Best Meal Ever: Part Two

SCOTTISH LANGOUSTINES “A LA PLANCHA”

Vidalia Onion “Tagliatelle,” Glazed Beets, Bulls Blood Greens and Langoustine “Nuage”

Of all the beautifully plated dishes, this was the most gorgeous. I loved the different colored beets and the artfully composed “nuage” on the plate. It tasted as drop-dead gorgeous as it looked. The dish was a symphony of flavors. The langoustines were sweet, with a hint of smokiness, the “nuage” was almost like my lobster broth and they complemented and played off the palette of flavors that the vegetables brought to the plate.

SAUTEED BREAST OF CAVENDISH FARM’S QUAIL

“Jambonnette en Crepinette,” Split English Peas, Radish “Parisienne,” Lola Rosa Lettuce, Applewood Smoked Bacon and Quail Jus

Already took a bite, but it was so cute I had to take a close-up

The quail was the third course that Jenny and I had in common and it was the most interesting. The kitchen had fashioned a drumstick with a cute little quail bone sticking out. I couldn’t help but be charmed. It was so cute and it somehow reminded me of the yummy, gelatinous chicken rice we have back in Singapore.

PAN ROASTED SIRLOIN OF BLACKMORE RANCH’S WAGYU

Koshihikari Rice, Hen-of-the-Woods Mushroom, Grilled Scallions and “Sauce Japonaise” 

I opted for the $75 supplement to try Per Se’s wagyu sirloin. I was leaving the States and would not have another opportunity to sample Chef Keller’s cooking was my justification. I have to admit, I was disappointed. The dish was good. But taken into context that it cost $75 more, I was expecting something extraordinary, a melt-in-your-mouth piece of beef. I felt that it was relatively tough for its price tag. I understand that great ingredients cost money. If it’s good, I’ll pay for it. I was after all at Per Se. But this just wasn’t worth the money, especially when the lamb, the other non-supplemental choice, was so great.

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM’S “CARRE D’AGNEAU ROTI ENTIER”

Anson Mills’ Golden Polenta Cake, Braised Swiss Chard, Sweet Corn Kernels and Lamb Jus

Jenny’s lamb was amazingly tender; full of flavor, but not so gamey that it was a turnoff. It was incredibly moist for such a big cut and perhaps the best lamb I’ve tasted in the States. I wish I had ordered it instead.

BURRATA

Salad of Summer Squash and Fennel Bulb with Saporoso Vinaigrette

I know next to nothing about cheese. I’m familiar with mozzarella, gruyere, brie and camembert but that was about it. So when the runner brought out the composed cheese course featuring Burrata, I asked him what kind of cheese it was. He not only described it, but also gave a succinct discourse on the cheese. I was very impressed. Jenny, who recently took a culinary tour of Boston’s Little Italy, loved how fennel was offered at the last course before dessert. She learnt in the tour that fennel aids in digestion. Every detail in this phenomenal meal was thoughtfully planned out. I’ve never felt so “cared for” in any other dining room, be it a restaurant’s or someone’s home.

HIBISCUS SORBET

Mango Coulis, Dragon Fruit and Shaved Coconut

A hibiscus sorbet marked the transition to dessert. It was exotic and refreshing. It made me forget how full I was after the last eight courses.  I appreciated the use of the dragon fruit, which I love but I almost never see in restaurants, as well as fresh coconut.

“DEGUSTATION DE FRUITS D’ETE”

Tristar Strawberry “Consommé” and “Frangipane Crustillante” with Lemon Curd Ice Cream

After all that food, Jenny opted for the lemon curd ice cream, because she couldn’t eat anything as heavy as chocolate. I tasted her dessert and I wanted to ask if they sold the ice cream by the pint. It would make the city’s sweltering summer due to the heat island effect bearable.

 “TENTATION AU CHOCOLAT, NOISETTE ET LAIT”

Milk Chocolate “Creameux” and Hazelnut “Streusel” with Condensed Milk Sorbet, “Pain au Lait” Sauce and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts

Look at that sheen! It was so smooth I could see my reflection in it.

My chocolate dessert was exceptional, decadent but not too heavy on the palate. The chocolate was extremely smooth and felt so luxurious. I wondered how they formed the hazelnut “streusel” and having always had condensed milk in Singapore as a kid, loved the condensed milk sorbet. This dessert brought back memories of breakfast as a kid in Singapore, where I would drizzle condensed milk, or spread Nutella on toast.

Crème brûlée and a yogurt and blueberry panna cotta, gifts from the kitchen.

David came over to ask if we had room for some more dessert. Well If they insist, I’m not going to resist more food from the Per Se kitchen. They gave us an expertly made crème brûlée and a yogurt and blueberry panna cotta as gifts from the kitchen. We had finished everything on the plate, and had finished everything on every other plate that preceded this. Dishwashers at Per Se must have a relatively easier job compared to dishwashers at other restaurants.

“MIGNARDISES”

We were actually still not done eating. After the dessert courses they brought out a flight of “mignardises” that I found out later from my French colleague, stood for sweets. There was a huge tray with a wide array of chocolates. I didn’t want to seem greedy so I restrained myself from asking for a sampler of one each. We made our selections, which the runner placed on the table and then he departed. I was a bit sad.

 Even more “MIGNARDISES”

Then cocoa dusted nuts, truffles, nougat and other candy were left on the table. We could eat to as much as we wanted. You could really make a whole meal out of what they gave us. Everything so far had been calibrated according to Chef Keller’s philosophy of diminishing returns, except for this last bit which was dramatically over the top. When I was in the army, this was characterized as the “final burst of fire” which, if you were in a retrograde action meant that you expanded most of your ammunition to lay down a withering field of fire, to break the will of the enemy for any sort of pursuit. It could also mean that the mission or exercise was coming to an end and that we should give it our all. This was Per Se “final burst of fire” and we were utterly broken and cowered by the majesty, luxury, effort and care of the whole dining experience. It was like a religious experience.

Truffles!

I know that Chef Keller doesn’t like to take his food too seriously, but perhaps that is why the experience is so powerful. I was totally put at ease once I stepped though the door. You know you are in for a great time but the enormity of the experience creeps up on you until the last moment, when there is a crescendo and you are just overcome by the climax. They catered to our every need and in fact seemed to be able to read our minds. When I paid the bill, they asked if I would like a tour of the kitchen. Would I!?! It was a dream come true, to enter into the holy of holies.

Per Se’s Ice Tea Setup. They don’t mess around

David introduced us to Peter, an impeccably dressed man with rimless glasses. He didn’t attend to our table during the meal but he gave a personal tour of the kitchen. It looked as big as the dining room. I waved to the chefs at work in the kitchen of The French Laundry, where there was a camera and monitor set up so that the two kitchens could see each other. I was so excited yet it felt so unreal. It was like being led backstage to meet your favorite band.

Check it out, it transforms! (Scroll down)

To steal a quote from George Clooney in Three Kings: “That’s what makes Per Se so badass, we’ve got the best sugar containers”

After our tour and almost five hours at Per Se we were led out. Peter read my mind again and said, “I assume you would like a copy of our menus.” He proceeded to take out a white folder with Per Se embossed on it from the hostess stand. He handed it to me. David joined us. I thanked them both of them for an incredible experience. I told them about my circumstances, that I was leaving New York and once I found out, my second phone call was to make a reservation here. (Amazingly they picked up after the third ring.) To David, Peter and the other 138 people that make Per Se the finest restaurant I’ve had the privilege in dining at, and probably the finest restaurant I will ever dine at: Thank you all. Though my life was going to change drastically, by me leaving the city and country that I so loved. My meal at Per Se was a joyful story in what would be a sad chapter in my life.

Jenny and I on a tour of Keller’s Kitchen

I know that Chef Keller doesn’t believe in perfect. But this was as perfect a meal as I could ever imagine. The food was creative and powerful enough to trigger emotional responses. They were all executed perfectly, even the beef. (There was nothing wrong with it, I just thought that it was too pricey.) Well if you really want to split hairs, Jenny’s coffee cup, had coffee spilled down the side when it was served to us. We both didn’t mind at all, but that was the only fault I could find during our whole meal there. Maybe the only thing I wish was different, would be the opportunity to meet Chef Keller himself. He wasn’t in New York. Per Se’s Chef De Cuisine, Jonathan Benno wasn’t there as well. Only because it was Chef Keller’s restaurant, did I not mind that fact. I had the confidence that the food would be the same if Chef Keller or Chef Benno had or had not been there.

Macarons for the road

I think what really sets Per Se apart from the rest of the three-star restaurants is the service. Now you have to understand that I’m the sort of person who will dine at a place with lousy service if the food is good. Service is almost negligible to low in my calculus of what makes a good dining experience. But the service is so good that it really makes dining at Per Se an experience in and of itself. There was no snootiness that I read about at other fine dining restaurants. The service wasn’t stuffy, but elegant yet comfortable. I was a nobody, who had saved up for this meal, yet I was treated like a star. It wasn’t an over-the-top fawning, but rather an understated pampering that anticipated your every desire.

Thank you David for being our Captain that day and for being awesome.

In case you missed it, read part one here.

 

Per Se

Ten Columbus Circle

4th Floor

New York, New York 10019

(212) 823-9335 for reservations

(212) 825-9335 for confirmation and cancellations

http://www.perseny.com

Dinner offered seven nights a week and lunch from Friday to Sunday.  Dinner reservations are from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

I would go as early as possible as it will be a very long meal.

Price range:

When it first opened in 2004 it was $150 for the prix fixe before the supplements. When I went last year (not to eat but to gawk) it was $210 with an additional $30 for foie gras and nothing for the wagyu beef.

My meal in July 2007 was $250 plus $30 for the foie gras and $75 for the beef

It was still $250 but the supplement for the beef was $100 in august 2007.

As of the 6th of July 2008. It cost $275 for the Prix Fixe before any supplements.

Service is included in the prix fixe.

If Per Se were a stock, I’d buy it because it’s constantly on the rise.

Dress Code:

Jackets required, ties optional.

4 responses to “Best Meal Ever: Part Two

  1. How’s it possible that Le Bernardin hasn’t made it on to the blog yet? The most amazing sea food I’ve ever tasted in my life?

    And the shrimp and lamb dishes above looks scrumptious!

  2. (Please ignore the above grammatical and punctuation errors.)

  3. Mahnaz: Haha. Le B was my last meal in NYC so it’ll be a couple more posts before I get to it.

  4. I am amazed that you can write so vividly that I felt as if I was there myself.

    I like your truthful remarks on the wagu beef. This way readers would not feel that you are bought over by per se.

    You make a good food writer with witty remarks. It was a joy to read.

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