Cuisine: American French
Location: New York – Columbus Circle, 4th floor of the Time Warner Center
Continuing on from the culinary extravagance of 11 Madison Park, I decided to check into yet another 3 Michelin star restaurant with a visit to Thomas Keller’s Per Se, the 11th world ranked restaurant.
The restaurant name, Per Se, is Latin for “in and of itself”. Per Se is another restaurant in the stable of Thomas Keller’s other creations that include The French Laundry (missed out on getting a reservation), Bouchon (a bistro we visited and was delicious), Bouchon Bakery (next door to Bouchon and enjoyed some lovely treats), Ad Hoc (too full to visit after going to Bouchon), and a casual offshoot to Ad Hoc – Addendum. Didn’t realise on this long trip that we had visited nearly every Thomas Keller establishment.
The restaurant is located at Columbus Circle in the large Time Warner Center. Just head to the 4th floor and when you see Per Se, you will see this double door with weird handles. It’s not the door though, step aside to the automatic sliding glass doors. Talk about deceptive! They require a jacket for gents (in this weather, really?) but don’t despair as they can loan you a jacket for no extra cost. They do uphold a high standard and expect patrons to dress accordingly which is fine by me.
The interior is really lovely, smart, modern, tasteful, and there’s a fantastic view of the New York skyline looking north east. Plus, you’re also overlooking Central Park. The natural light floods in through the floor to ceiling windows and when it goes dark, a lovely candle lit ambience is created. The tables are spaced comfortably apart so there’s ample privacy with dinner conversation.
Unfortunately I didn’t take a snapshot of the menu so you’ll just have to bear with my quickly typed descriptions of the mouthful long descriptions of each dish. The Per Se menu consists of 9 course tasting plate comprising of a vegetarian only option and the meat version which is what we chose for tonight. Within some courses, you have the choice to “upgrade” at an additional cost. For example adding caviar to a specific course. On other courses there may be the tough choice between 2 dishes. The wine menu has gone high tech with an iPad provided for you to flick through each option. I think there was a lot of flicking going on in trying to determine a drink of choice.
We started off with these delicious gooey cheese balls.
Course #1: Salmon Cornettes
Salmon cornettes with a black sesame tuile. The course itself is presented a bit like a flower in a small pot in full bloom. Pulling away the serviette reveals what looks like a mini ice cream in a cone. In fact it’s not ice cream but the filling is like a smoked salmon pate, smooth like an ice cream which is what it looks like. I really enjoyed this and it’s mixed with a salmon cream which partners very well. The tuile is very thin and crunchy.
Course #2: Oysters
The oyster, Australian sturgen, and creamy cheese sauce was fantastic! I really loved the cheese sauce, the oysters are just warmed through and the fresh flavour of the sea shines through in the caviar. This was one of the dishes with an upgrade option which my friend decided to opt for. There was also a choice on one of the courses and an interesting assortment of salts was served in a unique dish.
We had a short break in proceedings and were presented with Parker house rolls which are soft, light and delicious and were enjoyed with salted and unsalted butter varieties.
Course #3: Summer Melon
Summer melon – well this looked extremely pedestrian but tasted nothing like it. The presence of the soy sauce (those drops on the right) creates a unique flavour and pairs surprisingly well with the sugarless melon, and is topped off with the richness of the creme freche. I love the presentation, quite a work of art.
Selection of Breads
Another break in proceedings where we were presented with a selection of 4 breads – I chose the seeded bun. Others were a baguette, sourdough, and pretzel. Pretty good bread.
Course #4: Clams
Next up was the halibut with clams but there was only one clam so why the promise of 2 or more? Clamsss. I liked the tenderness of the fish but the cheese pastry on top didn’t go and spoilt the dish. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist, succulent, tender and full of flavour. The blistered tomato provided some acidity but not enough and my only clam was rubbery.
Course #5: Nova Scotia Lobster
Sweet butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, chocolate espresso emulsion, hazelnut crumble – loved the lobster just on it’s own, fleshy and juicy. The butter adds such a wonderful flavour and the chefs have done justice to this lovely chunky piece of lobster. The cream provides a moistness and the chocolate espresso provides a controlled sweetness. The matching of bitter expresso offsets the sweetness of the chocolate and creates a an interesting sauce. However, I question how this fits in with the overall dish. The hazelnut crumb provides a textual contrast and if you combine all the components, it kind of creates a savoury ferrero rocher. I really loved the lobster but I didn’t think the other elements on the plate complemented nor elevated the beautiful lobster. This dish had so much potential but didn’t wow. I felt disappointed considering how wonderful that buttery lobster is.
Course #6: Quail
Wolf ranch quail, corn and black bean ragu – I really loved the tender, perfectly cooked quail and the crispy skin presented a lovely contrast. The dish also came with black pudding which is something I’ve not eaten and it was actually quite good. It has a strong flavour. The corn and bean ragu were an odd pairing to this dish in my opinion as I felt it didn’t gel and let down the dish. This is the second dish in a row that I could have just eaten the protein, it was so tasty.
Course #7: Lamb
Lamb chop, black olive puree, fairytale eggplant – I found it amusing to see the lamb chop on the bone resting on it’s own little lamb rack holder. The lamb chop is a little rare in places making it difficult to cut but otherwise was tasty. I wasn’t the only person to receive an inconsistently cooked lamb chop as someone had quite a rare lamb chop, it looked a bit too rare to classify as rare. The black olive puree castes a dark brooding colour over the clean white plate. It tastes a lot like black bean sauce! The dish was also served with a mustard and pine nut soup. Sounds very unusual. The rich thick creamy mustard and pine nut soup washed well after the salty flavour of the puree but provided a very rich aftertaste.
Course #8: Cheese
Triple cheese from Wisconsin called timberdoodle. I love cheese and this particular cheese was so delicious. It was served with a crystallised fennel, jellies, cherry, and asparagus. However, once again, I didn’t think the other elements gelled.
Sorbet and granita. The palette cleanser was interesting tasting similar to candied ginger but refreshing at the same time. I really enjoyed the refreshing “course” granita against the “smooth” sorbet. Both refreshing and both having textures opposing each other but working well together. It was also the opportunity for some coffee and tea and of course, who doesn’t like marshmallows?
Course #9: Dessert
Quite an assortment of different elements combined on the plate into the one dessert. I really liked the chocolate coated vanilla ice cream ball, the whisky sponge cake, and the chocolate mousse atop the banana slice. However the element atop the sponge was not to my taste but I really enjoyed the dessert. My friend chose a slightly different path and went for the other dessert option which was based around berries and white chocolate.
Finally finished with a bunch of goodies and then were presented with a box of hand made chocolates to choose from. What was impressive was the wait staff rattling off the 24 different chocolate varieties! I had a coffee chocolate and loved it. I also had a milk chocolate truffle and a strawberry macarron which were great too.
After many restaurant visits the males at the table finally got a gift which was biscuits. The lady in our party has always received a gift and we’ve gone away empty handed looking on in envy from a number of restaurants on this trip.
Tour of the Kitchen
And what better way to finish the meal with a tour of the kitchen which was great.
Per Se Food Review Summary
Verdict: An interesting experience in a setting with wonderful views, ambience, and professional service. I much preferred the style of menu in tonight’s dinner compared to 11 Madison Park if comparisons can be drawn. Many of the dishes were lovely, some fantastic, but what was a recurring issue, maybe issue is too harsh a word, was that some elements just didn’t marry up effectively. The halibut, lobster, quail, and cheese were examples. Fantastic proteins cooked to perfection but let down slightly, or worse with the halibut, by elements which didn’t truly complement the dish. The additional elements should have their place to counteract other flavours (eg sweet v sour), or provide a textual contrast, and most importantly complement and better yet, elevate, the overall dish. But on several occasions, this didn’t occur. The salmon cornetto, caviar, summer melon, and desserts were excellent meals and overall I had a positive experience and was comfortably full. It did come with a hefty price tag though, so on that basis I’d still lean towards The Ledbury as my first choice and Petrus second. Just my opinion and what suits my tastes. Others will no doubt disagree. I’m very happy to have experienced dining at such a well regarded restaurant.
Per Se Restaurant Details
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