Thursday, November 28, 2013

New York Eats: Per Se

Per Se
The Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle (at 60th Street)
4th Floor
Manhattan, New York

Getting a reservation at The French Laundry was impossible. One hour on the phone and only to get on to a waitlist for not 1 but 3 meal services. Nothing came back. A trip to Napa Valley was in the cards and how could I not visit one of Chef Keller's fine establishments? Then, we decided that it was going to be a visit to Per Se or nothing, so we grabbed the reservation when a slot opened up on the day of our arrival in New York even if it meant that we were going to be more than likely, jetlagged.

After much success with The French Laundry, Chef Thomas Keller, one of America's most lauded and well respected chef, opened Per Se in February 2004 to much anticipation (only to close shortly after for 2 months before reopening in May 2004 because a fire broke out). Considered as the urban interpretation to The French Laundry, it received the highest honour of 3 stars from the Michelin Guide in 2005 and has kept it since, making it one of the few restaurants in New York that have the same honours. Interestingly, the name for the restaurant came about because Chef Keller had been asked many times prior to its opening if the restaurant would be like The French Laundry and his answer was that it would not be like The French Laundry "per se" and from there, the name stuck.
Out of all the restaurants I dined at throughout the whole US tour, I would say that the experience at Per Se was closest to the fine dining establishments I visited during a trip to Europe over 2 years ago. The food was presented in a more classic French-style fashion versus many other restaurants which recently, are trying to put out food that looks more trendy. The service was extremely professional yet personal.

It was a pity that I was so tired when I was there for dinner (blame the time difference and...AGE!) because it was a great experience which could have been much more enjoyable if I was more awake. The food was on the whole, solidly good but there were a few dishes which hit the spot better than others. A couple of the most famous dishes out of The French Laundry and Per Se certainly did not disappoint.

 Gruyere Gougères

 Salmon Tartare Cornet

We started with little signature canapes of gruyere gougères and salmon tartare cornets. Both were extremely delicious; the gougères were warm and fluffy, the cornets were crisp and thin and the salmon tartare was perfectly seasoned. I could have easily managed a couple more of these.

The signature starter, Oysters and Pearls, which was developed originally at The French Laundry was a delicious plate. It consisted of a creamy sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and a generous serving of white sturgeon caviar. It was savoury and the oysters were poached so delicately.

"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Beach Point Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
Medjool Dates, Jingle Bell Peppers, Spiced Cashews, Cilantro Shoots and Ginger "Nuage"

I'm not usually one who shys away from cold soups but I thought it might have been better if the dish was served warm or perhaps a different flavour might have suited better for a cold soup. Mind you, it was still a good dish no doubt. The flavours of the promised ingredients of ginger and carrots were pronounced and the soup had such a silky smooth texture. It just wasn't one of my favourite dishes that night. Served as an alternate to the soup, the foie gras fared better. On its own, it was rich and creamy. It was made even better with the marmalade and the warm brioche toast (which was replaced a couple of times) to spread the foie all over.

Granny Smith Apple Marmalade, Cherry Belle Radishes, Mustard Cress and Burgundy Mustard

The dishes to follow were all pretty enjoyable. I particularly liked both options from the fish course and R found the Crustacean Mousseline to be excellently flavourful. Both the meat courses were executed well with the meat to the right degree although I did find the duck a tad chewy.

Applewood Smoked Bacon, Cranberry Beans, Charred Leeks, Mâche and "Beurre Rouge"

Navel Orange "Confiture, "Nori" Tempura," Ruby Beets, Lucky Sorrel and Barrel Aged Tamari

Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Violet Artichokes, Compressed Spinach, Romaine Lettuce Ribs and "Mousseline de Crustacés"

Royal Blenheim Apricot Purée, Scarlet Turnips and Almond Milk

Oregon Matsutake Mushrooms, Broccolini Florettes, Pea Tendrils and Meyer Lemon Jus

Eckerton Hill Tomatoes, Picholine Olive "Tapenade," Summer Squash, Petite Basil and Caramelized Onion "Lavash"

We were hit by a flurry of sweets after all the savoury courses. Midway through the sweets, we almost thought we weren't going to get through the whole meal since we were pretty much ready to go to bed by then but we perservered after one of our servers politely asked if we were ok to forge on because she had more things lined up for us. I found the infamous "Coffee and Doughnuts" to be the most memorable of the lot. The doughnuts were light, warm and dusted with cinnamon and sugar and the cappuccino semifreddo was a delicious accompaniment.

Coffee and Doughnuts

Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate and "Candies"

The experience of being in Per Se was nothing short of wonderful and without a doubt, Per Se lives up to its 3 stars reputation. While it might not have been the most mindblowing from a culinary perspective during my trip, I reckon it is well worth the visit if you're looking for one royal experience or if like me, find it way too difficult to get a table at The French Laundry.

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