NYC: Per Se

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This post is about 364 days late since I actually dined here exactly a year ago on November 1st, 2011.

Here's the back story: When I moved to New York City a year and a half ago, I was lucky enough to find the best roommate ever, my big bro! When I told him that I was thinking about moving to the Big Apple, he decided to move with me. I'm actually really close to my brother, so while a lot of people told me that they could never imagine living together with their sibling, I was really excited to have us both under the same roof again. Before this, we hadn't lived together for about 11 years, and this would probably be the last time, and all without parental supervision!
The Iconic "French Laundry" Blue Doors inside Columbus Circle, leading into Per Se

I moved to NYC first and acted as the broker, going to different apartments and exploring all the neighborhoods before he came over. After a quick search, I quickly settled on an apartment near Columbus Circle. And, a month later, Big Bro and I became roomies! When he first got here, he mentioned that he wanted to take me out to a nice meal to celebrate our big move, almost like my broker fee for all my hard work. About 5 months later, we finally settled on going to Per Se, since it was right in our neighborhood and was only a 5 block walk away! That was definitely a "OMG, I live in New York!" moment for me, being able to walk to a three michelin star restaurant right from my apartment. 

My date for the evening, my big brother with our 10PM reservation.

Getting a Reservation

To get a reservation at Per Se, you have to try to make a reservation one month to the calendar date in advance. (For a November 1st reservation, you have to call on October 1st, not sure what happens if you want to make a resi for October 31st and September 30th is the last calendar date) You need to start crazy dialing at 10AM in the morning to get a reservation. I tried this method and it didn't really work out for me. The other option is to ring them up one or two days before you want to dine there to see if they have any cancellations. This worked better for me since I was randomly trying to make ANY reservation at Per Se, and they had one available at 10PM the next week, made available by a cancelation.
View of Columbus Circle from our table

Our Meal

At 9:50 PM, BB and I walked on over from our apartment, into the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle, and took the escalators to be welcomed by the blue doors, a detail imported from French Laundry, Thomas Keller's famous restaurant in Napa, California. It's funny that I never went there while living in California, but this was hopefully a comparable equal.

It was really nice having the reservation for November 1st since my birthday was in November. It was what I liked to think as the beginning of my "Birthday Month"! Per Se was nice enough to print Happy Birthday on my menu.
My November Birthday celebration begins!!

Gougères - little French Gruyère Cheese puffs 

Salmon Coronets, a signature amuse - salmon tartare that comes in a cone and topped with red onion crème fraîche
The dinner started with two Amuse, I thought both were tasty but not necessarily memorable. The Salmon Coronets were fun to eat, but felt like something I could order from an Asian Fusion restaurant.

The next dish to come was the one I was looking forward to the most since everyone raves about it when they come back from French Laundry.
First course, guess what it is....

Oyster and Pearls, a signature French Laundry dish - Pearl Tapioca and Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar

Alas, the Oyster and Pearls lived up to its reputation, it was definitely one of the highlights of my night. For our next course, we had the option of a palm of hearts dish or for $40 more, we could have a Foie Gras Torchon as a supplement. BB and I decided to have one of each to try.

Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm - Globe Artichokes, Olives, Navel Organe and Radish Sprouts

Torchon of Foie Gras ($40 Supplement) - White Wine Poached Pear, Candied Walnuts and Black Winter Truffle Purée
Per Se served the Torchon with fresh Brioche that they constantly kept warm for you. This was an example of their exemplary service. The staff made sure that the bread was fresh, and every 5 minutes, they swapped out the bread for you so that you would never have cold bread to eat with your foie.

Another fun part of the dinner was the sample of salts and butter from different places. The salt was found globally and within the US, and the butter was freshly churned on a farm somewhere in the East Coast.
Salts from around the world

Portuguese Rouget served with an Olive Puree, Roasted Eggplant and a Chickpea Crisp

The presentation of each dish was beautiful, and each dish was delicious, but as BB and I progressed through the meal, we both agreed that we weren't overwhelmed by any of the dishes we had. All of them were perfectly executed, but we felt like it lacked some soul and personality.

Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster, Parsnip  Purée, Honey Poached Cranberries and Chestnut Cream
By the time we were served the final meat entrees, we were getting pretty stuffed. I noticed that the enjoyment of the dish also was enhanced or hindered by the server giving us the description of the dish.  A year later, I still remember the server telling me that the next Poularde (Chicken/Hen) dish was almost like a meat sandwich, served a layer of dark meat, white meat, some fat and finally the skin. However, even with this fun description, I was shocked to find that the dish was too salty for me to finish.
Four Story Hill Farm's Poularde, Braised Swiss Chard, Tokyo Turnips, Flowering Quince and Brown Butter Jus
Herb Roasted Lamb, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, Dates and Whole Grain Mustard
We were done with our final entrees by 12:30AM, and were waiting for our desserts. The pacing of Per Se was definitely very slow, probably around 15 minutes between each dish. It was nice and relaxing, but maybe TOO relaxing as I was quickly hitting into a food coma. So when they brought out the Fondue Cheese dish, I was very very overwhelmed by how rich it was. This was the only dish I left 1/3  eaten and didn't feel bad about because nothing about it was exceptional to me. The server reminded me that this was a tasting menu and didn't need to finish it (ha! as if we were paying $295 per person not to finish the dishes!). The coconut sorbet was a good palette cleanser but also didn't stand out.
Roomano Cheese Fondue, Sour Cherry "Clafoutis" and Hazelnuts // Coconut Sorbet, Marinated Pineapple, Coconut Water and Pineapple Chips
The desserts were finished off by a choice of two desserts, except we weren't given a choice. They brought out one of each and didn't let me choose which one I wanted to eat. I was only saddened by this because I got handed the Purple Cow which almost tasted like a joke to me at this point while my brother had the S'mores dessert which I thought was considerably tastier.
Purple Cow, Concord Grape Soda, Vanilla "Genoise", Caramelized Fillio Chips and Grape Sherbet
S'mores - Dark Chocolate Torte, Vanilla Marshmallow, Candied Virginia Peanuts and Carmel Ice Cream
Since it was my birthday, we finished things off with a birthday cake, which was a nice touch, and I think I liked better than my own dessert. And finally we had a huge selection of chocolates which were delicious, but at this point, didn't really help resuscitate my overall impression of the meal - that it was good, but it wasn't $300 good.
A Birthday Cake from Per Se!

"Mignardises" - Chocolates, Chocolates and more Chocolates! 

And more Mignardise, "Petite Fours"

In Summary

At the time I went to Per Se, in November 2011, I wasn't impressed with my meal. Since then, I've discussed with my fellow foodies at work who's also experienced the meal and they also concluded the same, that while our meal at Per Se was good, it wasn't outstanding. So, my advice is go to Per Se if you've been dying to go to a Thomas Keller restaurant, but realize that you may only be going to experience the memory of what it was.

Don't get me wrong, everything was beautifully executed, but I noticed myself missing some creativity in the dishes. It just felt like something I could eat at a really good French restaurant, but I didn't need to try so many dishes. My brother compared this to his most recently Michelin Star experience in Hong Kong, and he thought the same.

I know right now, since I've been here in 2011, Per Se actually climbed up the 50 Best Restaurants laddar, and is not thought to be #6 in the world from their ranking of #10 in 2011. However, I'm not sure if I buy it completely. I'd recommend if you're looking for a nice French Michelin Star restaurant in  Manhattan, to check out a less pricey tasting menu because I don't think Per Se is worth the hype.
Ending the night at 1:30AM, after 15+ courses
Despite being slightly disappointed with our experience, I still had a great time dining with my brother in such an intimate setting, and it was great for us to bond through a 4 hour tasting menu. Thanks again Bro Bro for a great time and wonderful dinner!

Update (12/5/2014): A recent review of Per Se only giving it 2 stars by Ryan Sutton of Eater that sums up what I felt two years ago when I original wrote this review, titled Once an Icon, Per Se Is Showing Its Age

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Per Se | Yelp

10 Columbus Cir
(between Broadway & W Central Park)
New York, NY 10019

(212) 823-9335

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