Our meal at per se was the final stop aboard the Thomas Keller food train (until he opens his burger joint!) On Sunday night, Chris, Joe, David, Kait, Ariel, went on a culinary journey together in the Time Warner Center. To give you some background, Chris and I have visited ad hoc, The French Laundry, and Bouchon Bakery, but hadn’t visited per se yet (we were saving it for another special occasion). Luckily, Joe moved into town and we agreed that I would set up his apartment (and Ikea furniture) in exchange for a dinner at per se. To make things more fun, I invited my brother (David), Chris, Ariel, and Kait to partake in the culinary adventure (although I didn’t make them set up furniture with me!). We were celebrating the end of the summer, Joe’s move to New York, and David’s completion of his first 100 mile bike race (which he completed half an hour before our reservation).
Occasionally, Chris and I go to the Time Warner Center to walk around or shop and we oftentimes venture up to the fourth floor to see per se’s menu for the evening and to peek in to view the dÃ©cor and smell the fresh flowers. This time, we were going in to actually eat the food, drink the wine, and take in the view of Central Park, which made me incredibly ecstatic; weeks before the actual dinner, I would send my dinner companions various articles about per se, interviews with Thomas Keller, and a video or two about the restaurant. Kait and I had never met before, but I told Ariel to warn her that she might be blind by the end of the evening because I was armed with a camera and I’m not afraid to use flash (by the end of the evening, my memory card had about 160 photographs).
Before actually getting to the photographs of food (be prepared for a chef’s tasting menu AND a vegetable tasting menu), here are some pictures of me and my dining companions (yes there are a lot of photographs of me but it’s MY blog!):
A photograph of me in front of per se:
And a photo of the famous blue doors:
Okay, let the adventure begin! We sat down at a large round table overlooking the park (all of the tables have a great view of Central Park) and met our captain (server) for the evening. Andrew, the captain, was in charge of taking care of us for the evening and suggested that we started off the night with a glass of champagne. Here is our handsome captain serving a very stern Ariel:
Following our champagne, Andrew told us about the tasting menus for the evening and almost everyone chose the chef’s tasting menu, but I wanted to spice things up and ordered the vegetable tasting. After all, wasn’t it the tasting menu that made Frank Bruni award per se 4 stars? Also, I strategically sat in between my brother and Chris and made them order different items (if there were choices on the chef’s tasting menu) so we could all share. As soon as Andrew whisked away our menus, another person brought out our salmon canapÃ©s, although this time, my canapÃ© was filled with beets (to go along with the vegetable tasting):
In Phoebe Damrosch’s book, Service Included, she writes about her failed attempt to create these canapÃ©s using miscellaneous things she found in her kitchen. The results were disastrous; you have to be careful when shaping the cones because they break easily! These babies look easy, but they are extremely delicate and difficult to create (a woman that’s going through the entire French Laundry cookbook – and Alinea cookbook – made them). I loved how playful and bright my beet canapÃ© looked and the taste was very light (there was horseradish on the bottom). I prefer the salmon canapÃ©, but the beet canapÃ©’s texture was very smooth and enjoyable:
And our Gougeres filled with gruyere:
This time, I didn’t need anyone telling me to eat the cheese puff while it’s hot because I took it right away and popped it into my mouth.
My first course was a chilled Hass avocado soup with honeydew melon and garden mint with espelette pepper mousse:
The presentation was beautiful, but I found the flavor to be quite plain. I love avocado, I love honeydew, and I love mint, but together, I didn’t think the flavors worked. David, Joe, and Chris also sampled it and they were indifferent. I think every dish at a restaurant like per se or The French Laundry is fantastic, but when you walk away from the meal, you always have your favorites; this was not one of the more memorable ones.
Chris, David, Kait, and Ariel started with the famous “Oysters and Pearls;” “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar:
I was looking forward to trying the oysters and pearls; anyone who knows a little about the restaurant or Thomas Keller probably knows about his oysters and pearls because of the interesting and fun combination of oysters and pearl tapioca. Even though it was Chris’ dish, he let me sample it first because he knew I was so excited about trying the dish. My first bite was absolutelyâ€¦.AMAZING. The dish surprised me because it was slightly cheesy (everyone at the table agreed). The oyster was delicious and the texture of the pearl tapioca and the little balls of caviar were absolutely divine. It was very flavorful and not over seasoned and I thought it was a perfect start. Joe is allergic to shellfish (something he just discovered) and they substituted the oysters and pearls for a cauliflower panna cotta with caviar (our first dish from The French Laundry).
After our first course, we were presented with four different types of bread:
The bread at per se is baked throughout the night (three times per dinner service) so you don’t have to worry about not having fresh bread. I started with the pretzel bread, which tasted exactly like a pretzel:
We also had two different types of butter to go with our bread:
On the left is the butter from Vermont that per se adds Fleur de sel to and on the right is their unsalted butter. By the end of the night, I think we went through three containers of the salted butter (hey, when you’re experiencing a restaurant like per se, you’re expected to indulge!)
My next course was the sweet carrot sorbet with licorice-scented fennel bulb with Greenmarket carrots and carrot fronds:
The sorbet was very naturally sweet and paired well with the fennel bulb. Chris and David also enjoyed the refreshing dish.
Chris’ second course was the salad of compressed summer melons with shaved fennel bulb, English cucumber ribbons and red ribbon sorrel with saporoso vinegar sorbet:
I was very excited about the compressed melons; Thomas Keller has a technique of compressing fruits (and other things) to make a very concentrated flavor. In this dish, the watermelon was a very vibrant pink (almost to the point of being red) and tasted like the sweetest watermelon I’ve ever had. The sorbet was very tangy and the fennel bulb was a nice crunchy chip.
David ordered the “peach melba,” which is a terrine of Hudson Valley moulard duck foie gras with Frog’s Hollow farm’s peaches, peach jelly, pickled red onion, cilantro shoots, “Melba toast” and puffed Carolina rice:
Foie gras is one of my favorite dishes because it’s so decadent and creamy. David was presented with three pieces of “Melba toast” – thinly sliced brioche bread, I think, and he was nice enough to share with me and Chris (even though he wanted to keep this dish to himself!) The foie was rich and velvety and the peach jelly was absolutely delightful. After David finished his three pieces of toast, Andrew brought along three more pieces so he could finish the foie.
Every table at per se has an amazing (and unobstructed) view of Central Park, so I had to take a picture (or five):
Okay back to the foodâ€¦.My next dish was the salad of abalone mushroom with new crop potatoes; violet artichokes, and mustard seed vinaigrette:
The abalone mushroom was one of my favorite dishes of the night; the texture of the mushrooms was unbelievably meaty and the mustard seed vinaigrette was perfectly light and tangy. The grayish thing in the photograph (the one that looks like a rock) was also a potato, which tasted like taro root.
Chris’ next dish was the “Pave” of Gigha Island halibut “a la plancha” with greenmarket radishes, hen-of-the-woods leaves, celery branch with opal basil and dashi:
When we went to The French Laundry, neither of us liked the black sea bass because it was too fishy (the taste transferred to the potatoes). However, the halibut at per se was absolutely extraordinary. The halibut was cooked well, the sauce was light, and the radishes were slightly crunchy and very flavorful. Everyone at the table ordered the halibut and they all LOVED it.
After our plates had been cleared, three people came over with a beautiful wooden box. Inside, the biggest truffles I’ve ever seen in person:
Yes, I am super excited and sorry we cut your head off, Andrew! The summer truffles went with the Coddled Squire Hill Farm’s Ameraucana hen egg with brioche melba and summer truffle “Mousseline:”
Andrew shaved a TON of the summer truffle to top my hen egg. The hen egg was probably my favorite dish from the vegetable tasting menu; the egg is underneath the massive amount of truffles and the egg yolk was more flavorful than any egg I’ve ever eaten. Underneath the egg were more truffles and something that tasted like miso (although there wasn’t any miso in the dish). Chris also loved the dish and we both agreed it was better than the egg we ate at Blue Hill (although that egg was also awesome).
Chris and David enjoyed their next dish, the pan roasted Maine sea scallop with globe artichokes, new crop potatoes, haricots verts, and Frisee lettuce with summer truffle emulsion:
Chris and David both loved the huge scallop, but the ONE bite that I had was slightly gritty (although it’s a problem I have with every scallop I eat). The new crop potatoes were probably the most interesting part of the dish; they tasted like sour cream and onion potato chips – Chris LOVED THEM!
Since Joe can’t eat scallops, they substituted a piece of trout for him (I didn’t have the chance to sample his dish):
After the fish course, we were presented with more bread, this time, the bread was prepared with duck foie gras:
I didn’t taste the foie until my third bite (I probably shouldn’t have put so much butter on the bread, but I couldn’t help myself!). The taste of foie was very light and it basically tasted like a regular baguette.
One of the reasons I decided to order the vegetable tasting menu instead of the chef’s tasting menu is because of this next dish: RATATOUILLE with oven roasted vine ripe tomato and Satur Farm’s squash blossom pesto:
After watching Ratatouille and seeing the final dish presented to the snarky food critic, I wanted to either re-create the dish myself or try the dish at per se. As soon as I saw it on the menu, I decided that I wanted the vegetable tasting (even though I love meat). I was pretty happy when the dish came out and couldn’t wait to try it, but I was very underwhelmed by it. I felt that the ratatouille was a littleâ€¦greasyâ€¦and I couldn’t differentiate the different types of vegetables. I was kind of upset that the ratatouille didn’t wow me – Chris liked the dish, but agreed that it was slightly oily.
Chris’ next dish was the Cavendish Farm’s “Caille en Crepinette” with Puree de Pruneaux d’Agen,” young beets, and rainbow Swiss chard with quail sauce:
The quail meat was very tender and enjoyable. The beets were also delicious, but I wasn’t a fan of the rainbow Swiss chard (I’m not a fan of it in general though). Chris liked everything on the plate, but I don’t think it was one of the more memorable dishes (actually, I forgot I even had it until I was reviewing the photographs).
Next came Chris’ beef dish: Snake River Farm’s “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee” with “Subric de Langue,” watercress, pearl onions, and glazed Satur Farm’s carrots with burgundy mustard jus:
If you know a little French, you’ll know that we ate beef tongue (something that is actually served at a lot of diners). The beef was tender, juicy, and perfectly seasoned and it was my brother’s favorite dish of the evening. Ariel refused to eat the beef tongue (he’s not as adventurous as some of the other diners) but really enjoyed the beef.
While the rest of the table was devouring the beef, I was sampling sweet corn “Agnolotti” with gold corn kernels and celery leaves with lovage cream:
As the captain lifted the silver dome to reveal the little ravioli, my brother leaned over and whispered ‘that looks like corn’ to me. Well, he was right; the tiny ravioli was filled with little bursts of butter and paired with sweet corn. Yum!
Before our cheese course arrived, we decided to take a break and take some MORE pictures:
What kind of dinner is complete without a couple of jumping pictures, right?
Ariel joined in on the fun:
The hostess actually peeked outside after we took some jumping pictures because of the noise we were making. Oops!
Me with all of my dates:
Okay, back to our foodâ€¦.we came back and I was served Jasper Hill’s “Bartlett Blue;” Oregon Huckleberry “Clafoutis,” pickled purple top turnips, and red ribbon sorrel with toasted hazelnut butter:
I’ve been meaning to try to make clafouti ever since I saw it on Avec Eric, one of my favorite online shows. The huckleberry didn’t have enough flavor to add to the custard, but I really liked the Jasper Hill blue cheese. I learned during the dinner that I really just donâ€™t appreciate hazelnuts because the hazelnut butter just didn’t do it for me.
While I was eating clafouti, the rest of the table was enjoying “Burrata di Andria;” Eckerton Farm’s tomatoes, “Couton de Pain de Campagne,” Castelvetrano olives and arugula vinaigrette:
The white blob was cheese, which tasted like a mozzarella; very light and slightly salted. It was one long piece of cheese, so I slurped my half like a noodle. I’m usually indifferent towards olives (unless there is nothing else on the table and I’m feeling particularly hungry) but I thought the olives weren’t too briny and had a very firm and enjoyable texture.
After my first dessert, I was presented with my favorite dessert of the night, the pink champagne granite with passion fruit pudding:
The pink champagne granite was SO delicious. The passion fruit pudding was pretty good, but the pink champagne granite was like the perfect alcoholic slush. We had a similar dish at Gary Danko (which was paired with a raspberry dessert).
Chris and the rest of the table received the plum sorbet with Santa Rosa plums, ginger sponge, plum consommÃ© and gingerbread crisp:
The plum sorbet was very light and a great way to transition into desserts. David’s gingerbread cookie wasn’t on the sorbet (it fell of during transportation, we think). Otherwise, the dish had various textures; the gingerbread was crunchy and sorbet was very smooth and cold.
My final dessert was a surprise because I didn’t want the blackberry-anise parfait (I really dislike anise). Instead, the captain had this prepared for me:
I don’t know the name of the dessert, but it was a fantastic way to end the meal. The chocolate was very rich and the cake was light and airy. I was very happy (and full) after we finished my dessert, but we still had Chris’ AND David’s dessert.
Chris ordered the “Peanut Butter and Milk;” bitter chocolate mousse with salted peanut cream and reduced milk ice cream:
The chocolate was very intense and there were a lot of different tastes in each bite. The peanut cream was layered with mousse and a dense chocolate cake. Chris really enjoyed his final dessert.
David ordered the other dessert option, the “Blueberries and Popcorn;” cornmeal “Financier,” crystallized popcorn, blueberry parfait, lemon verbena gelee, and popcorn sorbet:
I think we were definitely the most intrigued by David’s dessert because it looked like edible modern art. David finished the popcorn sorbet and the crystallized popcorn before it got to us so we didn’t have the chance to taste it, but he said it was really interesting and tasted exactly like popcorn. The blueberry parfait tasted very fluffy and it was an interesting contrast to the cornmeal “Financier,” although I have no idea what a cornmeal “Financier” is.
So that was the end of the actual menu items, but we were definitely not finished with our meal. After the chef’s tasting and the vegetable tasting, we were offered “mignardises,” little desserts to fill us up.
We were looking forward to the chocolates the most, and they did not disappoint. A server came over with a tray of chocolates and we could take as many as we wanted:
Everyone was pretty conservative with the amount of chocolates they took, but I asked for four different types. My favorite was the passion fruit, but all of them were very delicious. The server knew all of the different chocolate fillings and went through each of them with the entire table (and then came around and most of us had to have her go through all of the chocolates again). I went with the raspberry, passion fruit, ginger melon, and one other (I can’t remember the filling and I ate it! Man, that girl was talented for remembering every chocolate!):
We were also presented with a large silver tin of nougat, caramels, and truffles:
I don’t think I’ve ever had nougat before, but it was so light and airy! There were bits of dried fruit and pistachio in each bite. I didn’t have any caramels at the restaurant, but I took some home so I’ll try it when I return to New York. The truffles were also really great – I really dislike coconut but I LOVED the coconut truffle! Basically anything I have by Thomas Keller will taste good to me. Here’s a picture of Chris with all of his candies:
Some bite sized hard candies that tasted like sugar:
I could taste the actual flavors (only lots of sugar), so I only had one piece.
And the chocolate covered hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder:
The chocolates tasted exactly like Ferrero Rocher and I realized that I don’t really like hazelnuts! We were kidding around that Thomas Keller could probably have someone unwrap Ferrero Rocher in the chocolate room and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (and we’d probably love it).
Per se also has touches from The French Laundry; they share the same interesting light covers (I didn’t take a picture of them this time). I did, however, take a snapshot of my napkin that was made just for per se:
After our amazing meal that lasted over 4 hours, we were given a tour of the kitchen (Uploaded it to vimeo.com and 9 hours later the video is finally UP! The quality isn’t great, but you get the idea!):
The kitchen was constructed to have no obstructions and so all of the chefs can speak to each other without yelling over cabinets/pots. Even though the kitchen was extremely busy, it felt very calm and organized. On the wall was a poster that had the definition of finesse (Refinement and delicacy of performance, execution, or artisanship). Here are some more photographs of the kitchen:
During every service, the kitchen places a white tablecloth on the “pass” table so the chefs can see the plate the way we do:
There’s also a webcam and television that shows what the kitchen at The French Laundry is up to (we were there waving to per se just a couple of months ago!):
The French Laundry laundry pin:
And a photograph of me in the kitchen:
After our kitchen tour, I made everyone take more photographs (Ariel, David, Chris, and Joe are all used to my picture taking and Kait was warned that if she accepted our dinner invitation, she would have to sit through a LOT of photographs). Here’s a picture of me with all of the boys:
And some other pictures:
Me and Ariel:
Me and Chris:
Me and David:
Me and Joe:
Overall, the night was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in New York. The experience at The French Laundry was amazing because it was 1. a special occasion (our birthdays) and 2. I was able to share it with someone very special, but per se was also an amazing experience because the food was delicious and I was able to share it with important people in my life (my brother, David, and my friends, Ariel and Joe and my new friend, Kait). On our way home, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about how happy I was to share such a wonderful experience with my brother, David, and my friend, Joe and Chris agreed that it was a wonderful evening. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the review!