Per Se exceeded expectations
As always, full review and photos on my blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
There were so many extras in addition to the written 9 course menu that the review will end up being in 3 parts. Perhaps my expectations were tempered a bit by the fact that they are in transition and that it was the MLK holiday (neither Benno nor Kaimeh were in house, but the sous chef in charge did an amazing job). Yet I don't think I went in expecting less than Robuchon at the Mansion, and I thought Per Se did a much better job.
The service was excellent as one would expect. Friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. My server, who had experience both front of house and in the kitchen, was engaging throughout the evening.
Ok, on to the food. I don't remember which were on the written menu and which were extras.
The signature salmon cornet and gougeres to start. The marinated salmon and onion mixture was nice, but I was more fascinated by the tuile batter used to make the cornet. So simple (I think it was only flour, butter, sugar, salt, and egg whites) but so delicious and worked really well with the salmon mixture. The gougeres weren't as warm as I would like, but the burst of the liquid cheese center was terrific.
CELERY ROOT "VELOUTE" with CELERY BRANCH "FILAMENTS" and CONFIT OF GARLIC CRISP
A terrific way to start the meal. The soup had terrific celery and garlic flavor. The crisps, confit, froth, and soup were a perfect range of textures coming together.
"OYSTERS AND PEARLS": "SABAYON" OF PEARL TAPIOCA with ISLAND CREEK OYSTERS and STERLING WHITE STURGEON CAVIAR
Another signature Keller dish. The caviar was bursting with flavor. While I feel that tapioca is often misused in dishes, the tapioca sabayon provided a perfect texture accompaniment here. Again, hitting a range of flavors and textures.
SASHIMI OF ATLANTIC FLUKE with YUZU, GLAZED TURNIPS AND SCALLION "EMINCEE" with MOROMI PUREE
Forgot to take a photo of this one. It was served in a vessel shaped like a sake carafe. While fluke is one of those fish that chefs love but I'm only ok with (like skate), the fish was fresh and I really liked the scallion slices that came with it. The moromi (mash that ferments to become sake) puree was not as strong as I would have thought.
PAVE OF SPANISH MACKEREL with TOMATO MARMALADE, HOLLAND PEPPERS, and SAFFRON RICE PUFF with PARSLEY OIL
This was the first dish where I thought I grasped the essence of the genius at work here. Similar to Barbot, the superiority here is about balance. A recurring theme throughout the night was how such strongly flavored components could come together in harmony without any one being overpowering. The fish was just right, and I could taste the different flavors coming together. Everything felt in place, whereas the last time I went to Corton, sometimes the flavors were there but felt forced and not harmonized.
WHITE TRUFFLE OIL-INFUSED CUSTARD with "RAGOUT" OF BLACK WINTER TRUFFLES and POTATO CHIVE CHIP
Another Keller classic. Hard to go wrong with this one. Smelled and tasted wonderful. I wasn't so hot on the chip though. I could kinda see the texture he was aiming for, but it just comes off like a stale potato chip because of how hard it was.
That's it for now, will continue with the heartier savory courses.
Part 3 is up on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
Done with the main savory courses, we move on.
"TOMME CRAYEUSE" with CAULIFLOWER FLORETTES, CANDIED CASHEWS, and PETITE CILANTRO with MADRAS CURRY "AIGRE-DOUX"
The cheese was good. I also liked the candied cashews. I thought they were better than using fruit or dried fruit to bridge the savory-sweet courses. The sauce, though, might have been too subtle for me as the spices in the curry didn't play a big role and I don't remember the sour component of the aigre-doux.
BUTTERMILK THYME SORBET with RED VERJUS and PER SE SHORTBREAD
I loved this. I did not know buttermilk and thyme went this well together. Beyond this combination of flavors, the use of sorbet here was terrific because the water base made it much lighter and allowed the vibrant, refreshing flavors to pop out. The verjus pate de fruits and shortbread were ok but the star was the sorbet.
"PRETTY IN PINK" PINK LEMON SORBET, PINK GRAPEFRUIT "SUPREMES" and PINK CHAMPAGNE GRANITE
This was indeed quite pretty, and tasted... well, like pink. I'm no synesthete, but I wouldn't be shocked if this was what pink tasted like. The different textures were good and the slight bitterness from the grapefruit worked well here. That being said, none of the flavors were particularly special, and after the taste bud-opening sorbet this was somewhat disappointing.
COFFEE and DOUGHNUTS
Another Keller classic that was just amazing in execution. A cinnamon-covered beignet with cappuccino semifreddo. How does a fried ball of dough completely covered in cinnamon end up this light? Light and airy, greaseless, with a light crunch and a soft interior. These were amazing, and I'm really not a fried dough kind of guy. I'm not a big coffee guy either, but mixing bites of both combined into this sublime match of textures and temperatures. Again, even with cinnamon and coffee, neither flavor managed to be dominant or overpowering.
"MONT BLANC" CHESTNUT "GENOISE", SWISS MERINGUE, CHOCOLATE-JUNIPER "CREMEUX", RUM PARFAIT and "MARRON GLACE" with CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
For my main dessert I had the chocolate option. This was good as one of those "chocolate's best hits" desserts with juniper, chestnuts, sponge cake, cremeux, ice cream, etc. However, I didn't feel like the components themselves came together like other dishes throughout the night. I didn't think the chocolate ice cream was anything special either. I did like that for all that was on the plate, it still managed to be light, which was important considering how much food I had eaten to that point.
I was finally served a greek yogurt pot de creme with honey and hibiscus. This summed up the theme of the night. A balanced and light use of cream, sweet, sour, and strong flavors.
There were 27 choices for assorted chocolates. My choices included brown butter and pear, baileys cheese cake, olive oil, cherry balsamic, raspberry, rocher and one other that I forgot. I still don't really know how I managed to eat them all at that point.
In addition to the chocolates, there were chocolate truffles, pistachio nougat, and chocolate covered hazelnuts. I was so done at (probably even much before) this point.
Before the night ended, the maitre d' showed me the kitchen. I was surprised to find it smaller and less "surgical" than I would have imagined. Then again, the prep kitchen was hidden from view. There was a good buzz of people working, and it's quite a thing that they power through service every night often until 1am and often serving large groups. One thing that I really liked was the pacing of the dishes. I never had to wait long between courses, which was really important since I was dining alone.
The meal was grand, the bill was grand. $275 with service included but not tax. Add another $30 each for the foie supplement and a glass of wine. While I liked the idea of having the service included, it is awkward if you feel your server deserves a little bit extra. I don't know what kind of message it sends if you were to write an additional gratuity of 5 or 10 more dollars.
All the food was done at a very high level, but I can definitely see why the well-known Keller classics pushed him into that upper upper echelon of chefs. While I was offered some of these courses even though they weren't on the menu, I recommend that you ask either way. Once they get you in there paying these prices, it does feel that they want you to truly enjoy the food that their talented chefs offer.
Per Se is one of those places where I feel that if you ARE interested in the food, they ARE interested in you - they give you bonuses, the servers treat you better (hard to imagine,) and the whole experience is magical. I recently had an extended menu - 21 legit courses plus all the mignardises and amuses and such - and was wowed.
If you thought that kitchen was tiny - go to The French Laundry. :-)
Part 2 with more pictures is up on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
There were two options for butter. House salted churned butter from a small family in Oregon on the left, unsalted sweet butter from Straus family creamery on the right. I mostly went with the sweet butter, which was soft and really creamy.
The most delightful surprise of the evening for me were Parker House rolls. Amazingly soft with a light sprinkle of salt, these were so good with the sweet butter that I had to get two more. I'm not really a big bread guy, so it was special to get something I enjoyed so much. There was other bread too, but I didn't have any as I was so enamored with the rolls.
SAUTEED HUDSON VALLEY MOULARD DUCK FOIE GRAS with CORNBREAD "PAIN PERDU", GRANNY SMITH APPLES, WATERCRESS LEAVES, and WHIPPED BLIS MAPLE SYRUP with TELLICHERRY PEPPER JUS
For a $30 supplement, this is a must for anyone who likes foie gras. While many places will often serve seared foie gras with any one of these components (corn, apple, maple syrup), they made it simple by having everything you would want with foie gras all on one plate. The piece of foie gras was very big, and it was just so good and so well done.
FILLET OF JOHN DORY "A LA GRENOBLOISE" with "PAIN DE CAMPAGNE", ARTICHOKE CHIPS, FORK-CRUSHED SUNCHOKES and PARSLEY SHOOTS, with CAPER-BROWN BUTTER PUREE
I'm not big on john dory. It is a rather mild-tasting fish after all. I thought this dish was ok. The takeaway from this dish was again the chef's impressive ability to balance components that are usually pretty strong such as artichoke, sunchoke, and capers.
PAN ROASTED DAY BOAT SEA SCALLOP with HEN EGG RAVIOLI, FENNEL BULB, WILTED ARROWLEAF SPINACH, and CRYSTALLIZED FENNEL CHIP with BOTTARGA EMULSION
This might be the best scallop dish I've ever had. The flavors were good (although I couldn't make the bottarga in the emulsion), but what made this dish was the textures coming together. I originally thought that the hen egg ravioli would ooze yolk, but instead the yolk in the ravioli was fully cooked, which was even better. With a perfectly cooked scallop, there already is a silky texture. Add to that the crisp of the fennel chip, the give of the pasta, and that middling crumbly texture of cooked egg yolk and you get just an amazing range of textures in one bite.
ALL DAY BRAISED SALMON CREEK FARM'S PORK BELLY with STUFFED CIPOLLINI ONION, ROMAINE LETTUCE, PICKLED CIPOLLINI ONION SHOOTS and SAN MARZANO TOMATO MARMALADE with PORK JUS
This dish was good, but not amazing. A situation where I would have preferred less balance, and just more concentrated porcine flavor and more of the sweet and sour components.
SNAKE RIVER FARMS' "CALOTTE DE BOEUF GRILLEE" with BLACK TRUMPET MUSHROOMS, GLAZED SALSIFY, HEIRLOOM CARROTS and FIELD MIZUNA WITH "SAUCE BORDELAISE"
This was remarkable. First, the vegetables were great. When I eat a composed beef dish at a restaurant, the vegetables matter a lot to me. Otherwise, I could just go to a steakhouse. The beef itself was spectacular in the way it was cooked. I would cut a bite, it had the right texture for a good chew, and as I was chewing, more juice and flavor would come out. Take a sip of wine, continue chewing, even more flavor continued to pop out. It never went dry. This dish is my perfect answer against all those people who must have their brand name beef on the rare side.
Will continue later with the sweet courses.
I am loving your report. I've never had the sauteed foie gras prep at Per Se (all of the times I've been there, they've only offered the cold prep--which is lovely, but I prefer a sauteed prep). The calotte de boeuf is my favorite. When I took my mother and sister to Per Se in August, I was thrilled that this was the meat course. Looking forward to your review of the desserts!
I'd put it off for a long time too. But definitely worth going. I think they understand that it's a dining event and that you're paying big bucks. I think if you show enthusiasm for the food they will do a great job of reciprocating it. This is NYC after all, and I don't think the many unsophisticated business diners excite the staff.