Per Se, New York

It’s only been rated 6th best restaurant in the world this year, and spent the last 8 years on the list of 50 Best Restaurants, been given higher ratings than any other restaurant in North America (with maybe the exception of its sister in California) and I could go on and on, but the truth is that Thomas Keller’s Per Se, aside from its glorification, is also one of the most over-hyped restaurants in the world – one that keeps pushing one’s expectations higher and higher until they could possibly go no further, a very serious contention for disappointment and despair. Having sampled the fare of French Laundry in its London avatar, I wondered just what Per Se might have up its sleeve…

From the moment one enters the restaurant, there is a sense of awe that slowly spreads through one’s mind – staring out at the beautiful Columbus Circle and Central Park, this is definitely a restaurant better seen at night, with its gentle colours and tasteful decor putting one at ease rather than nervous as a lot of French restaurants of this calibre are wont to do. To add to that, the service too, on all levels is gentle, friendly and one doesn’t feel awkward about laughing loud! No sooner had the waiter put menus before us, did he quickly snap them back up, as having caught wind of my conversation about knowing Per Se alumni and my background as a chef, he offered to do a bespoke menu, to which we gladly relented.

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Gougeres
Salmon cornets
Sunchoke veloute

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Starting with the French Laundry classics of gougeres and smoked salmon cornets, we moved on to the first course of Chilled sunchoke veloute, hazelnut panna cotta, sour cherries and buttermilk granite. Before they pour the veloute into your bowl, there is a pretty display of the other components that remind one of a summer garden. With the addition of the veloute, one gets distinct flavours of sweet, sour, creamy, fruity…a refreshing and gentle start to the meal.

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Oysters and Pearls
Kampachi
Egg custard

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Continuing with another FL classic, Oysters and Pearls: Sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar  (glorious!), a plate of Nori Crusted Australian Kampachi, fennel bulb, sweet peppers, nicoise olives shifts the paradigm a 180 degrees from the rich and creamy oysters to a light, clean and refreshing arena.

Then swinging the meal back to a rich and intense dish is another FL classic, White truffle oil infused custard, ragout of black winter truffles, full of earthy goodness and dainty enough to keep the richness from becoming saturating.

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Pimenton Royale
Mackerel
Lobster

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The see-saw of palate balancing continued with a light and colourful Pimenton Royale, charred eggplant, sungold tomatoes that also had avocado puree and beetroot crisps – this is a dish that I wished I had eaten with my hands!

Pave of spanish mackerel, cornbread panade, jingle bell peppers, braised globe artichoke and salsa verde bounced us back to the realm of intense earthy flavours and a creamy cornbread doing full justice to the mackerel’s strong personality and an intense salsa verde puree rounding up the flavours, binding them to the gentleness of the artichokes with panache!


Next for A was butter poached Nova Scotia lobster wrapped in applewood bacon, green almonds, pickled ramps, cauliflower cream, petite parsley and brown butter gastrique which I’m told was ‘eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-the-head kind of gorgeousness!’

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Striped bass
Quail
Lamb

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And instead of the lobster, I was presented with Crispy skin fillet of striped bass, caramelised hearts of romaine, san marzano tomato marmalade which I can only hope was what the lobster aspired to taste like in terms of heartiness and happiness.

Onto the meats we then were acquainted with Diamond H ranch quail en crepinette, red radishes, frisee, foie gras-madeira emulsion – what looked like a giant leg of quail was actually quail breast and leg bound together by crepinette and stuffed with the foie-gras and madeira emulsion that oozed out as one dug into it. Neatly balanced by the bitter frisee and radish.

Excitement of excitements! Elysian fields farm’s “Selle d’agneau”, petit sale, Oregon morels, English peas, sweet carrots, “Paloise mousseline”. Keeping true to the name of its farm, this was really was a dish from Elysium, with a bit of braised shoulder, yellow pea shoots and a nippy little paloise (hollandaise with mint). I actually think I used my fingers to wipe the plate clean!

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Cheese
Raspberry and oats
Marjolaine

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Isle of Mull cheddar, steamed medjool date pudding, white celery glaze, Pearson’s farm pecans and whole grain mustard as a cheese course is ridiculous! Ridiculous because it’s so perfect, so neat, so….. well, you get the point!

A refreshing take on root beer by way of Raspberry and oats, granite creme de cassis, toasted oat crumble, raspberry soda and greek yoghurt panna cotta is just what one needs to clear away the last 14 courses in preparation for the dessert.

Gateau marjolaine de Fernand Point: I did a double take when this tray was brought to the table and an excited narration from the vaults of memory ensued: When I was working at Galvin Bistrot DeLuxe in London, there was an article being written about Marco Pierre White’s favourite classical French dishes, and 2 dishes were to be prepared and photographed at Bistrot DeLuxe (one being chicken stuffed with truffles cooked in pigs bladder) and I got the instructions to prepare this very dish. After a couple of days working on the dish and getting it to what I could hope was an intended result, we were satisfied of the outcome and it was photographed and written up. Hence, my excitement to see the very same dessert once again!

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Marjolaine
Choccies
More nibbles

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The Gateau Marjolaine is chocolate, praline and vanilla butter cream layered with a nut meringue – extremely rich, best in small doses, as this was!

And then they bring out the box of chocolates! Groan! All of them different flavours – I tried, I really, really did, but couldn’t do it all… but I did chomp on smoked cinnamon and black cardamom along with a few others that my brain could not store.

And then they brought out MORE petit-fours. A stack of chocolate fudge, macaroons and chocolate truffles…not fair! not fair! I wish I had a little compartment in my tummy for storage purposes.

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Passion fruit truffle
Cappuccino
Doughnuts

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Surely you didn’t think it was going to end there? Passion fruit sorbet encased in white chocolate, espresso semi-freddo with milk cappuccino and doughnuts! (Homer Simpson popped up in my head…”doh…nuts…mmmmm doughnuts!)

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Little treats

Yes. This is what they do to you. They give you a little cloth bag of treats to have in the morning! Caramels, chocolates, noughats….all little bursts of joy and happiness.

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And with that, the meal came to a glorious end. I have to say in spite of all the food and feeling stuffed we were still able to go out and walk, drink and stay up with enough energy to last into the wee hours of the morning! Per Se, Per Se, I guess all that remains for one to say, is thank you, for leading us astray! As for expectations, they were smashed to smithereens and we were catapulted into another dimension!

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Overall experience: 10

Food: 10

Recommend you go: 10

Website
Per Se on Urbanspoon

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