Per Se (NY) – I’ll Pass

The French Laundry (FL) is revered by many to be America’s top restaurant. For those fortunate enough to go, they often proclaim it the best meal of their lives. While I was not so fortunate, I still believe it could impress me in the future. Thomas Keller is renowned for being a perfectionist about everything – the ingredients, the preparation, and the experience. Why, then, did many of the media outlets all it “French Laundry East?”

Per Se is the sister restaurant in NYC, manned by Thomas Keller’s star pupil, with many people saying it’s just as impressive as FL. Could Per Se be the culinary experience I was expecting at FL? Or would I be disappointed again?

(Note: many of the dishes are whimsically named (well, if you have a good knowledge of cooking & French… many of the dishes also have a lot of ingredients. i’ve tried to distill both the name & ingredient list to something more concisive; otherwise, this entry would double in length.)

1. Cauliflower “Panna Cotta” w/ russian sevruga caviar

I’m not a big cauliflower fan but the panna cotta was very smooth and pure – a cauliflower essence; however, it did nothing to mute the (expected) extreme saltiness of the caviar.

2. Tourchon of Moulard Duck Foie Gras w/ Frog Hollow Farm’s peach jelly

The foie gras was creamy w/ a subtle, delicate taste. The peach jelly was a mess – jelly, pickled peaches, onions, and more. The foie didn’t need it. I was also disappointed to find them using Bay Area supplier – i thought the point of Per Se was to show off some of the NY-area farmers, not exactly replicate the FL experience.

3. Pave of Pacific Big-Eyed Tuna
Over. Cooked. Tuna is the first thing a top-tier sushi restaurant will spoil for you. It was served w/ some heirloom tomatoes from a NY-area farm that were good, but not spectacular. (and yes, at these prices, I expect spectacular from Per Se.)

4. Fricasse of Sweet Butter Poached Lobster Mitts w/ Corn Pudding
The lobster was buttery (as promised), delicate, and quite delicious. The corn pudding was also spectacular – you couldn’t go wrong w/ a corn dish in NY during the month of August.

5. Cavendish Farm’s Quail w/ dandelion & poached plums
Overcooked – 2 overcooked dishes out of 3 meat courses – this isn’t looking too good.

6. Elysian Fields Lamb Ribs
Slightly over cooked – thinking back, I should have said something. 3 out of 4 meat dishes were overcooked; the rest of the table generally agreed.

7. La Serena

No recollection of what this was.

8. Blueberry Sorbet w/ Yogurt cream
The sorbet was vibrant and exciting, a welcome end to a lackluster meal. The yogurt cream was just as good – slightly tangy but silky – a perfect complement to the sorbet.

9. Hazelnut & Chocolate Temptation
Hazelnut & chocolate a few ways – boring – except for the most interesting condensed milk sorbet – this would have to be the happy ending to my lackluster meal.

French Laundry is still on the to-do-again list, but i will *never* go back to Per Se on my own dime. The food is basically the same but you don’t get the (presumably French-ish) country feel of FL; instead, it’s 50yr old women w/ tiger skin jackets & 20 face lifts, eating at Per Se because it’s the place to be. Per Se is pointless if you have access to FL. Per Se is disappointing when compared to other great NY restaurants like Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Kuruma Zushi, Masa, & Bouley.

- chuck