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Nov 3, 2013 12:40 AM

Per Se's surprisingly disappointing desserts

I have been dining at Per Se many many times over the years...
And it has always been perfect in every way.

Since last year, however, its desserts have been slowly going down the hill for some reason, and now Per Se's desserts leave a lot to be desired.

I had extended menu at Per Se for the third time two months ago.
And these are what they served me for desserts that day.

1. champagne gelee with fruit bits.
2. one scoop of caramel ice ream with grated butterfinger.
3. chocolate mousse.

Sure, they were delicious, but very, very plain and boring.
I do not think they are the kind of desserts you would expect at a NYT 4 star, or Michelin 3 star restaurant. I would have been very disappointed if they had been served in a regular menu, not to mention the extended menu.
So what happened to the charmingly sophisticated desserts I used to encounter at Per Se long ago?

I have been continuously disappointed with its desserts since last year (and for that reason, I stopped going to Per Se The Salon for dessert course too) and this was my last trial. I am not going back again. And I am so sad...

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  1. Grated Butterfinger? GRATED Butterfinger??? At THOSE prices? Just think of how much money a body could save by having dessert at 7-Eleven!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Caroline1

      Well I think it would have to be butterfinger made from scratch i.e. something similar to the recipes from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Peanut brittle coated with chocolate.

      1. re: calf

        And that's supposed to make it okay? With all of the great classic desserts waiting for an up-date a la Thomas Keller, and the best they can do is crushed homemade Butterfingers over caramel ice cream? Somebody's imagination just died and I hope it wasn't Tomas Kellers! .

        1. re: Caroline1

          Maybe something to do with halloween.

          1. re: Monica

            Well, I had this dessert in early September.

          2. re: Caroline1

            But on further thought… to their credit it's a clever pairing—you have fresh cream plus firm-ball stage sugar on one hand, and on the other hand, butter plus hard-crack stage sugar. And texturally the ice cream is a microcrystal while the confection is a solidified foam (the brittle is aerated in order to be crispy and yet melty). What that creates is a dessert with similar, supporting flavor components but contrasting texture. So even just this one plate is a good example of their cooking's outlook--restraint, finesse, details, blah blah blah… A lesser restaurant might try to "fix" or "balance" it with something acidic like fruit puree, but they knew not to do that. Ok I didn't mean to go overboard with gastronomical analysis… I hope it tasted good…

            1. re: calf

              The acidic fruit puree would carry a $20 surcharge I am sure.

              Mind you, I think the dessert courses are good, but pale in comparison to the rest of the meal. On the other hand, that trio of plates do seem a little meager for an extended tasting menu. I think the three plates at the couple of regular tastings I've done, all more than 6 months ago, were better.

              Of course, kosmose7 eats at Per Se every other week, so maybe he's just getting palate fatigue?

              1. re: LucidInterval

                > Of course, kosmose7 eats at Per Se every other week
                Oh no sir!!! LOL
                It was more like once in two - three months...

      2. What? You don't want to put your finger on that dessert? I think the desserts at Per Se have always been good but safe, and do not tend to measure up to the rest of the meal. We are just usually too distracted by the arrays of mignardises to notice it.

        1. Those do sound disappointing, and simplistic compared to other fine dining desserts. Have you expressed your concern to per se? Either via an email or.... They must know the calibur is not what it once was, but customer feedback could help point this out.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            Yes, I left a message exclusively for the restaurant via opentable review (since I made the reservation through and no feedback yet, but I'm sure they read it.

            1. re: kosmose7


              Don't hold your breath.

              I had a most disappointing extended tasting menu last summer (see the thread here, where both the black truffles and dry-aged wagyu were suspiciously absent, despite being on the menu we were handed as we exited the restaurant.

              At the urging of chowhounders, I sent a message to Per Se via their website and eventually spoke to the general manager about the experience. About a month after our confab, I received a mother of pearl spoon and a picture book called One Day at Per Se. I found it to be a grossly inadequate attempt at a remedy. For the sake of comparison, ulterior epicure experienced a few service hiccups at The French Laundry and ended up receiving a comp on an extended tasting menu at Per Se. I guess I just had the misfortune of not being an important enough patron.

              It probably goes without saying, but I haven't been back since.

              1. re: degustingdiary

                Hi degustingdiary, I have read your review and I am so sorry to hear that. Without black truffles and dry-aged wagyu, I guess your case was even worse than mine... And too bad that Per Se did not offer an adequate remedy.

                Actually my printed extended menu handed out at the end of the meal says I was supposed to get "Assortment of Desserts" composed of fruit, ice cream, chocolate and candies besides those three dull desserts, but they never served me that. Uh well....

                1. re: kosmose7

                  One of the most impressive ads for The French Laundry was a whole early Tony Bourdain program in which he and several other big name chefs (Eric Ripert?) went to TFL in a group for the tasting menu. Of course, it was a LOT more than any standard tasting menu, no matter how elaborate. When I watched the program I thought to myself, I would ONLY go to THAT restaurant and pay THOSE prices if I would be seated at THAT table...!

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Yeah that episode wasn't representative in that it was a fancy restaurant providing their own kind an extreme VIP treatment—epic length meal that included customized dishes. Bourdain has openly acknowledged this factor and wrote down his feelings on it in his books. But to many viewers it becomes a powerful if subtle form of marketing.

                    1. re: calf

                      Unfortunately, it happens ALL of the time! The ones that irritate the hell out of me are the "tasting menus" that are nothing more than a whole bunch of amuse bouche, one after another, then don't forget to pick up a pizza on your way home so you don't go to sleep hungry!. That is NOT a tasting menu in my book. Still, it does allow star-chef restaurants parked on VERY expensive real estate to pay the rent. IMO, Nouvelle Cuisine took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I've had tasting menus at EMP, Per Se, Atera, Momofuku Ko and Blanca. The only one that left me hungry for a pizza was Blanca. Usually by the time I get to dessert I am almost uncomfortably full so if the desserts aren't the highlight of the meal, I wouldn't notice since I don't even want them. When I had the 20 course extended tasting menu at Per Se this past winter, I asked the waiter to package all the mignardises and the doughnuts from the "coffee and doughnuts" for me. I stopped by my sister's apartment on the way home, and she loved all of them.

          2. I'm wondering if The French Laundry does desserts differently?

            1. I haven't seen desserts that lousy at a $200+ restaurant since I ate at Blanca.