At Per Se a few weeks earlier, Steph and I had the greatest meal of our lives. As great and amazing as the meal was, it wasn't enough to transform me from, "the Angry Food Blooger" to a happy one. My usual sunny disposition is still intact. See, right now we're looking to find a more affordable apartment and I'm just in love with the world, the laws of supply and demand, and rental prices in New York City. My fabulous self is ever more fab the last few weeks, which is why this lunch at Per Se was such a welcoming departure from my apartment-hunt-triggered desire to pull a Glenn Close on rabbits.
First thing's first about Per Se. The Chef's tasting is $295 per person (service included) and it's the same price for lunch or for dinner. This is the definition of a lunch for the 1%. I realize this. Unless you get to enjoy this kind of meal often, it's impossible to separate how different this meal is from any other meal. Seeing as El Bulli is gone, and I probably will never get to Noma or Fat Duck or any of those insane places around the world... it's safe to say that as far as a single meal is concerned, this might be the apex of my culinary experience for the rest of my life. I'm only fucking 30-years-old! I feel both thankful and depressed since it's all down hill from here.
You know that feeling when you try to do something new and just feel surprised? I mean this whole meal was like that. It started with the famous blue doors. They're modeled after the doors at the French Laundry, which is Thomas Keller's first restaurant in California. These doors? They do not open. How did I find out? By pulling on them and at the same time, the glass next to the door slide open. That moment encapsulated every possible nuance of embarrassment that I could feel just before entering a restaurant.
Inside, they greeted us the way you'd expect Per Se to greet any and all guests - warm and welcoming. She asked for our names and I mentioned our reservation time. Someone took our coats. The lady who escorted us to our seat started to comment on our facial expressions as we entered the restaurant. She had this look on her face too that I know all too well. I have that same look when an interviewer asks me an easy tech question that should be at the tip of my college comp sci educated tongue, but instead I'm left speechless because I'm really only qualified enough to watch TED videos in order to sound halfway smart. She had that look. She was lost for words at the expression that we had, which was that we were lost for words. Bright eyed and bushy tailed is a nice way of saying it. She never came up with the right words in the few seconds it took to get to our seats because she ended up with, "Oh nevermind, I don't want to say anything to offend you." She was friendly and made us feel at ease, but I couldn't help but wonder why she couldn't think of the right words since there has to be other diners like us that visit.
Once we sat down the amaze-balls experience was underway. We sat down and Steph got a little stool for her bag. I guess this is de rigueur for Michelin starred restaurants. At a later point in the meal (when I was in the bathroom) they noticed my camera bag was on the floor and brought a stool for me too. Before putting the bag on the stool, they even asked Steph for permission to even touch it. Crazy, right? My camera bag was probably the cheapest thing in the entire restaurant, maybe even cheaper than a spoon at Per Se. And there it was, sitting on a stool, because it was too good for the floor.
Then after that came one of the most famous dishes from Thomas Keller, Oysters and Pearls. The dish is described as, "Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and sterling White Sturgeon Caviar." Apparently sabayon is some sort of custardy thing, and there's tapioca pearls in there. It's rich and creamy and goes great with caviar.
Across from us was a VIP table I think. When the captain approached them at the start of the meal he said the chef had specially prepared a menu for the table and just asked the table about dietary restrictions. The funny thing is that their entire table got oysters and pearls, but the final dish came stacked on an extra bowl. See, oysters and pearls comes in this little bowl, and that bowl rests on top of another plate, and that on top of another (bigger) plate. For us, it came in a total of THREE bowl/plate. For VIPs? FOUR bowl/plate. I dunno if extra bowl/plate makes VIPs feel more elegant or something. Or maybe they just ran out of plates for us. Who knows, but just something I saw.
We also tried the $75 supplement for this course, which was, "Tsar Imperial Osetra Caviar. (Scottish Langoustine Tartare, Meyer Lemon and Shiso." You figure at over $295 dollar a head, if they print that Langoustine Tartare would appear on the plate, that I'd recognize it. But the plate was full of little pieces of gelees or whatever. Obviously the caviar was crazy good, but you just figured they'd let you know which part of it was actually langoustine. The best part of this dish was that you knew it was baller. I don't think either Steph or I had ever ordered a $70 dollar dish before. But hey, we shared it, so really it was a $37.50 dollar supplement per person.
At this point I want to compare caviar to a bucket of popeyes fried chicken. You see, I like both. I would say that there's occasions when Popeyes Fried Chicken is actually way way more awesome than caviar because caviar comes in such a small quantity. It's expensive. The few times that I've had caviar, I just think, "Holy shit, I can't believe there's caviar in my mouth!" and that experience trumps the taste. One of my earliest memory of non-Chinese food was eating spaghetti from Wendy's. I'm not even sure if they had that shit here in America, but I had it as a kid in Taiwan. I think when I first had spaghetti, it was awesome because it tasted good. I don't remember the first time I had caviar, but it wasn't a revelation the first time. After that first time, I just enjoy because that's the cultural norm to do so. It's fucking crazy to pay for caviar and not enjoy it. And I haven't had it enough to really develop an affinity for it the way I love fried chicken.
The "Salad of young beets 'cuit sous vide' - Mandarin Orange Confit, Pistachio Butter and Watercress" came next. This dish was just OK because it only featured vegetables. I will say that the pistachio butter was unbelievably intense in pistachio flavor, which made it amazing.
"'Gateau' of Hudson Valley moulard duck foie gras - black Mission fig marmalade, cipollini onion shoots, petite lettuce and Guinness chocolate sauce." This was awesome. The VIP table next to us also got this, but their thingy of foie gras looked shorter than ours, hehe. Who needs that extra plate?! Out of the three fancy ingredients in Western cooking (foie gras, truffles, and caviar), I like goose/duck liver the most. It's the one thing that really resonates with a normal palate. The version at Per Se is of course out of this world. There's a cool thing about this dish that I didn't photograph though...
See, foie gras usually comes with brioche. Here at Per Se, the brioche is this tiny version (about the diameter of a coke can) that's warm and sits inside of a tiny napkin. Since Steph and I shared the dish, I cut the brioche in half and proceeded to eat some foie gras. A few minutes go by and then the woman who brought the brioche came back, took the half-cut brioche, and gave us a new brioche. A brand new warm brioche! She also said they'll keep 'em coming. YESSSSS!!!! I guess that's what the $40 supplement pays for. Whatever, it's still super cool. In the end they brought us three. Love it.
"Medallion of Atlantic striped bass - French breakfast radishes, honshimeji mushrooms, cilantro and young ginger 'vierge'." The fish was expertly prepared and the little tiny mushrooms were super cute.
"Butter pached nova scotia lobster - jingle bell peppers, globe artichokes, sunchokes and spicy lobster broth." This was one of my favorite dishes of the day. Hell, all of the dishes were my favorite but there's something awesome about lobster. The foamy broth was a little spicy, which went well with the rich and buttery lobster.
"Four Story Hill Farm's poularde - 'ragout of English Peas, La Ratte potato purree and 'sauce perigourdine.'" Again, an awesome dish. At this point of the meal I was close to full and also amazed that dish after dish were so well prepared. I think that went along to making the meal so mind blowing.
"Snake River Farms' 'Calotte de Boeuf' - charred eggplant, cauliflower, arrowleaf spinach and n asturtium caper jus." You'd think something as simple as steak wouldn't be so amazing and there it was, being amazing again. I'm not sure what the crust of the steak was made out of, but it was nice to have a little bit of crunch with every bite. The eggplant here smokey and much lighter than a typical meat-and-potatoes type of dish. The tiny cauliflower was super cute just like the tiny mushrooms. I wonder if Per Se just has a tiny farm somewhere pumping out miniatures. After this came the cheese dish.
"'Boerenkaas' - sour cherries, celery branch, lavash and black pepper gastrique." The cheese was a cow milk cheese. You wouldn't think celery and cheese would go well together, but along with the sour cherries, it kind of how worked. Another highlight of the meal would follow this one.
"Blue Gin - dragon fruit with greek yogurt sorbet and violet gin granité." This was super duper refreshing. You wouldn't think greek yogurt would be refreshing since it's thick, but they cut through that idea by turning it into a sorbet. It was icy and tart, just the right touch to really clear the palate for the dessert.
You get a choice of dessert, and since we wanted to sample both, we got one of each. Steph preferred the "'Pamplemousse blanc' - vanilla 'genoise,' grapefruit 'bavarois,' fennel bulb 'relish' and olio verde sorbet."
I got the other thing. At this point of writing, I can't believe there were that many courses in this meal. It's hard as hell to keep up with all of this. This dish was called "Salted chocolate peanuts" I think it's interesting to note that the desserts are really well-proportioned considering how many course of food had come already. And there's MORE!
Someone comes out to bring a box of chocolates and explains each one. I think there were over thirty chocolates and you can pick as many as you'd like. Normally, I would pick ALL of them. We picked maybe 20 pieces and boy, it was difficult to finish because they also gave some donuts...
These were light and airy doughnuts. At this point I was ready to bust open. Steph only had one of these. I ate like the other five or six. And then there was more!
Frozen cappucino. This was nice. It was great coffee ice cream, essentially. The cool part was the foam at the top. What's cool is that the foam just stays there, it doesn't dissolve the way it does on top of a normal cup of cappucino. I liked this a bunch too.
I also want to note that this meal was amazingly subsidized by our friends Jonathan and Grace. It was a wedding present and it definitely made the meal way more affordable for Steph and me. At some point as a food blogger, I was going to get around to Per Se, but it just happened sooner than later. For that I'm very thankful.
If you want to experience a nearly perfect meal for some special occasion, I think Per Se has to be right up there if you live in New York. We probably won't ever go back, but that's not the point. It's that if you really love eating, then this probably serves as one of the high temples in New York City. They definitely make you feel like it's a once in a life time event even if aren't a VIP or don't tell them why you're really there. It wasn't overrated or overhyped for me. It was pretty fucking amazing.
The cost of the meal (for two individuals) with all the supplements, two half bottles, and some sparkling wine to start the meal will run you north of one thousand dollars. This is a lot of money. But try to put this in perspective with how much this city costs... recently I had to look into getting a lawyer for some personal reasons and that shit costs $1500. Recently I've also been trying to sift through shitty craigslist apartment ads, and might bite the bullet and pay a broker. Cost on that depends on the particular apartment and borough, but it's safe to say that in NYC that'll be much greater than $1000 as well. Do people write blog posts about how awesome it was to shell out money for a lawyer or a broker? No. Paying for a meal at Per Se might be the most expensive meal you ever have to pay, and I'll tell you that if it's a super awesome celebratory event, it's worth it.
10 Columbus Cir.
New York, NY 10019
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