Sunday, June 01, 2008

Per Se - New York
A: Hey HH, I'm in New York this weekend, and I know this is pretty last minute, but would you like to have lunch at per se?
hh: Hey A! Wow, I'd love to, but I might have to go into the office today. What time is the reservation? Is this for real? I'd been working 90+ hours, are my wits failing me?
A: 1:15. I'm leaving New York in the afternoon, and they just called me about a table opening up. If I don't find someone to go, they will charge me $150 for a no-show.
hh: Hm, I really don't think I can go, but I'll ask around for you to see if anyone's free. I'll call you back.

This could either be the most unexpected best day ever or the most wasted opportunity of my life. What happens if I get called into the office mid-lunch? I definitely need to go in today, it's more a matter of when I'd be getting the call. And I have to get coffee with someone before that. Crap, I really can't go, I need to find someone.

hh: Hey, do you want to go to per se?
J: When?
hh: 1:15
J: Man, I just got out of the shower, I'd have to leave right now. I don't have enough time...

Walk around, check email compulsively, lie in bed, get out of bed, stare blankly into space.

I have no idea what I'm doing. All I want to do is sleep. But I also want per se. Who in his/her right mind can say no to per se? A masochist, I suppose. I'll give A a call.

hh: Hey A, I think I'll go.
A: Great! I'll see you at per se at 1:15.

Heels, dress pants, belt, blouse: a versatile outfit so I can head straight to work afterward in a gluttonous stupor

Cab to Columbus Circle

Stuck in the 50s going cross town

Still stuck. Loathing traffic, civilization

Arrive at Columbus Circle, hustle past naked lady statue (is this meant to be a replica of the Woman from Willendorf or what?) up the escalators. I sure can go for a Bouchon Bakery double espresso


Arrive at the blue double doors of per se, futilely pull on knob, internally berate myself for being late and an idiot

Walk into the glass door, lo and behold it slides open. Hilarity doesn't ensue, berate myself more for being an idiot. Hostess arrives, asks if I'm ok, shows me to the table

Finally seated. Damn, this place is corporate. A tells me that she ordered the chef's tasting menu for me since she couldn't stay long

1:30 - 3:00
I had no idea what was on the menu for the day. Everything arrived as a surprise, which was reminiscent of the Alinea experience.

Gougere with Gruyere puffs

A Thomas Keller classic, can't get enough of these cheesy morsels

Salmon tartare and red onion creme fraiche on crispy sesame tuile cornet

Another TK classic, I really cannot get enough of these. I could eat a hundred of these and still find an innovative way to eat them whilst maintaining structural integrity.

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar

Had this previously when Jonathan Benno had cooked for a guest chef event, but it wasn't very memorable. This time, I enjoyed the slight bitterness of the cauliflower with the salty caviar, the thick custard texture of the former with the creamy beads of the latter.

Fluke sashimi with grapefruit and citrus jus (?)

This didn't happen to be on the menu, but it was a slice of what I thought to be fluke, with a slice of sweet grapefruit. I feel like I've had this somewhere before. Does anyone know what those black things are?

Truffle custard with chip

Never listed on the menu, but I wanted it so I asked. Truffles are my favorite things in the world; its flavor encased in an ethereal custard inside a hollowed egg is no exception.

Salad of marinated abalone mushroom
Slow Baked Heirloom Beets, Grilled Young Red Onion and Garden Mache, with Pickled Shallot Gastrique

The sweetest, juiciest slice of mushroom ever, sans the brininess of an abalone, its non-distant relative. The beet tasted pretty much like a normal beet to me; I did, however, enjoy the puck-like shape of said beet.

Crispy skin fillet of Barramundi
Sauteed Italian Eggplant, Candied Marcona Almonds, Golden Sultanas, Spanish Capers and Petite Mint with Madras Curry "Aigre-Doux" [sweet and sour]

I am a fan of delicate fishes, and the barramundi is one of them. Flaky, tender, and perfectly cooked, with a crispy skin indeed. The flavors were amazing: sweet and sour as per the description. Sour from the dried sultanas, sweet from the almonds, primarily sweet from the curry, and sour from the vinegar. Complex but integrated flavors.

Scottish langoustines "a la plancha"
Handmade Farfalle, Globe Artichokes, Nicoise Olive "Petals", Grilled Red Endive and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Emulsion

This was a let down after the delicious fish. I'm not a fan of lobster nor langoustine in general; I just think the meat is tougher without much added flavor. The whole plate tasted of the ingredients, and not much more. The langoustine was very much unflavored, the farfalle were beautiful to look at but tasted of nothing, and the olives were subdued. I suppose this worked as a palate cleanser. Not good.

All day braised Berkshire pork belly
Compressed Watermelon, Young Fennel, Roquette Leaves and Pork Jus

The pork belly was well roasted (I know it says braised, but whatever). Crispy skin, with moist strands of pork, sandwiched in layers of fat. Yes, it's better than Eleven Madison Parks, if you must know. Furthermore, who would've thought watermelon could go with pork belly? Cool + smoky, sweet + savory works quite well here.

Rib-eye of Marcho Farm's nature fed veal
"Fricassee de Ris et Cervelle de Veau," Herb-Scented Spatzle, Watercress Leaves and Tokyo
Turnips with Brown Butter Veal Sauce

The cut of veal was huge. It's not as juicy nor tender as expected. It becomes more acceptable if I soak the pieces in the veal sauce. The sweetbreads are peppery and tender though, and the Tokyo turnips are some of the best I've ever had. Ok.

Petite Ardi-Gasna
Salad of Summer Squash, "Pain de Champagne," Cherry Tomatoes and Opal Basil with Saporoso Vinegar Reduction

The epitome of a great summer dish. The freshest, crispest squash, along with a sweet cherry tomato that burst in my mouth, tossed with a rich vinegar reduction. Finally, topped with slices of ardi-gasna; the ewe who provided the milk for this fine cheese was ever delightful. Why, thank ewe!

Hibiscus sorbet
Mango Coulis, Dragon Fruit, and Shaved Coconut

The hibiscus sorbet was cleansing, fresh and tantalizing; it goes down as my other favorite sorbet next to the satsuma sorbet from the French Laundry. I cared little for the dragon fruit, but the shaved coconut turned out to be a great accent for the hibiscus.

"Tentation au Chocolat, Noisette et Lait"
Milk Chocolate "Cremeaux" and Hazelnut "Streusel" with Condensed Milk Sorbet, "Pain au Lait" Sauce and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts

Yet another chocolate dessert that I can proclaim to be "good but not ground-breaking." The chocolate is rich and dark, hazelnuts are great, etc. etc. etc.

"Degustation de Fruits d'ete"
Tristar Strawberry "Consomme" and "Frangipane Croustillante" with Lemon Curd Ice Cream

Rather pedestrian for per se, but good. Fresh berries, ice cream which tastes of a very tart lemon sherbet, and a well-reduced strawberry consomme.


I'm too full to eat, but I choose the earl grey and green tea truffles from the tray. I order a pot of monkey-picked tea. I love monkey-picked tea, because what other tea has gone through a monkey's strict standards of tea selection?

We receive a bag of macaroons and another box of chocolates to go.

What a nice bathroom!

Make sure not to crash into glass

Car ride back to work. What a beautiful day!

Snack on macaroons in office. Did today really happen? I slowly came to discover, yes it did (geez, what a sobering reality indeed). And Per Se was good, but disappointing compared to its better and more charming cousin. The signature Keller appetizers were good, but nearly all the main courses had a major flaw. My impression was that the kitchen had some major consistency issues, but one shouldn't have to put up with that at a restaurant like Per Se.

$275 - Tasting menu

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
(212) 823-9335

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