Per Se

Dining at The French Laundry has always been a dream of mine.  I know that sounds so cheesy and melodramatic, but these are the fantasies of food people.   Unfortunately, reservations are DAMN hard to nab.  So even though I live a heck of a lot closer to The French Laundry, I had to trek cross country to have my first Thomas Keller dining experience at Per Se.

We had amazing seats that looked out onto Columbus Circle and the southern edge of Central Park.  Too bad it was on the gloomy side.  Don’t be fooled, gray does NOT equal cold like it does in Portland.  It was hot and muggy, but still a great view.  I’m a city girl, and this is the kinda view that takes my breath away.  I think The Pouter and her 2 fellow New Yorker foodie friends were equally impressed.

 



Amuse Bouche gruyère gougères

Our meal started off with the famous gougères, which I have seen many times in pictures.  They were A LOT smaller than I had imagined or even had before at other restaurants.  Usually, they have been the size of a cream puff, but these were the size of a large marble.  They were still pretty darn good, but I wanted more!




Amuse Bouche salmon coronets

Deliciously smoked salmon served like a mini ice cream cone.  Cute and tastey.




Oysters & Pearls sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters, sterling white sturgeon caviar

I’ve read about this dish so much and it REALLY lived up to the hype.  It was both delicate and daring.  The juxtaposition of salty caviar with the smooth creamy sabayon went smashingly well with the perfect little oysters.

 








Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm Bavarois santa rosa plums, toasted cashews, sorrel, vadouvan curry

I’m bummed because I meant to order the foie at an added supplement cost, but messed up and got this vegetarian dish instead.  You know me and vegetarian anything are like oil and water.  However, this dish was still quite delicious.  It encompassed many different textures and flavor profiles, smooth, crunch, sweet, salty, sour.  It was elegant.

Bread & Butter
If the bread weren’t already buttery and luscious enough, the butter adds even more delicious creamy fatness.  One butter was salted and one was a sweet creamy one.  Seriously they were both just yummy.  These days I find myself using the bread as a mode of delivery for butter.
 
 
 
 
 
Slow Poached Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras granny smith apples, french breakfast radishes, sicilian pistachios, amaranth, balsamic pate de fruits I had a couple nibbles of this dish and it was amazing!  I love foie, and this was no exception.  It was wonderfully smooth and packed quite the umami punch.  It was served with this flakey croissant like bread and a wide selection of salts to enhance the foie, which really was unnecessary because it was already tasty on its own.

 







Fillet de Rouget Barbet grilled shishito peppers, lemon condiment, cornichon jus, basil dressing

The fish was one of my favorite proteins of the night.  It had a crispy exterior with moist juicy meat.  The peppers and basil added some bright vegetal and herbaceous notes that was rounded out by the creaminess of whatever the orange colored sauce was.





Confit of Georges Bank Sea Scallop chanterelle mushrooms panade, corn kernels, brocolli veloute, seasoned foie gras pastrami

I love scallops, but this was a bit of a disappointing preparation.  I’m used to seared scallops but I feel like these were sous vide or something like that because they had absolutely no color or caramelization. They appeared a bit grey and translucent, which was a bit off putting.  They shaved a foie gras pastrami over the dish at tableside.  I can’t say I really noticed much added flavor.  Another minor complaint I had was that I wished the food was hotter.  Things just tasted warm.

 





Four Story Hill Farm’s Poussin ragout de lentilles du puy, celery root, piedmont hazelnuts

I almost NEVER order chicken when I dine out.  This was an excellent juicy chicken breast in a light creamy sauce.  The hazelnuts added great texture and brunch.  Overall, the flavor profiles were quite simple.





Elysian Fields Farm’s Selle D’Agneau merguez, heirloom tomatoes, moroccan black olives, romaine lettuce, tabouleh

The stomach real estate starts to get pretty tight when the red meat dishes roll around.  There was a bit of a mediterranean/middle eastern flare to this dish.  I gobbled up the tabouleh because it was certainly easier to find room for that than more protein.





Herb Roasted Miyazaki Japanese Wagyu pommes puree, glazed carrots, arrowleaf spinach, sauce bordelaise

The beef was definitely fatty and unctuous, and more than I could handle.  It was definitely a refined “meat and potatoes” dish.





Camembert Le Pommier black mission figs, sunchokes, aji dulce peppers, arugula, slivered almonds

I thought the dish was a nice transition to desserts, but overall my palate is not skilled at appreciating a fine cheese when it crosses my path.







Assortment of Desserts fruit, ice cream, chocolate, candies

This was a refreshing palate cleanser of melons and fruit.

 

Milk Ice Cream
It’s sad that this was the worst picture of the lot because this was probably the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.  It’s such a strange flavor name, “milk” since ice cream is indeed made of milk.  Imagine the flavor of milk after its been heated to the point of slow rolling boil.  It has a rich dairy flavor, which might not sound that delicious, but trust me, we were all going gaga for this ice cream.  I seriously wanted to lick the bowl.

I can’t remember this dish that well.  It was some sort of coffee mousse with a chocolate wafer.

Cinnamon-Sugared Doughnuts

Who doesn’t like a good donut hole?  These were doughy, sugary, and warm.

Cappuccino “Semifreddo”
A lovely accompaniment to the donuts, a sort of play on coffee and donuts.

Selection of Chocolates

The selection of chocolates was insane with such a diversity of flavors, miso, hazelnut, tamarind, etc.  Smooth, sophisticated, never too sweet.  Well done.

 

 

Truffles
I was definitely exploding by this point and barely touched anything here on out, but it was all high quality for sure.
 
 
Macarons
 

 

Every dish at Per Se was solid, refined, perfectly executed.  I would not use the words, bold, interesting, or spectacular.  Perhaps my expectations were a bit high, since the name Thomas Keller makes gigantic waves in the culinary world and places like Per Se and The French Laundry have the reputation of being the benchmark for remarkable fine dining.  Don’t get me wrong, the service and ambiance were top notch and the food never faltered (except on temperature).  I definitely had a special dining experience here, but these days I’m looking for a fine dining experience that is a bit more avant garde rather than traditional.  The dining experience at Per Se will stand the test of time, hands down, but it definitely gets overshadowed by places like Alinea and Eleven Madison Park that push the limits of fine dining into the realm of show and artistry.  If you go to NYC, you definitely need to go to Per Se because it’s just an institution that needs to be checked off your bucket list.  I am glad I got to try this place, but I may not go back for some time.  I am still interested in The French Laundry, but not as hell bent on going anymore.


Special thanks to the The Pouter for making Per Se happen and for lending me her pictures.  I’m sure you can tell when the transition from SLR quality pictures to point-and-shoot occurs.  As passionate about food blogging as I am, I don’t think I could bring myself to lug around a giant camera to document my experiences.  Buuuut, I won’t deny any of my dining companions that pleasure.

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