Per Se, NYC 10/31/09

El and I went to lunch at Per Se today. A fine dining establishment we have wanted to try at since it opened a couple of years ago. We had noon reservations, and with some public transportation bumps along the way we made it within minutes of our seating time.

We both ordered a before lunch cocktail.

I opt for a gin martini straight up while El goes for a cosmopolitan. When they were served, we are reminded of one of the things that is a little bit different about Thomas Keller's places than others...the precision service. First the chilled glasses are delivered by one server. I sit perusing the menu with an empty glass with three skewered olives dangling precariously from the rim. A few seconds later, two different servers swoop in, one from each side and in perfect sync, swirl their single serving cocktail shakers, uncap, and pour at the same pace to finish at exactly the same time and are then gone in a flash. The cocktails are very good, and I remark that my martini making skills must have improved because these taste like the ones I make at home! I feel good about that.

As always, we choose tap water over any other options. I ask for a side of lemon wedges and sliced cucumbers for the water and they both arrive almost immediately.

We have now had a few minutes to consider our choices for lunch. The menu consists of three different tasting menus: one, a 9 course tasting menu of vegetables, next, a 5 course chef's tasting menu and lastly, a ($275 each!) grand tasting menu, and if you select the risotto there is a $150 supplement on top of that for the shaved white truffles! I ask our server if Thomas Keller himself is in the kitchen today, to which the answer is, "not today". This is not a problem, but I am reluctant to spend that kind of money on a lunch that Keller himself isn't sending out. We both choose the more reasonably priced 5 course lunch at a modest ($175 each) in it's place. Let the meal begin...

--amuse-bouche #1

Gruyère stuffed puff pastry. Warm, and perfectly light and gooey. Just a bite.

--amuse-bouche #2

Black sesame seed tuile cone with a scoop of marinated Scottish salmon on top and a cone full of red onion crème fraîche


This dish was a custard of sea urchin roe the consistency pudding with small balls of Granny Smith apple and a couple of strands of watercress leaves then finished with miso butter. This preparation definitely had a unique, though not bad, flavor. I have never had sea urchin roe and have heard on many occasions about its distinct flavor. I have also heard that about half of the eaters love it and half hate it. I didn't have a strong opinion either way, although the briny flavor that was not worrisome in a restaurant of this caliber might not have worked for me in a second rate sushi bar. I am inclined to try it again, but feel this "royale" may be the pinnacle of my sea urchin experience.

--compliments of the chef: SASHIMI OF ATLANTIC FLUKE

We weren't sure what to expect when a server dropped off a pair of silver handled chopsticks at our place setting. What arrived was this single bite of raw fish that was served with puffed Koshihikari rice crisp, kombu (seaweed) salad and a togarashi "aigre-doux" (which I am learning is the hot and sour liquid that was drizzled over the bite). This was as perfect as any bite of fluke I have ever had. Even El liked it a lot. And we know her and fish don't get along very well!

--we are both served a Parker House roll. It was very light and buttery, as it should be. We are also served two different butters. One is unsalted sweet cream butter on the left, while on the right is Vermont butter with house-added sea salt.


The plate is served with the shaved fish on the left. The rest of the plate has ginger-scented broccoli puree, Asian pear and cilantro shoots with dashi (edible kelp) gelee. The dish is finished with some preserved matsutake mushrooms sprinkled on top. Although, not quite as expensive as truffles, matsutake mushrooms can sell for more than $1000 a pound. They were a nice addition to this dish, but did not have the distinct flavor of truffles.

Course #2 (Eleonora): "CERVELAS DE LYON EN BRIOCHE"

This was a seared sausage patty of venison and pork mixture served inside a hollowed out slice of toasted brioche. The accompaniments were celery branch "batons", celery root "remoulade" and Sicilian pistachios with French prune puree.

--bread basket comes around and I choose the mini baguette and a pretzel from the selection of four. The salted pretzel with the unsalted butter was fantastic.


This dish was a single, perfectly seared diver scallop served underneath a small crust of stacked almond chips. The plate also has melted Belgian endive and greenmarket radishes and finished with a brown butter "gastrique". The scallop was big enough to cut for a few bites. It was really great.

Before the next course is served, it is presented by one of the staff so we can see the whole plate for two before it is carved up into the two separate portions.


This was basically a trio of veal. The served plate had five selections of veal and three selections of vegetables. The five veals consisted of three perfectly cooked veal loin separated on the left by a preparation of lightly breaded and fried sweetbreads and on the right by a strip of a terrine made up of various parts of the veal. I don't know that I need to know what specific part of the veal were used in the terrine because it was quite tasty. The plate also had creamed turnip greens, which evidently cannot be made to taste good no matter how much butter you cook them in! The caramelized salsify and kohlrabi with whole grain mustard sauce were both quite enjoyable. This was the first time I have ever eaten sweetbreads, and as expected, there was nothing wrong with this one. If it's going to be good anywhere, it should be good here! (tell that to the turnip greens!)

At some point during the meal, I notice a gentleman seated near us receiving a pour of a drink with a considerable amount of foam that I do not expect from any kind of wine. I ask our server what he is drinking and it turns out that Thomas Keller had commissioned a beer to be crafted specifically for his places by the Brooklyn Brewery. I appear intrigued and the server offers to pour me a sample. It is called Blue Apron and is a bottle fermented Belgian-style Ale. It was very nice.

El orders a cappuccino and I get my standard, American coffee with extra cream.

Course #5: "BANOFFEE"

The main dessert course is a slice of warm chocolate (devil's food) cake, with a layer of chocolate "marquise" and malt mousse. A spoon scoop of banana crème fraîche sherbet tops the cake. There is a single slice of banana with caramelized sugar leaning to the side and a single, carefully placed caramelized sugar strip candy.

This should be the end of the meal, but the staff wound up bringing out some extras.

--compliments of the chef dessert #1: "COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS"

a single portion of Keller's signature "Coffee and Doughnuts" dessert. A very light cinnamon flavored doughnut with a cup of coffee semi-fredo on the side. Separately, very nice, but dunking a piece of the pastry into the semi-fredo was just fabulous.

--compliments of the chef dessert #2:

I am delivered a cup of yogurt curd pannacotta with guava jam while El is served a mini vanilla bean creme brulee (her favorite). Mine is very nice and El enjoys hers.

--Next up is a selection of chocolates.

A server comes around with a silver plate of what appear to be Russell Stover chocolates, but a little higher quality. He explains all of the choices, but there are just too many to remember. El selects hers which includes a white chocolate with fig filling and one with a pistachio and hazelnut filling. I don't know what to get, so I ask for 3 random picks. I wind up with a hazelnut, raspberry, and a balsamic vinegar chocolate. I wasn't sure about the balsamic one, but I look bad if I ask for the server to pick them and then turn them away. I tried that one first. It was pretty good. You never would have known it was vinegar until the end when the acidic properties of the vinegar stick in your throat like they do when eating it on a salad.

--a bowl of cocoa dusted hazel nuts is set on the table for us to nibble on

--selection of chocolate truffles and other housemade candies.

The bottom portion of the serving container has cocoa dusted chocolate truffles, coconut truffles rolled in toasted coconut, and milk chocolate covered salted chocolate truffles. The coconut tasted like bite size coconut custard pies. I devoured them. The next shelf had pistachio nougat candies which were pretty good. The top tier than had housemade caramels. Again, pretty good, but I was stuck on the coconut truffles.

--as they present the check, they deliver a little bowl of spun sugar candies infused with different flavors.

After we pay and get ready to leave, the server offers to give us a tour of the kitchen where we got to go in a meet the chef and see all of the preparers in action.

The kitchen is complete with a screen with a live feed of the kitchen of the French Laundry in Yountville, CA. I guess so Thomas Keller can keep an eye on his empire?

We are then escorted through the wine cellar and dropped off at the exit where they have waiting for us a copy of our menu to take with us. This was a really nice gesture as they noticed we were taking notes about our meal. We exit with smiles on our faces feeling more than a little satisfied.

The meal was great, there is no denying that. I mean Thomas Keller is regarded as one of the great chefs of our time and Per Se has his name all over it. Even though he is 3000 miles away today, the food tastes as if he was 50 feet away. As we sat at our table on the 4th floor of the Time Warner building overlooking Central Park West, I can't help but wonder how much of our bill goes towards the location and decor of such a place and how much to the actual meal. I ponder for a moment if this meal were to be served in Albany, how much would it cost? Then, seconds later, I snap back into reality and figure that the quality and freshness of the ingredients used today in this meal would likely not be available in Albany and would therefore have to be brought in, substantially adding to the cost of the meal. Was it worth $175 each (plus $20 for each cocktail)? Let's just say, I would love to get this same meal without the park view.