With Dave’s 30th birthday fast approaching I wanted to give him something special. He has everything he wants, every technological gadget and every running and golf accessory known to man. With the obvious way to his heart being through his stomach, I decided I was going to take him to Per Se, one of New York’s finest three Michelin Star restaurants.
Easier said than done! Being the super organized soul that I am, I missed the one calendar month opening of the reservations. By three weeks. So I added myself to the waiting list and hoped for the best that something would open up by the weekend. As luck would have it, my phone rang on Thursday afternoon offering me a Saturday lunch spot. Needless to say I jumped at the chance and Dave was equally as delighted when I presented him with his foodie gift.
We made our way to the 4th floor of the Time Warner Building for our 11:30 a.m. reservation. A nice change from the usual Saturday morning trip to Whole Foods in the basement I have to admit!
There was the blue door of Per Se, modeled after the blue door at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in California. Apparently in the New York space Keller wanted to create a buffer between the shopping mall and his restaurant, and prevent the tranquility of Per Se being disrupted by inquisitive shoppers. The blue door doesn’t actually open, there are automatic glass doors on either side of the blue door. Luckily my husband is an encyclopedia of relevant facts such as this and I was able to maintain my too cool for school persona!
Per Se is open plan, with a lower level wrapping around the glass front and a mezzanine level with smaller tables and comfortable leather seats. All the tables have a view overlooking Central Park with the best views from the window tables but these were mostly occupied by groups of four or more. The views are still good from the mezzanine.
The interior, by hotel/restaurant designer Adam Tihany, is elegant and allows for a relaxed atmosphere. There are 16 tables in the dining room with plenty of space between tables so you’re not overhearing conversations, and it’s comfortable – very important for the three or four hour period spent enjoying the meal. If you’re going with friends, make sure they’re good friends with a lot to talk about! On the day we had lunch at Per Se there was a mixed crowd of couples, families, business lunches and a group of ladies in the private dining room (maybe one day…).
We were greeted by a hostess who took our coats and showed us to our table on the mezzanine level. My favourite touch, a small side table for my hand bag. This should be a standard provision in life, my lovely bags will never be forced to rest on the floor again.
We opted for the five course tasting menu with one vegetable tasting menu and one Chef’s tasting menu. The menus were personalized with the date and a Happy Birthday message, which was a lovely touch. Some courses allowed a choice between two dishes but they all sounded divine so we left it to the chef to choose.
I went for the vegetarian option as I don’t eat a massive amount of meat and, when I saw the vegetable tasting menu was an alternative option, I was excited to see what a restaurant of this caliber could offer in terms of the vegetarian experience. In countless restaurants I’m faced with the choice of a risotto or a pasta as a vegetarian option, it gets old quickly. I was ready for Per Se to blow my mind!
At this point, my husband was presented with a wine pairing that our friends had arranged as a surprise birthday gift. The waiter politely inquired if he would like to use the whole gift to pair wines with his own meal or if he would like to share it with me. He did actually hesitate for a moment too long for my liking but in the end he decided to share the love and let me come in on his wine pairing gift. Good decision on his part.
We were given a copy of the tasting menu at the end of our meal, I’m not entirely convinced that all our dishes reflect the menus exactly to the menu but I’ve taken a shot at matching them up. It’s probably because I asked for no nuts and my husband said ‘surprise me’!
Alongside the five course tasting menu, the meal started with two amuse-bouche dishes, which are best described as bite sized hors d’oeuvres. These were accompanied by champagne.
Amuse-Bouche 1: Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
Flavourful, fluffy pastry balls filled with warm gruyere cheese served in a beautiful handleless spoon.
Amuse-Bouche 2: Cornets
The infamous cornets! We received one salmon cornet and one lemon flavour. The salmon, a tartare in a tuile cone filled with creme fraiche, was outstanding. I feel a little robbed that I didn’t get to eat a whole one as obviously the lemon was the vegetarian option. Luckily my husband let me have a taste of his. I would totally have requested a salmon cornet if I’d known. I’m not even a proper vegetarian, I just sometimes prefer vegetables!
I love the story behind the creation of the cornets. In his memoir, Life on the Line, Grant Achatz of the Chicago restaurant Alinea, who spent four years working under Keller in French Laundry, recounted how Keller came up with the concept of the cornets. Keller was leaving New York to move to LA and his friends took him to Baskin-Robbins after a Chinese meal. When he was presented with his ice cream cone, he came up with the idea of the cornet. He described the moment as ‘had to be sad to see it’. In his French Laundry cookbook, Keller wrote ‘I decided that everyone who eats at the restaurant should begin the meal with this cornet. People always smile when they get it. It makes them happy.’
We were most definitely smiling.
First Course: Citrus Cured Australian Kampachi and Haas Avocado Sorbet
The chef’s tasting menu began with the Kampachi. It was very tender, the tendon had the consistency of stewed onion and, with the vinaigrette, it was simply delicious.
The vegetable tasting dish was listed on the menu as a sorbet, but the consistency was more like a soup. Not one of my favourite dishes of the day but it was still interesting and I finished the bowl.
Bread and Butter
A special mention has to be given to the butter accompanying a selection of bread rolls. There are two types, a salted and an unsalted, and it was the best butter I’ve ever tasted and probably the best looking! Obviously it’s not advisable to fill up on bread rolls and butter in the middle of a five course tasting menu. Best just to eat the butter straight off the knife when no one is looking!
Second Course: Country Fried Snake River Farm Pork Jowls and Pearl Barley and Chanterelle Mushroom Potage
According to my husband, it was all about the cherry which he described as a ‘taste explosion’. The pork was really good but apparently it was all about the cherry!
The pearl barley and chanterelle mushroom potage was a highlight for me:
Third Course: Hand Harvested Maine Sea Scallop and Shirred Squire Hill Farm’s Hen Egg
The scallop was cooked to perfection and complemented with the sauce and almonds, easily the best scallop I’ve had the pleasure of eating.
Another excellent vegetable dish, the flavours in the Shirred Squire Hill Farm’s Hen Egg were exquisite.
Where to stay in New York, the hotels we love:
We’ve stayed all over the city during our trips to NYC. Here’s some of our faves:
- the Courtyard Soho for its downtown location and price
- SIXTY Lower East Side when we want explore downtown with a bonus rooftop pool!
- Pod 51 is an awesome and funky option close to the Rockefeller Center
- Hi NYC on the Upper West Side is a great hostel option.
- the Knickerbocker and the Greenwich for unrivalled luxury
- the Renaissance Times Square for its Times Square location
- We use booking.com as it usually has awesome prices and flash sales on NYC hotels!
Complements of the House: Truffle Custard
A truffle custard in a cut off egg shell with a thin potato chip which was our least favourite dish. Maybe my palette is not sophisticated enough for such greatness and I’m certain I’m in the minority of the Per Se restaurant diners, but I’d rather not have tried this dish. It required copious amounts of wine to remove the after taste.
Fourth Course: Herb roasted Elysian Fields Farm’s Cote D’Agneau and Greenmarket Bean Cassoulet
I was expecting a lamb course on the menu and what a course it was.
The mini-skewer was a 3 way take on pork. The top piece was like a slow roasted, bursting with bacon goodness, piece of pork. The centre was a breaded pork piece and, the third, was similar to a bacon bite, only infinitely better. These were the highlight of the dish. Forgive me as I’m easily distracted by bacon!
The lamb was cooked perfectly and the pickled quail egg was the icing on the cake. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but what do I know, it was absolutely exquisite with the lamb and kale.
I was on a roll, another great vegetable option. The parmesan wafers were a highlight.
Course 5: Chocolate Torte and Apricot Rice Pudding
My husband, not really a chocolate man, had nothing insightful to add on this. Which means it was up to scratch. I concur.
I’m a chocolate girl through and through. And I was given apricot. Sad face.
Or petit fours as I know them!
First up was a tray of exquisite chocolates presented for our selection at the table with the waiter describing each chocolate. I demonstrated some self restraint and chose two of my favourites. My husband chose six. I’m suprised they didn’t just leave him the box.
The chocolates were followed by another signature Per Se dish, the coffee and donuts.
A cream coffee semi-fredo served with warm, sugared, donuts. At this point I’d had so much food I could only taste a little of the later dishes. Oh how I wish I could have returned the next day for a dessert session.
The coffee and donuts were accompanied by popcorn ice cream. Delicious.
As we finished up we were presented with our goody bags, one containing mini chocolate brownies and the other had some more chocolates. They were obviously thinking they should have just given him the box too!
Per Se was an amazing experience. Four hours of total indulgence on amazing food and amazing champagne and wine. I’m sure its no coincidence Central Park is across the street, nearly all the 843 acres are required to walk off the food! The presentation, textures and flavours were exquisite, I’m sure it will remain as one of my best meals for a very long time.
I’m still undecided if it blew my mind, it’s definitely up there, and it certainly did for my husband. It strikes me that some of the vegetable dishes were off the scale but then there were one or two that were less so. Still, it’s easily the best vegetable tasting menu I’ve experienced and I wouldn’t hesitate to return for a special occasion.
For full disclosure, we did have to request fresh champagne glasses as one had a lipstick stain. For some reason I found it easy to overlook this but let’s face it, it’s a faux pas even at a $10 happy hour. Maybe its because the whole experience is an elegant assault to the senses and our waiter was happy to brush over it and replace the offending glasses in the blink of an eye. We weren’t going to let a four hour meal get off to a bad start because of a poorly washed glass but a very poor effort all the same.
Per Se opened in 2004, when Thomas Keller, of the Californian restaurant French Laundry, decided he would return to New York and open up a restaurant in the Time Warner Center. It is one of 7 New York restaurants to hold three Michelin Stars and one of 106 in the world. In 2011, in his final column as a restaurant critic for the New York Times declared Per Se ‘the best restaurant in New York City’. And I’d hazard a guess he’d eaten out enough times to make this judgement.
Each day Per Se creates two nine course tasting menus – ‘a chef’s tasting menu and a tasting of vegetables – each a series of smaller, focused dishes that all feature distinct ingredients’.
Reservations are accepted from 10 a.m. one month to the calendar date by calling the restaurant and some tables are available on Open Table. Dinner is served 7 nights a week ($295 for nine course Chef’s tasting menu or vegetable tasting menu including service charge) and lunch is served on Friday, Saturday and Sunday ($185, $235 or $285 for a five, seven or nine course menu including service charge).
If you are totally set on dining at Per Se, reservations are highly coveted. Be ready at 10 a.m. one month to the calendar date of your preferred reservation. Be prepared to redial and hold. As far as I’m aware, Open Table is best for tables for larger parties. There’s always the waiting list if you’re flexible. They close annually for a few weeks in August for a summer break.