10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY
B and I are big believers in the term “You only live once”. Hence why we didn’t hesitate to book Per Se when we went to New York, even though we had only been at The French Laundry back in March. We could not visit New York and not check this bucket-list item off.
Per Se is The French Laundry’s sister restaurant, located in the hustle and bustle of New York City. The restaurant looks directly out over Columbus Circle and has spectacular views over Central Park. The restaurant is more modern, so less cozy than The French Laundry. If I had to chose which ambiance I preferred, I’d have to say I preferred the “feel” of The French Laundry as it was more intimate and the vibe was much more relaxed.
The food at Per Se was as superb as the food that we received at The French Laundry and there were some familiar dishes on the menu, starting with the canapés of salmon tartare coronets (cones filled with red onion creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare) and gruyere gougères (French cheese puffs). The “Oysters and Pearls”, the foie gras, baskets of tempting freshly baked breads with paired butters, and “coffee and donuts”, were also dishes that we had been served at The French Laundry. Once again, my favourite dish on the menu (available as a supplement) was the silky foie gras. It is so rich and decadent!
With any high-end fine-dining restaurant, it was more than a meal. It was a three hour experience of indulgence. Our nine-course set menu consisted of:
Course 1: Thomas Keller’s signature dish – “Oysters and Pearls” – “Sabayon” of pearl tabioca with Island Creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar.
Course 2 (supplement): Slow Poached Élevages Périgord Moulard Duck Foie Gras with pluot glaze, young radishes, pea tendrils and Riesling gelée with toasted brioche. This was served with seven (!!) different types of salt.
Course 4: Charcoal-grilled Langoustines “Curry” with basmati rice, toasted almonds, coconut cream, “herb salad” and chickpea “pappadam”.
Course 4 (supplement): Butter Poached Scottish Blue Lobster with matsutake mushrooms “Cuit et Cru,” compressed d’Anjou pear, mizuna leaves and “Mousseline de Crustacés”.
Course 5: “Ballottine De Suprème De Pintade” (Guinea Fowl) served with sweet corn, chanterelle mushrooms, swiss chard “Ribs” and California Syrah “Gastrique”.
Course 6: Elysian Fields Farm’s “Carré D’Agneau” (lamb) with patty pan squash, globe artichokes, marinated eggplant, Meyer lemon “Suprémes”, arugula and “Sauce Gremolata”.
Course 7: Spring Brook Farm’s “Tarentaise”(a type of cheese) served with summer melons, pickled Ají dulce peppers, garden mâche, Tellicherry pepper melba and hazelnut-brown butter vinaigrette.
Course 8: “Rainbow Sherbet” with “Biscuit Dacquoise”, whipped orange cream and Garden State raspberry sorbet.
Course 9: “Junior Mint” of chocolate “bavarois”, juniper “ganache” and peppermint ice cream.
Course 9: Unknown dessert – it was ordered off the vegetarian menu so it wasn’t included on our printed menu.
Popcorn Ice Cream
As was the case at The French Laundry, Per Se finished strong when the mignardises just kept coming! We had warm donuts, popcorn ice cream balls (very good), espresso semi-freddo, cappuccinos, and then a three-tiered selection of caramels, nougat, and chocolate truffles, was left on the table. One thing that Per Se did differently from French Laundry was, in addition to the rest of the desserts, they also offered us a selection of 24 house-made chocolates that were presented to us in a large wooden box. The best part was that we could select as many of them as we wanted! After all of the desserts, I must admit that I could barely think about eating them, but got three anyway. As seems to be customary with Thomas Keller, we also received a bag of goodies to take with us.
I had been looking forward to Per Se SO MUCH that my expectations were set skyhigh. The reason for this, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was mostly due to its #6 placement on the “World’s Best Restaurants” list. I thought, wow, if it is #6 and French Laundry is #43, then Per Se is going to knock it out of the park! Well, to be completely honest, I was more impressed with our experience at The French Laundry than I was with Per Se. I felt that the service at French Laundry was much more personal and more attentive than what we received at Per Se.
At times, it almost felt like we were forgotten, or at least not a priority, and we weren’t engaged by the servers in friendly queries, like we were at French Laundry (although I heard them asking other diners questions about their visit to New York, where they were from, etc.). As much as this might make me sound high-maintanence, I didn’t feel special. At The French Laundry I felt so special because they took such great care of us.
Normally, I wouldn’t feel entitled to “feel special” but at $300 per person for just the set menu (not including supplements or drinks) and at one of the best restaurants in the world, you are damn right that I wanted to feel special. Simple things, like extra brioche with the foie gras or being handed the menu in a folder without asking, were all things taken care of at The French Laundry but Per Se neglected to do. It’s not to say it was a bad experience, it was still incredible, however when I compare our two experiences, French Laundry was well ahead.