Monday, November 14

Hype & Halo at Per Se

On our previous trip to California, we didn’t try to secure a table at The French Laundry but here in New York, we thought getting one at Per Se would be less painful. Er, not quite. We called a month in advance but were placed on waitlist after re-dialing umpteen times and being put on hold for 20 minutes. But the day before, while snooping around Opentable for a place for Sunday lunch, I suddenly found a lunch spot at Per Se and clicked on it faster than you can say, “chope.”

Believe me, I could not believe we scored a table this fortuitously till we walked past the jewel blue doors of Per Se and nestled comfortably into a booth that overlooked the restaurant.

In his final review, Sam Sifton crowned Per Se as the 'Best Restaurant in New York. While it is technically superb but can I just say something? Wait, let me put on my inflatable sumo wrestler costume and bulletproof underwear… I thought Per Se was impressive but not the be-all-and-end-all of restaurants in New York.

A meal at Per Se is unforgettable but the wow factor is not tied to its food. It was about excesses – just imagine a magnificent view of Columbus Circle and Central Park, understated slate grey décor, immaculate service and overindulgent flow of mignadises.

First up, a couple of signature canapés that can also be enjoyed at The French Laundry.

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Hit me: Gruyère gougères aka cheese puffs that implode in your mouth. Don’t bother to exercise restraint by biting into them as you would end up hurting your dining partner and your self-esteem.

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Hit me one more time: Salmon coronets which features salmon tartare and crème fraiche was served in black sesame cone. Wish the salmon weren’t that finely minced to provide more bite; that would of course mean we need a bigger cone which is totally fine by me.

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Love me some warm buns...

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Where are the carbs police when you need them?

For dinner, Per Se offers two prix fixe 9 course tasting menus for US$295 - Seasonal Vegetables and Chef’s Tasting Menu, which changes daily. For lunch, in addition to the two 9 course menus, a shorter 5 course menu is available for US$185. Having gone through the trouble and excitement of getting a table, we decided the 9 course Chef’s Tasting Menu was the only way to go.

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"OYSTERS AND PEARLS"
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and
Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar

Talk about making an entrance! This oyster and caviar dish was a stunning start to our meal. Creamy and rich with tapioca pearls (the unsung heroes) lurking beneath, this was a tough tough act to follow.

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SALSIFY “EN FEUILLE DE BRIC”
Burgundy Truffle Crème Fraiche, Heirloom Radishes,
Mache and Sour Cherry Relish

A beautiful balancing act worthy of Cirque du Soleil.

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SAUTEED FILLET OF CHATHAM BAY COD
Applewood Smoked Bacon, Cipollini Onion Shoots,
Melted Savoy Cabbage and Whole Grain Mustard

Oddly enough, the cod wasn’t mindblowing, despite the fact that it was a fatty, oily fish set up for success and easy love. This was quite ho-hum and it was sad I couldn't bring myself to love this cod more.

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BUTTER POACHED NOVA SCOTIA LOBSTER
Parsnip Fondant, Honey Poached Cranberries,
Brussel Sprouts and Whole Grain Mustard

It was almost instinctive for us to compare Per Se’s lobster to Eleven Madison Park’s and in kw’s words, “Per Se has huge claws to fill.” Our streak with plump, sweet lobster continued at Per Se; it was faultless though Eleven Madison Park’s side of assorted mushrooms edged ahead just ever so slightly.

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BACON & EGGS
Salmon Creek Farm's Pork Belly, Sunny Side Up Amerucana Hen Egg,
Anson Mills’ Polenta and Braised Collard Greens

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This was easily another high point in our Per Se adventure! Tender pan-roasted pork belly, slightly pink in the middle, topped with a sunny side up, which upped the richness of the dish like an expensive divorce settlement. Five minutes into the dish, a light bulb suddenly went off in my head - the pork belly and braised collard greens reminded me of 梅菜扣肉.

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SNAKE RIVER FARMS ’ "CALOTTE DE BOEUF"
Grilled Shitake Mushroom, Scallion, Tokyo Turnip,
Pea Shoots and “Sauce Japonaise”

Per Se’s beef dish was quite something. It was the first time the flavour of the beef became more pronounced as I chewed on. Something tells me my past experiences with beef have been a sham …. Oh golly!

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TWIG FARMS’S “TOMME”
Sweet Onion Dumplings, “Fine Herbs,”
Toasted Rye and Madeira Bullion

Theatrics.

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Er, chicken soup and hard cheese? Sorry for the unsophisticated review.

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COCONUT SORBET
Marinated Pineapple, Young Coconut Water and
Pineapple Chips

This was such a pleasing palate cleanser slash dessert. If the meal ended here with this, I would be incredibly satisfied.

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"S’MORES"
Dark Chocolate Torte, Vanilla Marshmallow,
Candied Virginia Peanuts and Caramel Ice Cream

I figure smores is something particularly close to the hearts of the Americans and this dessert was probably a hur-hur grown-up version of the childhood camping trip treat. But for me, this chocolate and marshmallows plate was tasty enough but not great; shame it took us quite a while to decipher the flavour of the ice cream. Beautiful plating though.

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"PURPLE COW"
Concord Grape Soda, Vanilla "Génoise,"
Caramelized Fillo Chips and Grape Sherbet

Variations of grape. What’s eating Gilbert Grape? Nothing, just that after 3 nibbles, it felt like an overload of grape and grape flavours.

Just when we were getting satiated with two and a half desserts, the wave of mignardises descended upon us like an army of sweets. Of course, our greed got the better of us.

"MIGNARDISES"

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A server brought around a huge wooden box with indentations in the base to many many chocolate made by wonky Willy in the kitchen. We picked out 6 different flavours – Bailey’s, passionfruit, balsamic and 3 other weird flavours that failed to register.

Just when I was starting to miss “normal” chocolate..

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A triple tier of coconut, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate truffles; pistachio and milk chocolate macarons; and tooth-achingly sweet fudges.

The chocolate-covered hazelnuts were seriously addictive but by now, I had inhaled so much sugar, I could literally feel my heart rate racing.


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Nope, we are not done yet.

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POPCORN SORBET

Really tasted like popcorn ice cream. Loved these!

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COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS

Fresh out of the deep-fryer, cinnamon-sugared doughnuts, served alongside with cappuccino semifreddo. The doughnut was light, soft and not too sweet, nicely paired with slight creamy coffee parfait.

They say there is always room for dessert but by now, my stomach was starting to feel like a 600 square feet Manhattan apartment with 200 people had crammed into it.

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In conclusion (I feel like I am writing an essay for General Paper), Per Se was a meal of a lifetime, not for its flavours and surprise element (which provided sparks at certain times) or its impeccable service and course-by-course timing but for its excesses.

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The damage to our wallets and tummies was significant but Per Se was an experience we lived - albeit, just barely - to tell the tale.

6 comments:

David Koh said...

That brought back many memories. Thank you.

Lisa said...

How can your little stomach hold so much food?? Give me those desserts now!

yx said...

dave: such an unforgettable meal.

lisa: we left Per Se uncomfortably full and on a sugar high... walking a hundred blocks (to and fro) didn't help =p

dirtystall said...

Man now you make me also want to go eat at Per Se hahaha!

Alicia said...

Loved Per Se. I went to NYC for my honeymoon and ate dinner on my first night. The desserts were my favourite part. You are right about the excesses as we had to request them to stop serving more food. (;

I even requested to have a look at the kitchen and took back my menu.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Was there for dinner in May, and your post brought back many memories. If you're still in NYC you should really check out Bouley as well. Its not that far(in terms of standard) from Per Se.

Cheers!