It’s an oasis at the top of the Time Warner building. Down below, it’s chaotic. Yellow taxis circle frantically around Columbus Circle dropping off harried guests. Pedestrians with a purpose walk quickly toward their destinations, while cars honk their horns impatiently.
It sort of looks like this.
But up here, it’s quiet, relaxing, and sort of zen, almost.
Welcome to Per Se, Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant in New York. After having tried his West Coast flagship restaurant a month ago, we were curious what his other establishment would be like. In many ways, the two restaurants are like night and day: east coast versus west coast; rustic cottage versus urban skyscraper; backyard vegetable garden versus international import hub.
And yet there are obvious similarities as well: impossible reservations, unique spaces, fresh and inventive high dining, three Michelin stars apiece, and, of course, one renowned chef.
For this meal, we did something a little different. I ordered the Tasting of Vegetables, while Bryan got the classic Chef’s Tasting. Accordingly, there will be double the pictures compared to normal. Please join my as I take you on a photo journey of our exquisite meal at Per Se.
Let me start with the space. The dining space is airy, modern, and overlooks Columbus Circle. Though nowhere as intimate as eating in a rustic farmhouse, it was still very relaxing and enjoyable. There’s really no bad seat in the house.
Here’s another view from our table.
Of course, we started with the classic salmon cornet (also served at The French Laundry). The Tasting of Vegetables came with a special beet coronet, which I thought was very cool. I love beets, and this was no excpetion. It was delicious. I mean, they are both delicious, and if pressed I’m still not sure which one I would choose as a favorite. How about both?
Oysters and Pearls
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
The oysters and pearls is another classic Thomas Keller dish, and also served at both restaurants. Served with a mother-of-pearl spoon, this dish is beautifully decadent and has been perfectly executed both times we’ve tried it.
Coddled Square Hill Farm’s Ameraucana Hen Egg
cauliflower florets, mint, citrus, gelee
Asperge en feuille de Bric
Cherry Belle Radishes and Miner’s Lettuce with Black Winter Truffle Mayonnaise
Aren’t those ribbons beautiful? The perfectly fried spears came with a beautiful black truffle mayonnaise.
I loved this dish, the second course in my vegetable tasting. The onions are richly full of flavor after having been cooked for a really long time. They were nicely caramelized, wonderfully earthy and sweet. The madras curry added a beautiful richness to the dish. Even Bryan liked it, even though he typically does not like Indian spices.
Homemade Egg Pasta Sheets with a roasted red pepper sauce and cheese.
This dish was creatively assembled and beautiful to look at. Flavor-wise it was good, although I actually think it does not necessarily beat some of the best pasta dishes I’ve had at the North End in Boston!
“Fricassee” of Liberty Farm’s Peking Duck
Fava Beans, Cherry Belle Radishes and Heirloom Carrots with “Sauce Perigueux”
Marscapone Enriched Yukon Gold Potato Agnolotti
Split peas, pea tendrils and parmesan cream with Black Winter Truffle
I loved the little delicate agnolottis filled with bits of cheese and potato.
Elysian Fields Farm’s Carre D’agneau Roti Entier
Gnocchi a la Romana, violet artichokes, garlic confit, olives, cilantro shoots with lamb jus
This was delicious, although Bryan said that the beef he had at The French Laundry was better than this lamb.
Hakurei turnips, field rhubarb, and mizuna leaves with spiced streusel
This is the cheese course, complete with cute little turnips!
Here’s another look at those Hakurei turnips. Aren’t they cute?
Lime macaron, compressed golden pineapple, papaya, and Persian lime salt
This dessert was enjoyable, although not particularly memorable.
Black sesame nougatine and Kiwano Melon with Whipped green tea
I actually liked Bryan’s guava sorbet better. It had such a beautiful intense guava flavor. Of course, guava is also one of my favorite fruits, so I may be just a bit biased.
Glace a la Vanille
Coconut water, champagne mango, coconut sugar wafers
This was my second dessert, and quite refreshing.
Chocolate “roulade” Manjara chocolate “cremeux” chocolate covered banana with glace a la creme fraiche
They accidentally brought us the wrong dessert (Bryan had ordered the Lemon Gingersnap below), so we ended up getting to try both. Although we liked both, we both agreed the Lemon Gingersnap was better.
Jamaican Gingerbread and Meyer Lemon “Marshmallow” with “Pain d’Epices” Ice Cream
And after dessert, more random things kept coming, like this creme brulee for Bryan!
And a panna cotta for me (nice and lighter!) We were so full at that point!
Finally, an assortment of miganardises.
I chose four.
And it’s not over yet! Then they bring tins and tins of after-dinner candies. We enjoyed the chocolate dusted hazelnuts, but they were not nearly as amazing as the chocolate dusted macadamia nuts from The French Laundry.
Take Away Butter Cookies. These are very similar to those at The French Laundry, except the ribbon is brown instead of blue.
Unlike at The French Laundry, where the waiter invite us to see the kitchen, I had to ask our server whether we could see it. The manager then took us on a brief tour.
By the time we entered, they were cleaning up, since lunch was basically over.
We saw the TV that displays a live feed from The French Laundry kitchen. Of course, lunch was just getting way in Napa Valley, since they are three hours later.
The food was excellent here – well executed and thoughtfully created. It’s probably clear by now (if you’ve actually read the entire post), but we both liked The French Laundry slightly better. Both are excellent, but we definitely felt that the The French Laundry took extra care to make sure we had a really unique and special night. We really felt pampered. Little things, like inviting us to the kitchen, or giving us a print out of the menu at the end, made the evening that much more special.
In spite of all that, Per Se makes phenomenal food, and it was still a very very enjoyable experience. The space is lovely, the food is exquisite, and service is excellent. After a frustratingly slow dinner at Morimoto the night before, this was really a relaxing breath of fresh air.
We chilled, looked out over Manhattan, and just had a great time.
* * * * *
A Few Notes
The tasting menu costs $275 per person (including gratuity & taxes). This is $25 more than The French Laundry. Of course wine is not included, although I don’t think they charged us for other drinks (e.g. coffee and sparkling water). On Sundays only they offer a 5-course brunch tasting for “only” $175. We went on Sunday, and it seemed like not all the tables were filled. Might not be a bad time to try getting a reservation!
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