Per Se Drops Course?
I often check up on per se's menu, both because I have an interest in tracking the food they're putting out and because I'm always anticipating my next journey from Philly to eat there (even if it's many months away).
On July 16th the menu for both tastings had only eight courses as opposed to the traditional nine. While the 15th menu, whose course number I did not count, is no longer posted, I recall noticing that it occupied less of the legal sized page than usual. I am certain I've never seen fewer than nine courses when I've dined there, or in any menu previously posted online, and I haven't read anything about a change. The omission would appear to be their typical pre-dessert sorbet/flavored ice/palate freshener, not one of the savories. That said, per se's price point was already quite high, even for food of such inspiration and nearly inimitable quality (keep in mind the Chef's tasting was $135 [albeit sans service] when it opened less than ten years ago). Should eight courses prove to be the new norm, which it very well may not, it would be a disappointing, even cynical, step. It is of course a business interested in maximizing it's profitability. Yet this move would represent another step away from the Kellerian ethos of generosity and magnanimity. The gougeres, canapes, mignardes, and those wonderful intra-meal surprises from the kitchen exemplify Keller's professed desire to make his guests feel as special and contented as possible. And it's hard to believe that, at these prices, dropping a course would result from anything more than profit-squeezing bean counting. It may follow given ownership, with the majority (or at least plurality) owner of per se being a resort group and not individuals with a passion for food.
In any case, we will see if this change proves permanent. Here is the menu link, though it will only display the 16th until a new menu is posted.
"generosity and magnanimity" are not words I think of when I think of Thomas Keller. Perhaps the service is, but the value certainly isn't. This is a restaurant that has - some might insinuate cynically - raised their prices at a rate far outpacing other restaurants while not offering anything more for the money.
Frankly, I don't think they've been worth the price of admission for years. They're no longer a special occasion restaurant for most people - they're a restaurant for people whose lives are a special occasion, the sort who don't need look at price tags because money is simply irrelevant to them. That's fine, there's a place for places like that, but for Keller to pretend that Per Se is anything but an exercise in elitism at this point would be disingenuous.
I suppose the closest place to compare Per Se to would have to be EMP - about $250/pp with the tax and 20% tip. Last time we were there the tasting was about 14 courses. Per Se I believe comes to $316 or so with the tax. So, for $56 fewer dollars you get a few more courses (factoring in the "intra meal surprises") - it's really the same amount of food in the end, pound for pound. You're not going to leave either place hungry.
Of course, at EMP you'll get foie gras and the ridiculously aged beef as part of the cost. At Per Se, you'll wind up paying about $500/pp for the pleasure of having those in your meal - and they won't even be additional courses, but replacement courses. The beef alone carries a supplement that'd be the cost of an entire tasting menu at most other (good) restaurants.
I mean, would you like what I'm sure is a lovely beef stew in puff pastry with some shaved (Australian, not even Perigord) truffles, knowing that one single dish is the same price as a 9 course meal at Momofuku Ko? Your call. But that is a bit ridiculous when you think about it, however much truffle they might shave on top.
Also, their wine markup is all over the map. It's not bad so much as confusing. There are some wines with a surprisingly reasonable 50% markup, give or take, but then the next wine on the list will have a 300% markup. Don't know their system, really. Interestingly, it seems that all wines under $100 have the highest markup - i.e. a $25 retail bottle will cost $80 or $90 at PS, while, say, a $75 retail bottle might cost $110. Funny, they're making more profit - not just in percentage, but in pure dollars - off those who spend less, in some cases.
Is Keller a cynical, price-squeezing bean-counter? I dunno, he comes off that way to me, kind of - or, more as someone who knows that he has a catalog of regular diners for whom price is no object, and he can continue to raise prices incrementally and none of said regulars are going to notice or care. The "special occasion" diners aren't his concern - if he loses a few of those it's no big deal, there's always someone with a black Amex or corporate expense account to take that table.
For me, the biggest recent disappointment at Per Se has been the noticeable decline in its dessert quality. They have become very plain and simple, and thus rather dull. As a dessert lover, and as a person who had been admiring Per Se's sophisticated desserts for a long time, this is really unfortunate.
Did you call to confirm it is an omission of a course vs a reformat of the menu or how/when the courses are served?
Per se is so much more than thomas keller, with many more/others who ultimatly have input in the business, however, since he is a leader in the industry i would hope that you are somehow not correct....