Per Se: First Anniversary Celebration

16 Jun

It has been an incredible year.  1 year ago on June 15, I married the incredible Mr. Nom Nom with an incredible wedding in Maine, and then went on an incredible honeymoon that even made it into a magazine.  On our honeymoon, we went to The French Laundry, where we had an incredible, memorable meal (though slightly below expectation). It was still great enough, and epic enough, that we decided that for our first anniversary, there was only restaurant we could go… Per Se.

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Per Se is described as the “urban interpretation of The French Laundry” on their site, and is helmed by the same chef, Thomas Keller. Keller opened Per Se in 2004, about 10 years after The French Laundry, and it has long been on our grubbit-list.

We decided to save up and cap anniversary gifts at $20 to have a meal at the place that everyone said was the most famous in NYC.

So yesterday at noon, we sat down on the 4th floor of the Time Warner Center, looked out over Columbus Circle (and Columbus himself) and got ready to dine.

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The room is very reminiscent of The French Laundry with some similar touches, but it still a restaurant unto itself with very high ceilings and a bit more modern touches.

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Our waitress was nice enough to capture a shot of us at our table.

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And the restaurant, as perfect as French Laundry, even printed special menus wishing us a Happy 1st Anniversary.

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The format is similar, with a “Tasting of Vegetables” on one side…

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And the “Chef’s Tasting Menu” on the other side.  The 9 course full menu is $310, and this lunch menu has some additional options of a 7 course for $245 or a 5 course for $205.  We had been saving our pennies so we went for it and did the full menu.  There are also some supplements you can opt into, but we chose to stick to the regular menu. (For a fun infographic, check how how much you CAN spend at Per Se in case it’s not ridiculous enough…)

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Rather than go with a wine pairing, which would have broken the already decimated bank, we went for starter cocktails and then had a few glasses of wine throughout the meal. These were possibly the most expensive cocktails I’ve ever had ($25 a pop) but they were flipping fantastic.

Mike had the Charlie Hustle which was Basil Hayden Bourbon, Aperol & Vanilla-Infused Carpano Sweet Vermouth. It was perfectly balanced with all the right amounts of everything to create a manly, but not mannish, drink.

And I had the Long Weekend, which was made with Plantation “20th Anniversary” Rum & Strawberries. It exploded with delicious strawberry flavor.  It reminded me of a fresh strawberry popsicle from childhood.

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We began with an amuse bouche of miniature cheese stuffed puffs.  These were similar, if not the same as at French Laundry.  But they were much more memorable. The cheese was so creamy and it really popped.

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The salmon coronette was exactly was I remembered it from French Laundry.

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A mouthful of salty, crunchy, fishy deliciousness. Great balance of all textures and flavors.

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And then this spoon hit the table…

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… and I could feel my heart filling with anticipation as I knew what was coming next.

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The oysters and pearls. (Menu description: “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar).

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This masterpiece bowl of awesome heaven defies all explanation.  How this can be so fulfilling and so flavorful and so exciting blows my mind.  Right now I am actually saddened by the fact that I do not know if I will ever be at either of these two restaurants ever again to have this dish again.  There are few dishes that sing like this sings.  It is obvious why this is so famous.

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But as quickly as it began, it was over.

But a parker house roll with two house butters were there to try their damnedest to fill the void.

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The first butter was salted and very similar (if not the same) as the French Laundry version.  The second butter was unsalted but it was an insanely buttery tasting butter.   Both very good and fun to taste the dichotomy of both versions.

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The next dish was the Salad of French Laundry Garden Radishes (menu description: Hawaiian hearts of peach palm, hass avocado, bing cherries, and green almonds).  This dish was so beautiful and so fresh.

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I do not love radishes, but this could have made me love them.  The sauces were so smooth and so flavorful, without taking away from the delicate tastes of the radishes.

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Breads were offered throughout the evening, and we enjoyed sampling each of them.  My favorite of the great batch was the pretzel. This is what pretzels should taste like. Why people make imitations that taste anything less than this is a crime against pretzels.

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Our next dish was “Confit” of Dover Sole (menu description: Sweet carrots, morel mushroom “tempura,” wild asparagus and melted green garlic).  The sauce was a great foil for the fish, which was slightly sweet.

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I really enjoyed the mushroom “tempura”  which added a hearty and earthy quality to the dish.

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Next up was the Jade Tiger Abalone (menu description: Grilled corn shoots, Hakurei turnips, Surinam Cherries, and Piedmont hazelnuts).  I have never had abalone to my recollection, but this sea snail didn’t tickle me as much as I was hoping.  It was good, but I just would much rather a scallop.

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That said, this was executed incredibly well, with a bit of crisp sear on the top and a lovely, earthy sauce.

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Our next dish went into the meat world and was a Degustation of Four Story Hill Farm’s Suckling Pig (menu description: Marinated tomatoes, Lamborn pea tendrils, haricot verts, and “Sauce Gribiche”).

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I cannot remember the details of how each was prepared, but all bites were packed with flavor and had all the right balances or acids, greens, sauces, and earthiness.  And the tomatoes on the plate were somehow the sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever had.  I have been sorely disappointed by pretty much every tomato I’ve had in recent years, but these were incredible.

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Our last meat was Elysian Field Farm’s “Carré D’Agneau” (menu description: “Petit Salé,” English peas, romaine lettuce, spring onions, and “Paloise Gastrique”)

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The plate was beautifully arranged and the peas, onions, and sauce were so bright and so spring.  With the lamb I was wondering if flowers were going to start sprouting from our table.

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The char and the salt on the meat brought out all the flavors.

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This was the most tenderly flavored lamb I’ve ever tasted.  It was distinctly lamby without being at all gamey.

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As a segue into dessert, the cheese course was Consider Bardwell Farm’s “Pawlet” (menu description: Black truffle shortbread, granny smith apples, celery branch and Belgian endive).

This cheese was so good that I actually looked up the farm and where to get it (Murray’s Cheese!)

The short bread was so perfectly textured and the cheese with the apple… gosh… it was just so good.

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Onto the desserts!

This is where the menu gets low on the details. It just says “Assortment of Desserts” with the description of Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate, and Candies. So apologies on the lack of details in my memory.

This was a rhubarb and strawberry something or other with some short bread pieces. It was fresh and creamy and lovingly balanced with textures and flavors with a hint of tart.

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Then we had an almond ice cream with hazelnut and pistachio.  Again… a simply perfect balance of texture and flavor.  Refreshing and nutty.

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Last “dessert on a plate” (great description from the waitress that made me laugh) as their take on an “After Eight.” I love mint and chocolate, and especially After Eights, so I really enjoyed this rich, but balanced dessert.  Mike, who doesn’t like chocolate with mint at all, even gobbled it all up.

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We then received a very sweet anniversary special treat.  This stunning piece of art was entirely edible.

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And it was as delicately delicious as it was delicately beautiful. What a treat!

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But the gifts just kept on coming.

Next up was a box of homemade candies.  He described each one and then made us choose. I chose a bourbon pecan milk chocolate while Mike went with an “Arnold Palmer” (ice team and lemonade) white chocolate.  (I was very upset to not try the burnt honey one, especially after re-reading my French Laundry review and realizing that their burnt honey ice cream one of my favorite parts of the meal).  But they were both really fantastic.  I was really impressed at how much the Arnold Palmer tasted like tea and lemon.

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We then received a “tower” that we assumed was to end the meal.

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Lovely truffles on the bottom (one of the flavors was with beer)

 

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Tender macarons in the middle (I think one was Earl Grey flavored)

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And then caramels and nougat on top.

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But oh no… we were not done…

Similar to how we ended our meal at French Laundry, we ended with fresh, warm donut holes and a “cappuccino semifredo” which looked like cappuccino but was made from a mousse with foam on top.

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Served with fresh cherries.

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We were so stuffed so I was thrilled when our waitress said she could pack up the rest of the tower to go (we had it for dinner!)

Then we were given a take-home of shortbread chocolate sandwiches.  It is now the day after and I just had one.  Sheesh. Bang. Zoom.  How are cookies that good? The filling is soft and like a chocolate cloud with perfectly soft yet firm short bread.  Awesome.  A great flashback to every great flavor from yesterday.

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What a meal!  This was very reminiscent of our meal at French Laundry but it was actually just a little bit better. Each dish was similar in format and composition, with a similar order of the full meal (including the farm salad followed by a fish followed by a seafood followed by a pork followed by a lamb dish), but each component of Per Se sang just a little bit better. It felt more in tune. Maybe this is the final nail in the coffin about my preference for the East Coast over the West Coast, but I’m curious how others who have had the incredibly pleasure of eating at both would compare the two.

Overall, our meal was just so phenomenal. As perfect as French Laundry and just a hair more delicious.

Worth it? Absolutely not if you have any practicality in your body whatsoever. But I do not when it comes to food.  Especially celebratory food.  I don’t have fancy cars or fancy clothes. I don’t go to concerts or fly in first class.  I eat like this. And I love it.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10 (really more like a 9.2 to give it a bit of an edge over our meal at The French Laundry)

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