bordering on obscene!). And to top off the night, he came out with an extra course of white-truffle custard with black truffle ragout and caviar. "The chef liked the way you ordered so much, he wanted you to have this" he said. I have never been so rewarded for gluttony! And none of us are celebrity chefs, just anonymous pigs.

          Every meal I have had there has been memorable. The attention to detail, the quality of the ingredients, the quiet efifcient but personable service, they continue to blow me away. The consistency is remarkable, and for me is the mark of a first class restaurant. But the comments on this thread are interesting to read. Keep posting! Maybe I'll have an easier time to get a reservation next time!

          I don't know what King Yum is, but we did eat breakfast the next day the Donut Plant... yummmmy! Love eating in manhattan.....

      2. I agree with your review- exact same experience

        1 Reply
        1. re: radman123

          During our two dinners at Per Se I found the service to be perfect. No disappearing napkins, many returns of the bread basket. No complaints.

          My only complaint with them (aside from the inevitable sticker shock when the bill comes-- you expect it and yet still...ouch) , is that while I found the overall food to be excellent, aside from the oysters and pearls, there isn't one course that I was so blown away by that I remembered it afterwards. Generally with a tasting menu I find that one or two dishes blow me away. And those are the ones I talk about afterwards. For Per Se nothing really stood out either time.

        2. Nice synopsis of your evening. While I absolutely loved Per Se, I agree with you that there is a lot of hype to this place. The service was very good, though they were not the most attentive in filling our water glasses. We did get two rounds of the bread, though. I loved the gougeres (in my opinion, much better than Artisanal because of the creaminess inside) and the salmon tartare cones. I could have eaten at least ten of those cones! Loved the oyster and pearls as well. Other standout dishes were the butter poached lobster and the veal. I wasn't a fan of the lamb sweetbreads, but DH ate every bite. It was a bit too gamey for my taste. I was also hoping for a cheese cart, but our cheese was delicious nonetheless. It was paired with roasted beets which were incredibly juicy and sweet. The chocolates, truffles, nougat-based candy, chocolate covered almonds were overkill after our two desserts, but very welcome. We took some macarons home. The waitress pronounced it "macaroons." Is that how it's pronounced? I always thought it was "macaron" as in "mac - a - rhone."

          Overall, a very lovely evening. One thing that was disappointed in was the preferential treatment of chefs in the restaurant. Because there is only one menu, it was pretty obvious that about four to five tables were receiving quite a few supplements, including a tray of about seven different tasting salts. We had about nine courses; at the pace those tables were going, I think they probaby had twice the amount. The wine service these tables received was also a few notches higher than our table. I also saw the infamous donut being delivered to one of those tables. I really wanted to try that donut!

          5 Replies
            1. re: BW212

              It's the donut paired with a cappucino semifreddo -- Keller's take on coffee and donuts.

            2. re: Miss Needle

              When I dined at Per Se, the salts were presented only with the foie gras course and taken away after that. Perhaps you were not offered the salts because you opted not to have that course?
              We also saw the "Coffee and doughnuts" being served to a table next to us. We asked the waiter what it was. He kindly described it to us, and once we fininshed our dessert, we were presented with one for us!
              As someone who is not a chef, nor in the industry, I was touched at their level of attentiveness and generosity (if you can call it that - after all, we did pay for the full prix fixe)

              1. re: avae

                The salts were there on those tables throughout the night. And we both ordered the foie gras course with no salts in sight. The chef tables were also presented with a lot of other courses that were not on the menu including scallop, beef, and his "fish and chips" in addition to the same courses that we received. The reason I know that they were chef tables was that when we were leaving I asked the hostess if there was an alternate menu or off-menu items. She replied that there were a lot of chefs dining there that night (it was a Sunday) and that extra courses were brought out for them. I totally understand that the people in the industry will receive preferential treatment (along with celebrities, etc.). That's just the way the world works. However, I was really intrigued by what they were eating, and wished I had the opportunity to taste those dishes as well (even if it meant paying extra). I guess I should have spoken up. My husband pointed out that we were probably subsidizing the meals of the industry people.

              2. re: Miss Needle

                As regards macaroons and macarons - macaroons are coconut based and macarons are almond based. Macaroons are much more prevalent, we ate tons of them in England. Lovely review, guttergourmet (what a misnomer!), I will have to get to Per Se when I visit. I used to live in Napa and visited the French Laundry a lot and loved it.

              3. Very nice review.
                I just thought I'd note though on your comment about Inn at Little Washington being influenced by Keller- it's actually the other way around. Patrick O'Connell has been doing his thing there for almost 25 years.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lebelage

                  Good point. More interesting though was the chef at CityZen in D.C. which had some amazing similarities to Per se from Eric Zeibold who trained under Keller.

                2. My biggest problem with both visits to per se has been the sommelier. Last time I ate there in November the first word that he uttered was Montrachet. Yeah sounds great but how about something under $1000, I thought to myself. I eventually shooed him away and chose my own wines.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: shane

                    Your wonderful and picturesque review tickled my funny bone.
                    I had a vision of the emperor's new clothes.
                    How great can the greatest food on earth possibly be to warrant that kind of price tag?
                    Some people just like to be had.

                    1. re: idia

                      Idia-It was well worth the money. If you have never eaten there, you really cant say that "some people just like to be had".

                  2. Thanks Double-G,

                    Great review and jfood always appreciates honesty about food versus the idolizing many have in certain restos. The jfood spend a lot on restos over the year and truly have no desire to embark on the PS bandwagon and after reading this it reinforces this decision. Thank you.

                    Makes the risotto with mushroom, scallops and shrimp with little jfood all that more special for $15 this evening.

                    1. I'm going to be the nay-sayer here. I ate at Per Se about 6 months ago and it was by far the most incredible dining experience I've ever had. None of my experience mirrored yours - we received copius amounts of bread (oooh...those pretzel sticks!), absolutely the best service of my life, and I was astounded by the number of wines under $100 on their list. We didn't ask for a recommendation, so perhaps that was the difference.

                      I found so much of the food to be memorable, not just after the fact but even today. The lobster and the veal (both mentioned in this thread), certainly. But also the truffled mac & cheese (we substituted it in from the vegetable tasting menu) and the dessert plate. Oh my - that dessert plate will probably never be topped in my life.

                      Before settling on the mac & cheese, we asked about a substitution and they said not only could we substitute, but if there was something in particular we wanted (like beef), the chef would create a dish for us. On request, they took us on a lengthy tour of the kitchen and the chef was extremely gracious about receiving us there. I have no doubt that they would have offered us a donut on request. I have never been to a restaurant where the food was so exemplary and the service was so perfect - I felt like their every purpose was to make sure we had everything we needed.

                      I'm sorry for others' experiences, as the price is certainly substantial. But my wife and I were expecting what you described - "Glad I went but won't be back soon" - but left thinking that we would have returned the very next night if we could.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: binkis

                        I've always loved the 98 Latour a Pomerol, but just cant see how this would be $300. It was at Landmarc for $80 at one point. I remember buying it by the case for $550. I realize its not easy being a sommelier, and that it is a "sales" job, but generally don't want their input.

                        Good write up though!

                        1. re: AKR

                          98 Latour a Pomerol retails for around $100, so not surprising that PerSe has it on the list for $300. My meal at Per Se was superb... one of the best meals I've ever had in NYC. That said, as with every meal I've had from Keller, there's too much relying on the old standards. If I have another one of those carpacio cones or Im served another coffee and donuts I think I'll scream. Thomas should understand that people actually come back to his restaurants. It's fine the first time, but then it seems gimicky. He needs to shake it up a bit. Also, he always serves too much food IMO. But the service was great, best I've ever had in NYC, and the room is grand. A wonderful meal, but not much excitement for me in terms of the dishes. Dishes were either familiar or somewhat straight forward. Still a great place to go in NYC as the service, atmosphere, food quality, and professionalim is second to none in the city, and one of the best in the USA.

                      2. Well written report; although, nothing like my experience. Too much bread in my case-I had to tell the waiter to stop with the bread (we didn't eat all day and were hungry and we didn't want to fill up on the bread) Everything was great! I ordered a bottle of wine while in the lounge waiting for our table and was later complimented on my choice by the sommelier who said it was his favorite-maybe he was lying but it made me feel good. I had no complaints with the food, but wish it was easier to get a table at a decent hour and day and I wish I could afford to eat there more often. The table across from us actually all got up in the middle of their meal to take a break outside -I thought this was good idea for my next visit. The courses are small but there are alot of them and I started to feel STUFFED 3/4 though the meal. The Service was great; although Taillivent [sic] in paris is my favorite for service and l'ambroise [sic] is my favorite for over the top luxury food. I am happy I live in a city with such a restaurant as per se -kind of silly but I feel lucky.

                        1. We went around the holidays, and it was sublime. The only downside was that we had groups of investment bankers on both sides of us who appeared to be celebrating their year-end bonuses. They were obnoxiously loud and we had to hear their conversations about "hookers in Honduras" and all kinds of other tidbits. My favorite dish was the warm smoked sturgeon over pole beans. The only course I didn't care for was the cheese course. It was Appenzeller and quince with a thin watercress sauce. Blah. If I go again, I think I will mix and match from the regular and vegetable tasting menus.They also make an amazing gin and tonic. Does anyone know the name of the brand of gin they use? The waiter told me but I forgot.

                          1. I had gone once before when Per Se first opened and returned last night for a lovely dinner there last night. I thought the oysters and pearls were delectable. I substituted the potato and cippolini onions from the vegetable menu as my next course which was wonderful. The dourade and the lobster courses were excellent as was the lamb. But the sweetbreads were sublime. The cheese, St. Nectaire, with marvelous poached apricots and pistachios was delicious as was the berry sorbet. But I found the dessert and minardaises to be really disappointing.

                            The real reason that I am writing though is to note how scandalously overpriced the wine list is. Of the 489 reds, the average price was $811; excluding the 41 priced over $2000, the average dropped to $556; excluding also the 75 above $1000, it dropped to $408. The bottom 25 averaged about $85. And those priced in the $200-$275 (which is the level at which I ordered) typically retailed for $60-85. The wine selection is excellent but makes the Veritas and Cru look like extraordinary bargains, which they are not. Perhaps the wines should be priced 20-25% higher to incorporate service into the price as is done for the food, but these wines were priced more than that on a relative basis. In short, the wines I ordered were lovely but I felt gouged by the prices.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: wryorwhite

                              Yes, it's unfortunate that wine prices are so crazy in some spots. What happens in many of these places is that the very expensive stuff doesn't move (although these wines actually DO sell in NYC more than any other city... this is cause of the funny money on wall street mainly). Even places like Per Se should realize if they price the wines more realistically they will actually SELL the wines. Collectors who know these top wines don't buy them. They know the prices, may have them in their cellars, etc. and feel uncomfortable getting ripped off. Typically those that order them are wall streeters who are out with clients, the super rich or those that think they are and need to impress... or the kids of the super rich with dad's black amex. So, to enjoy a place like Per Se people like you and me order in the 200 - 400 hundred range (unless something else is so compelling that it MUST be ordered)... and we overpay to be able to at least drink wines that will complement such a high quality meal... and is manageable. It would be silly to go to a place like Per Se and try to skimp... I think everyone would agree with that. Trust me, most people don't even order the 200-400 level wines. Another issue is the number of bottles. For a degustation meal at a top restaurant we need multiple bottles... complicating the issue especially if its a party of 2.

                              No question that CRU (man whatta list) and Veritas do seem like bargains compared places like Per Se, the recently closed Ducasse, Daniel (although not as bad as the other 2).

                              It is uncomfortable, no question...and it keeps me from going to places like that more often than I do as the wine experience for me is as important as the chow.

                              PS - One of the most painful lists in the world is Gordon Ramsay's place on Hospital Road in London.

                              1. re: wryorwhite

                                Wow, those are offputting numbers. Thanks for all the work. 2 questions: 1. Did they leave you with the wine list and a calculator, or is this some kind of Good Will Hunting thing? 2. What's the corkage? It seems like a much better way to go.

                                Thanks for the work and the info.

                              2. Since I'll never pay $1150 for a meal, I'll have to simply thank you for going in my place and submitting such a detailed review. Thanks!

                                1. I've been to Per Se three times and each visit has exceeded the last. The service has been impeccable, as has the food. And the staff goes above and beyond to please you.
                                  As far as the salts, I too wondered why we never got salts at our table (and we did get the foie gras supplement). So on my last visit, I asked the waiter if we could have the salts; ta da!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: AndreaLynn

                                    We went to Per Se in June and were, well, yawn, underwhelmed. We live in FL, and have a fantastic restaurant here: Victoria & Albert's Restaurant. Incredible that a 5-diamond restaurant is actually in Disney World, but such is the case, and Scott Hunnel blows Thomas Keller away. We actually had food at a small restaurant we found in Midtown, called The Nook, that we felt was more memorable than the Per Se food. Service was very attentive; we had all the bread we wanted; and yet... and yet.... Nothing really stands out for us about Per Se.

                                    If anyone is interested, here is our review with photos:

                                    Heather W

                                    1. re: hmp2z


                                      First let me say that your account of the meal you had at Per Se, weather I agree or not, is amazing... great photos and descriptions of the dishes. That took a lot of work and for those who haven't been or will never go its a great way to see what its all bout... great job. I've been there, and I loved reading your account, and esp. liked the great photos... and it looked like you had one of the killer front row window tables.

                                      In any case, I never made it to V&A in Orlando, but will make it a point next time Im in the area. I've heard about it for years and my perception is that while vg, wasn't a must go type of place. I have to say I'll be amazed if I find it superior to Per Se, but will check it out based on your post.

                                      For the record, my meal (only there once) was completely enjoyable. It wasn't perfect, and I prefer dining on that level in Europe, but for NYC was excellent. Their execution is great (just look at those photos)... agree some of the dishes can be tweeked here and there re: flavors. I can see why certain dishes don't appeal to everyone... the good thing at Per Se or French L. is that if youre not wild about a certain dish there are so many more to come (personally I think he serves too much food). I still like the place.

                                      1. re: WineTravel

                                        With Per Se, we dropped $550 total on food only. With The Nook, we spent around $45-50 - 1/10 of the price, for 2 items that we felt were outstanding. There were 2 items at Per Se that were outstanding. For us, it doesn't matter how "gourmet" or "exclusive" the restaurant bills itself. It's how good the food is within its category. And, I can assure you, that The Nook's food is OUTSTANDING in its category. Per Se, on the other hand, left us thinking, "Eh..."

                                        I don't care about bashing famous restaurants - we haven't eaten at enough famous restaurants to be able to call ourselves "famous restaurant bashers." We've been to Gary Danko, La Toque, Jean Georges, but that's about it for us. We went to Per Se very excited, with hopes very high; my husband has been reading about Thomas Keller for years, and we really WANTED to like it. Obviously others who have been to more "famous restaurants" than we have are finding Per Se to be lacking, too, hence the comparisons to The Inn at Little Washington.

                                        We have eaten repeatedly at the Chef's Table at Victoria & Albert's, and yes, it blows us away. I guess if we ate in the main room consistently, we probably would think it was "tourist trappy," too, but we don't, so we don't have that experience. Reviews, with photos, for those interested:


                                        If I'm dropping $500+ for food, I expect that at least half of the dishes I eat will be phenomenal. At Per Se, they just weren't. The "wow" factor wasn't there. Maybe it was an off night for the kitchen. Maybe we didn't say the right passwords to get special treatment, but this was our experience. We can only report on what we experienced, and, at those prices, we're certainly not giving this restaurant a second chance. For some people, money isn't even a consideration. We're not those people; we work hard for our dollars, and we DO have to consider "bang for the buck." We're willing to drop $500+ for a V&A's meal, because it gives us that bang.

                                        Again, we can only report on our experiences, and these are our experiences. But we're obviously not the only ones who feel that Per Se is lacking, for the prices & category.

                                        Heather W

                                    2. When we ate at Per Se, I didn't LOVE the food, which I had hoped would be truly sublime, but except for a stringy lobster tail, I believe it had mostly to do with not being in Love with Keller's taste. His taste is HIS taste, imfho, and it's not universally excellent to the human taste experience. I think he cooks for to make himself dance for joy, not me.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: DaveA

                                        I love PerSe I think it's the best restaurant in NYC, nothing close. I eat there about every 2 months. Every meal is perfect. The service is just right., not too stuffy. Yes the wine list is overpriced. I usually bring my own wines. The corkage is $75 while expensive it is still cheaper then ordering of the list. One great option they offer. Non-alcohol food pairing. My wife doesn't like wine and they do great pairings. If you want a great sommelier ask fro Jimmy

                                        1. re: stevel

                                          Agree its #1 in NY. Are they ok with the byob or is it something they do since you are a regular and they know you? Its the highest corkage Ive ever seen... but for the collector who would like to enjoy some serious wines from their own cellar its a bargain compared to the insane winelist pricing.

                                          1. re: WineTravel

                                            Corkage is for all. $75 a bottle with a limit of 2. Still worth it since their wine list is so high. There are ways to get around the 2 bottle limit.