Per Se (New York, USA)

Per Se (New York, USA)

Per Se (their website is pretty bullshit atm though)
4th Floor, Time Warner Centre
10 Columbus Circle 
(West 59th Street)
Upper West Side
New York

+1 (212) 823-9335
 or fuck yeah, OpenTable (but only rely on OpenTable if you want a last minute booking)

USD310 a person for the 9-course tasting menu with additional ‘upgrades’ to courses available such as USD40 to upgrade from the sunchoke salad to foie gras and USD100 to upgrade from lamb to the 100 day aged beef.  Service/tip is included automatically.  There is no set wine pairing available, you are able to tell the sommelier your budget (recommended minimum of USD200 – USD250 a person). After champagne and a few extras, we were out at a very hefty USD500 a person.  PLS TO SEND FINANCIAL HALP.

The deal:
Like every asshole with access to WordPress and the ability to eat food, I fucking love food.  This means that when I travel, I crank open google and try to figure out where I’m going to bust out some high end eating experiences which of course come with a similar, high end, bank breaking cost.  So after sorting through the Michelin stars and the San Pellegrino The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 list, you’re left with Eleven Madison Park (#4), Le Bernardin (#21), Per Se (#30) and Daniel (#40) in New York. I don’t buy into the ranking of the list nor the concept that this necessarily translates into fuck yeah times, but it’s a useful starting spot to at least identify which restaurants are considered highlights in a city.  I also read the NYT love letter from a food critic who selects Per Se as his “last meal” and busts out some incredibly over the top descriptions including calling the first course and the wine pairing a “metaphor of transubstantiation” and describes the linen as being “ironed to the texture of freshly sanded pine”.

Once you’ve done that and looked up that transubstantiation means (the change whereby the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist becomes the reality of the body and blood of Christ), it’s where I turn to my reliable cast of Sir Lunch-a-Lot friends, who cut through the bullshit and don’t get blinded by whatever accolades a restaurant may have.  I consulted the no bullshit Ms Two Serves who said she wasn’t that impressed by Daniel (despite a chorus of people telling me it was the Best Ever).  I then hit up another Sir Lunch-a-Lot who suggested Le Bernardin and Per Se, before providing his feedback re: Eleven Madison Park:

[I] expected more from the food – no “wow” factor – a couple of courses were novel, but overall I was left wanting.

I mean, shit hot damn, fuck no I don’t want to be left wanting after dropping that much coin on any meal.

So we settled on Per Se – the East Coast counterpart to Thomas Keller’s famous as fuck West Coast heavyweight, The French Laundry (one day, I will come for you my laundromatic friend).  Getting a booking here is the stuff of a shit tonne of internet speculation with so many fucking sites ruminating on “How do I get a booking at Per Se?”.  People suggest all sorts of things – calling them and making a massive deal about things and claiming industry insider connections (lolz, being a “I’m kind of a big deal asshole” should definitely work), getting your Amex Black peeps onto it, being prepared to be on hold for two hours, asking your hotel concierge to secure you a seat, hitting OpenTable precisely at reservation open on several devices and then if all else fails, add yourself to the waitlist and pray.  But for all the mess and speculation, this is what I did to get a booking at Per Se and it’s not super straight forward but it fucking worked for me and took about two nights of effort:

Fuck Yeah Noms’ Guide to Getting a Booking at Per Se

  1. Bookings are released for Per Se, 30 days in advance at 10am EST.  Bookings can be made via phone or via OpenTable.
  2. Getting an online booking through OpenTable is pretty much bullshit if you’re going the 30 day in advance route.  I was ready and loaded to hit the site up at 10am EST and it doesn’t appear that the tables are released but when you check the days previously / 1 hour later, everything is full up.  Don’t fucking bother with OpenTable.
  3. Phone up EXACTLY at 10am EST (if not before).  I still had some success calling at 10:05am but by the time I got through, there were only lunch slots left.  When you call at 10am, be prepared to be on hold from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.  I got through two days in a row (refer #4 for more details).
  4. As the bookings are made 30 days in advance, be prepared to call a few days in a row before you get the booking that you want.  Ie. The first time I called, I got through after 40ish minutes on the phone and was offered a lunch booking for the Sunday.  I called the next day and I got through after 30ish minutes and was able to then move my booking from the Sunday lunch to a Monday dinner.  So if you aren’t set on a particular date, this is going to help your booking cause.
  5. For dinner, you pretty much have a choice between a meat or seasonal vegetable nine course menu.  It takes a minimum of 2.5 hours to complete (if not more), so booking the last 11pm slot might not be your first choice.
  6. If you want to take a more laissez faire approach to your booking, OpenTable will then have last minute bookings available.  This means that if you search for dates around today, you might get a random slot from today up until the next five days.
  7. If you cancel within 72 hours of the booking, you’re going to get charged USD175.  They will take a credit card number when you book.  Don’t be a flakey fucker.

Travelling to the fourth floor of a shopping mall, you arrive at Per Se with its blue doors modelled on the French Laundry.  FYN red hot tip – don’t start your fancy dining experience by looking like a goddamn moron by trying to open the non-functional blue doors, but slide on easily in through the glass ones (Thomas Keller thinks this makes you smile – I doubt anyone’s smiling once they mess up how to get into a really fucking fancy restaurant).  As you can imagine, service is fucking impeccable here.  The dining room has views over Columbus Circle and Central Park, its interior dictated by the exacting requirements of Thomas Keller.  A gently flickering natural wood fireplace, stainless steel accents, Australian walnut covering the walls (with that wood all sourced pedantically from the one, single tree), purposefully tousled floral arrangements of white and green which tower over the room at each end and 16 round tables, draped with a heavy undercloth and then an impeccably ironed crisp white tablecloth.  FUCK YEAH, SOFT FURNISHINGS.  I can’t even bring myself to cuss too much because everything is just so measured.

There is no a la carte menu with only a choice between the meat/seafood tasting menu and the seasonal vegetables menu.  There are a few constants on the menu – the amuse bouches, the first course of the “Oysters & Pearls” and some elements of the dessert courses.  Everything else changes depending on what is in season.  The two starting amuse bouches of the gruyere gougere and the miniature salmon cornet are Thomas Keller classics – I wanted to eat handfuls of the tiny perfect pastry puffs, stuffed with warm gruyere but had to make do with a singular puff.  The raw salmon cornet is a miniature tuille ice-cream cone, filled with red onion cream cheese and a minced scoop of salmon, accented by a slender spring onion chive.  These were the most impressive fuck yeah amuse bouches of my life – small, perfectly formed with the warm gruyere cheese contrasting against the cool, minced salmon.

The first course of the “Oysters & Pearls” was a FUCK YEAH of the highest fucking order.  A “Sabayon” (a creamy, unsweetened sauce that’s used to dress fish / shellfish) of pearl tapioca served served with two small Island Creek oysters and Sterling White sturgeon caviar.  ARGH the memories of the textures of the oysters, the caviar and the pearl tapioca, served in that off white sabayon perfectly complemented by the wide rimmed delicately shiny and matte checked pattern of the Raynaud Checks tableware which Thomas Keller designed to ensure no competing visual with his food.  This was one of the biggest fuck yeah courses of my life – I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU OYSTERS & PEARLS.

I outlined before about how I don’t like to walk people through course by course of an elaborate tasting menu, because it takes away the potential for the unexpected.  Each course that followed was predictably, fucking excellent – though I wouldn’t necessarily say flawless.  What did strike me was that each individual element on each plate was clearly selected by Per Se as being representative of what they see as being the fucking best.  It was the small things like the Moroccan olive in the Pecorino Oro Antico cheese course or the greenmarket tomato slices that accompanied the Bigeye Tuna course being singular examples of the most fuck yeah flavourful examples of an olive or a tomato that I’ve ever eaten.  The attention to detail to source each ingredient is mind boggling with examples including unsalted cultured butter from a US producer who has a herd of no more than ten Jersey cows or how they present you with six different salts to use with your foie gras (including 30 million year old jurassic salt from a copper mine in Montana, black volcanic and red clay salt from Hawaii and two different salts from Brittany).  There is the laser focussed attention to detail, such as the brioche that’s served with the Hudson Valley duck foie gras course which is replaced at regular intervals, as Per Se insist that once it cools it becomes too heavy. So fucking wasteful but demonstrative of the precise dining experience Per Se wants for you.

But then there’s moments when despite all of this detail, I don’t look back and feel everything was flawless.  Perhaps it’s a function of when something is striving for something so perfect, you naturally look for the faults.  I didn’t find the bread to be a super fuck yeah (as evidenced by the fact that I left unfinished bread behind and didn’t have to exercise any restraint in declining bread in anticipation for more food) or the lamb course which didn’t translate into a slam dunk for me, because I expected the Per Se lamb to be the biggest fuck yeah lamb moment of my existence but it wasn’t rare enough for me and the braised kale that lay underneath it was too salty.

But with this amount of detail that has been plowed into the experience, it’s clear that this shit hasn’t happened by accident.  I only presume that Per Se are cooking what they feel represents the ingredients in their best light and that’s what you experience, despite my views on saltiness.  I concede that Per Se may not have been tailoring shit exactly to my palate.

The final dessert course is billed as a single course but it is really an exercise in endurance with another four separate dessert plates covering fruit, ice-cream, chocolate and petit fours/mignardises.  Each dessert course was  fucking spectacular but despite my tagline, I was pushing the limits of my well-trained endurance.  A stand out for me was the “fruits” course which was based around raspberries, predictably using the most spectacular and intense raspberries I’ve ever eaten.  Each tiny drupelet separated and precisely placed, set off against a vanilla ice-cream and then presented with Per Se’s take on an ANZAC biscuit (wiki link for my non-Antipodean homies) – fragments of golden syrup, oats, coconut and butter.  When have Thomas Keller, Eli Kaimeh and his gang eaten an ANZAC biscuit?  I can’t even fucking imagine. I can’t even remember if they referred to it as an ANZAC cookie, I was so fucking floored by this point.

Once you hit the petit fours section, there is nothing petite about it – first of all, you are presented with a selection from 28 chocolates (I had one, you are allowed to have all 28 if you so desire) and then a silver three-tiered container reveals nougat, caramels, three different types of macarons and more chocolate truffles.  I pocketed some nougat and a caramel purely for survival reasons, envisioning my bloody downfall as I exploded across the pristine white linens, and brown and gold carpetting.  The famous closer of “Coffee & Donuts” (which Thomas Keller invented for a James Beard competition) then appeared, presenting the lightest fuck yeah sugared and cinnamon dusted doughnut balls of my life to be eaten with a light coffee semifreddo topped with warm frothy milk. It was criminal that I couldn’t finish this.  Reminiscing on all I could not finish while writing this, I am crying for my physical limits, for my George Herbert moment as I struck the board and cried NO MORE.

The Per Se homies will then coo comfortingly and ask if everything is ok and will then present a hand written cheque.  Their final gift, a tin stamped with “Per Se” with three shortbread and chocolate biscuit sandwiches.  Perhaps to sweeten the sting of the very large fuck no number you are signing off on.  Three hours after you first sat down, you will slip back into that shopping mall – shallow breathing with plenty to reflect upon.

It’s not flawless but Per Se’s attention to detail, thought around its ingredients and the overall experience is pretty fucking incredible.  Most definitely a fuck yeah on payday.

  • The Chowdown
    Posted at 08:03h, 26 September Reply

    Per Se was such a massive FY for me too – thanks in part to your OpenTable tipoff when I couldn’t book through the phone. The foie gras with 6 salts and multiple desserts were both unforgettable. Pay me now, work, so I can go back again!

    PS Great review as always

    • Sgt Noms
      Posted at 18:48h, 26 September Reply

      I feel really remorseful that I was so fucking full by the time we got to the desserts that I couldn’t appropriately motor through. I wanted to try more of the chocolates (I only had the peanut butter + jelly one). I didn’t do justice to my coffee & doughnuts dessert (I probably only ate one third of my semi-freddo). Fucking incredible.

  • waterfallsandcaribous
    Posted at 11:26h, 26 September Reply

    Dunno how I’ve missed this until now, especially given the tagline’s inclusion of ‘hard cunt’, but are you a Kiwi?! Btw, was green with envy over Le Bernardin but now positively emerald with Per Se. Brooooooooooooooo.

    • Sgt Noms
      Posted at 18:50h, 26 September Reply

      Sweet as broooooo, I’m from across the pond though. Pass the cheese grainwaves while you’re there. If I had to pick between the two, gun to the head styleeez, I think I’d pick Le Bernardin. Both were pretty fucking incredible though. Too sad that my hard cunt pants failed me at about plate three of the dessert courses.

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