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Aug 3, 2009 09:05 AM

disappointing meal at Per Se

Anyone eaten at Per Se recently and had a disappointing meal? The first time I ate there I was over the moon and declared it was the best meal ( including many *** Michelin restaurants) of my life.
Maybe it was because it was Sunday. But last week the food wasn't terrific. Over salted and the lamb was tough. But the service was awful ( for those prices anyway). Extracting the choices of champagne by the glass was like getting blood out of a stone, no refills on water or bread, husband had chipped glass. And the biggest service crime - presenting the bill without it being requested, and no we weren't the last people in the place.
True they did substitute a dessert but then I question the wisdom of a brownie in late July especially as the meal includes many freebie artisinal chocs as after meal petits fours.
But the worse crime - the total lack of interest in my disappointment either at the time or later when I emailed the restaurant.
Well one thing is for sure I won't be returning and my word of mouth will be not to waste the considerable amount they take off you for a less than stellar occasion.

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  1. Very surprising since I've always had fabulous dinners at Per Se. FYI, I had been told it is standard for the restaurant to present the check without being asked. I had originally thought it was odd too, but I think I recall that Chef Keller didn't want his guests being distracted looking for their waiter to ask for the bill. It's there when you want to pay, but you don't need to pay right away.

    1. this makes me anxious. I was just given a gift certificate to go (long ago having decided with my husband that this was too expensive a meal to justify love food and cooking tho we do). Now I have receiver's remorse. Has anyone else had a reaction like judithuk's? Should I try to return the gift? I'll be so annoyed if the meal isn't stellar...
      and what about the time of the reservation? I was told that 5:45 is almost like 6 and 6 is like 7, so just take a 5:45. Wha? Who eats that early? (But we can't go too late b/c our kids wake me at 6 am...)

      21 Replies
      1. re: research

        I cannot imagine the circumstance in which it would not be incredibly rude to return a gift because one has heard second hand that someone else didn't enjoy a particular restaurant. I have no quibble with judithuk's review and don't doubt that she/he had a less than stellar experience--however, any search of this board for reviews of Per Se will reveal a range of experiences, and most of them far more positive than the OP's. The only way you're going to know how you feel about the restaurant is to go yourself--and you get to go for free. This is a blessing, not a burden.

        Plenty of people eat at 5:45 at Per Se. Yes, it is the early side. However, many of us who have to play the reservations game to get into sought after restaurants get used to eating on the early or late end every now and again. Think of it this way--you'll stumble out of Per Se suffused with good food and wine, into a lovely summer/fall evening, and Central Park is right in front of you. Take a stroll in the dying light, get home at a reasonable hour and you won't feel dead in the morning.

        1. re: planetjess

          yeah, i agree w/ planetjess...i'd be really offended if i gave someone a gift certificate and they returned it...

          come on, it's *free* -- just go for the experience and report back (i've never been, so i can't weigh in on Per Se itself)...perhaps going w/ lowered expectations will make it more delightful than if you hadn't read the review...

          but i suppose if you really get cold feet, you could simply give the gift certificate away to your fellow Chowhounds...*wink*

          1. re: planetjess

            Interesting perspective, thanks. I am not sure it is rude. My brother who gave it to me thinks it is insane to spend that much on dinner (and again, we all are used to eating very well). Sometimes on this board there is a tendancy to not acknowledge the huge costs of some of these meals -- or to give huge cost a pass for great food -- and even if it weren't a recession I don't think this kind of expense should be treated cavalierly. Curious what others think.

            1. re: research

              I am certainly not cavalier about the expense of a dinner at Per Se. Then again, I have only every been to Per Se when I have paid for it myself because I thought it was worth it, so the idea of having such an enjoyable experience on someone else's dime sounds lovely to me.

              Nor would I presume to know what may or may not be appropriate as between you and your brother--etiquette within one's immediate family is pretty irrelevant in most instances, in my opinion. I do query what your brother who "thinks it is insane to spend that much on dinner" is going to do with this returned gift certificate--if he is pre-disposed to think such meals are overpriced to begin with, he is hardly more likely to enjoy his meal at Per Se than you are.

              I stand by my opinion that, outside of the very specific context of things given and received between people who may have read each others' junior high school diaries and starred in each others' naked baby pictures, returning a gift is generally rude, and returning a gift because of one isolated post among many on an internet message board would be incredibly rude. Possibly a better question for the "Not About Food" section of this board, however.

              1. re: planetjess

                planetjess you are clearly no marxist. It is about food. I'd only return it for the $ (credited back to him), duh. but I tell you what, assuming I go I'll report on what I think -- and I'll try to think like the hoipalloi as per your and Simon's advice

                1. re: research

                  Excellent. As a proud member of the hoi polloi, who ate for $1 a day for four months to be able to afford her first dinner at Daniel (and whose socio-political tendencies you've had nary a whiff of), I will thrill to read about the food, as I have been thrilled to eat it. We common people tend to be grateful for what we get; hopefully that will be your experience as well.

                  ETA: Thank you, by the way, for the clarification to your original post (other than the "duh") that you were planning to return the gift certificate to the restaurant for your brother's credit. As I have never yet heard of a restaurant that will take the return of gift certificates for their full cash value, credited to either the purchaser or the recipient, it truly had not occurred to me that that is what you had meant.

                  1. re: planetjess

                    i was similarly confused...i didn't know Per Se, or any restaurant, allowed one to return a gift cert. for credit...but if they do, i guess that makes research's return-idea more logical/polite (i.e. i could imagine telling my best friend, "hey, i like the gesture, but let's not spend 600 bucks at one place just for me and my SO, but instead how about 4 of us going to ___"

                    that said, if someone was to give me, say, 600 USD of NYC restaurant gifting, i'd personally want it proportioned out something like this:

                    -- Russ&Daughters: 100 (enough to buy smoked salmon et al for a nice brunch party)

                    -- Scarpetta: 200...(light supper for two at the bar w/ plenty of wine)

                    -- Grand Central Oyster Bar 150...enough for a glutinous raw oyster and wine session at the bar...

                    -- Tia Pol...150...another great bar meal for two w/ wine...

                    alternately, i'd want the whole 600 at a cheaper place like Grand Sichuan Chelsea or Malatesta and i'd have a good excuse to host a dinner part for 10-12 people...

                    or maybe the whole thing at Keen's and i'd have a solo mutton chop every Monday for 7 or so consecutive weeks...

                    1. re: Simon

                      I like this idea very much (and it's much more in line with how I've been alotting my dining dollars of late)--$600 to spend on food right now?

                      -- 1 $200 dinner at Scarpetta
                      -- 2 $30 prix fixe lunches at SHO
                      --1 $150 dinner at Perilla
                      --2 $20 dinners at Max
                      --1 $50 chowdown at Hill Country with a friend
                      --2 $20 dinners from Helios (Brooklyn)
                      --2 $20 dinners from Villa Rustica (Brooklyn)
                      --1 $20 brunch at Miriam (Brooklyn)

                      1. re: Simon

                        Turns out: yes, you can return the gift certificate (credit to the buyer) and, maybe?, if you play hardball and say to the reservationist (after being on hold for 20 minutes): look this is supposed to be decadent and fun and wonderful, but getting a reservation is turning into a pain and I want to return the gift, then suddenly a table at a decent hour is available afterall. We're going tomorrow, I'll report back.

                        1. re: research

                          Great, we're going for my birthday next week, v interested to hear what you think.

                          1. re: buttertart

                            Happy Birthday buttertart! It's my birthday also next week (also my mom) and we're all going to Per Se next week to celebrate.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                no, the day before (which means we'll have different menus). Enjoy your celebration!

                                1. re: ellenost

                                  So I can read your post on your experience before I go? Great!

                        2. re: planetjess

                          Planetjess, that is some feat (the dollar/day for four months) to save to eat at Daniel. Have you posted about this somewhere? I'm interested in more about the story... and how much ramen did you eat in those four months...

                          1. re: Spends Rent on Food

                            Ahhh, good times, good times. This was back in 1996 and I was in college (not on a meal plan, working through college on scholarship and two part time jobs). I had a friend who was a fledgling cheflette, had done stages at Chez Panisse and in France for a summer, and who swore up and down to me that she had been told that the best food in New York was being served by Boulud at the original Restaurant Daniel, and we made it our mission to go.

                            I actually didn't eat much ramen at all...Back then, you could get a bowl of rice from one of the school dining halls for 50 cents, and I had it in my head that rice was at least sort of healthy. Tabasco sauce was on the tables for free, and the cafeteria lady didn't charge me for salad dressing from the salad bar. Believe it or not, lunch every day was rice, tabasco sauce and ranch dressing. I got so used to it, I still make it as comfort food. Dinner was those goya rice and beans boxes (for protein, you know!), which could last for two meals, a bagel, or a yogurt. I supplemented with coffee and tea they had at my jobs, every free student activity pizza lunch or study break I could credibly attend, and treats doled out by supportive friends who still thought I was crazy. One day about half way through my cheflette friend and I said "screw it" and bought some really nice cheese and a salami and had a nice little pig out.

                            It would be, I think, narratively appropriate to say that, in the end, it wasn't worth it, that I learned some kind of O. Henry lesson about pointless, absurd sacrifice. But I didn't. It was awesome. It was totally worth it. Not because I ended up treated like a fancy fancy princess--I wasn't. The meal started off kind of hilarious because I was so completely famished and hadn't had any coffee that day that I practically fell on the little bowl of bar snacks they gave us as we were waiting, and I had such a terrible caffeine headache that the first thing I asked for when we sat down was a cup of coffee. I had no idea what kind of crisis I was creating by asking for such a thing--not realizing that coffee service at Daniel at that time was extremely elaborate, entailing wheeling out a cart with an enormous samovar, etc., etc., and was only done at the end of the meal, and here we hadn't even looked at the menus. They tried firmly and repeatedly to dissuade me, and I learned my most important lesson in NYC fine dining (when you're not a VIP)--don't be afraid to stick up for yourself. I sure as heck wasn't about to let a caffeine headache spoil this particular dinner. Coffee I asked for, coffee I got (and yes, they did actually wheel out that monstrous cart, about which I still shake my head--things were a lot more cramped back in the old space, so it was indeed a big production--why they didn't just suck it up and bring me a discreet cup and saucer, I will never know--maybe it was a hanging offense), but after that, it was heaven .

                            I know that I had three courses--I can't remember the third; the dessert was a progression of sorbets and ice creams, of which one in particular stuck with me--it was caramel ice cream, but like no caramel I'd had before--instead of gooey richness, it was delicate burnt sugar caramel that lingered on my tongue for minutes. But most important for me was I had one dish that actually changed my approach to eating to this day--I ordered the white truffle risotto--never having had risotto or truffles before. It was the most perfect thing I had ever eaten, and it made me cry. I didn't get hysterical or anything, just sat there and cried a little because at that moment I thought that life didn't have to get any better than that. I had grown up around restaurants and good cooks, but that dinner solidified for me that really good food was really important to me. I guess it turned me into a chowhound (truffles not required). I didn't do the crazy abject poverty diet again, but I kept being careful about how I spent day to day so that I could explore various New York restaurants, and I got more serious about teaching myself to cook (I now think I make the second best risotto I've ever had) and reading about food and food culture. And that's the story of that. :)

                            1. re: planetjess

                              Great story - thanks for sharing it.

                              1. re: planetjess

                                Brilliant. I love stories like this. Thanks very much for sharing.

                  2. re: research

                    just to make things clearer. I was paying with my own money so perhaps more sensitive to value! But I go for lunch, not only considerably cheaper but more than enough food for 24 hours, I couldn't cope with dinner. And certainly this last experience was worse than before but my major complaint was the lack of service and the arrogance that I encountered. Other posts (on OpenTable) also complain that the food can be oversalted otherwise I would have not mentioned it as possibly an one-off aberration. But if they can fill the tables ( although Sunday lunch had plenty of empty tables) then they aren't going to be bothered with less than positive feedback. On the bright side I will be saving a lot of money by not returning- but if I had a gift certificate I would use it just to see for myself and get it out of my system.

                    1. re: judithuk

                      Thank you very much for posting about your experience--while I've read before about some people not being utterly blown away, I don't think I've ever read about serious service issues (like ellenost, I think the check presentation is just a matter of practice, but the rest of it sounds disappointing). I hope for the sake of other diners that it was an aberration.

                  3. i am surprised by their response to your disappointment! not good business especially in these difficult times. it is a pricey place but i would give it another try ... i have had great experiences there and have heard wonderful things!

                    1. Just got back: overall we both felt that you are paying for the labor associated with plating and serving more that the excellence of the food. Dinner was very good, service was mostly great, wines (glasses and half-bottles) were yummy. Bread and butter was stellar. But most of the food was lovely, not earthshaking and some was not particularly good and obviously used more for visual effect than texture or taste. A few examples: the hearts of palm were all about looks, but offered little taste or even texture since they were slivered.The duck was delicious, but the baby corn it was served with was almost tasteless (regular corn would have been great) and the polenta cake was crispy and tasty, but was the sole oversalted food of the night. The veal (undersalted) was unremarkable and the marrow pain perdue was nowhere near as good an accompaniment as straight up marrow would have been. The desserts were really disappointing -- nothing was super yummy. It all looked great and the staff were extremely welcoming and nice. And my husband's martini was good and fairly priced (ditto the cote rotie and chablis). It was a lovely evening and we had fun. We'll never do it again. Bottom line: we like to eat, and this is a place for people who like foof with their eating. It's for the hoipalloi.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: research

                        Hi, not living in NYC, but I do get there about 6 times/yr. Where do you recommend great dining not for the hoipalloi? Thanks!

                        1. re: CookieLee

                          All very expensive dining is by its nature exclusionary and therefore class-biased. That being said, there are variances in fussiness at the high end, different styles of service, etc. I have eaten at Per Se about 5 or 6 times and I don't love it. I do find it a bit artificial and strained in its "foofiness." And there is an air of self-importance there for which I have little tolerance. I have dined in most of the high end restaurants in NYC multiple times over many years, as well as plenty of dining in Europe. I am no stranger to fine service and high end dining and in fact I love it. A lot. But there is something at Per Se that has never rung quite true, I don't find it comfortable or refined in a true sense. I much prefer a meal at Eleven Madison Park or at Jean Georges, for example. At Per Se, all of my meals were tortuously long - and this is coming from someone who doesn't mind in the least sitting at a restaurant table for hours. But at Per Se I was dying to leave already. Pretty much every time I've been. And when I think of memorable meals and those places in NYC I want to return to - Per Se is never really calling my name.

                          1. re: gutsofsteel

                            I find this interesting as I've found the servers at Keller restaurants (both Per Se and TFL) to be extremely engaging, friendly, intelligent, and not at all stuffy - they actually seem to be honored to be assisting you.....I certainly did not feel that at JG or EMP.

                            I ate at Per Se for 5:15 and loved every second of it.

                            1. re: uhockey

                              Actually, that's exactly the type of service I experienced at EMP. A few minutes after my server presented my "lightly salted goat butter from Turlock, California," I asked her if it was from Meyenberg. Without missing a beat, she replied "Absolutely." Not "Let me check." "Absolutely." In other words, they are not just serving food, but also well-versed in every aspect of the meal. Just like my experience at TFL.

                          2. re: CookieLee

                            Perhaps this is off topic, but I think the meaning of "hoi polloi" is being reversed here, which makes these questions a bit confusing. It means "the masses" or ordinary people, not the elite.

                            1. re: rrems


                              We're leaving this up as it may help clarify the discussion on this thread. But, yes, meanings of words are off-topic, so please help us keep things on topic by not discussing the definition itself any further!