Per Se needs no introduction, but I’ll give a brief one anyway. San Pellegrino no 6 restaurant in the world, 3 Michelin stars, 4 stars from The New York Times. Sister of the famous French Laundry, but no sequel. This is why Thomas Keller named it Per Se, which translates to ‘by itself’. Last year we planned a trip to New York just so we could try to eat there. This did not happen easily as it’s notoriously difficult to get a reservation. After failing on opentable I had to resort to the old fashion telephone. I have the patience and boredom threshold of a small child; simply blow drying my hair makes me die of unrest, and so 20 minutes of constant dialling followed by a further 20 minutes on hold was testing for me, but it was worth it. We managed to get a lunch reservation. 11.30am seems a little more like breakfast to me, but I never pass up a chance to acceptably drink before noon. It makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Mad Men.
I suffer from extreme excitement. It’s a little bit like ADHD, but without the violence. I have to keep myself busy so I don’t burst. I read Phoebe Damrosch’s Service Included, a book written by a former employee of Per Se, to prepare myself. When she stopped babbling on about bonking the sommelier, it was actually quite an interesting insight into the world of fine dining. For instance, once hired, they are not allowed to change their hair, they mustn’t use scented soaps or fragrances, and must not flirt.
The day arrived. I had on my best frock and new shoes. The New York air was filled with frost. We were slightly flummoxed when we got to the address and it was a shopping centre. We walked through, looking like the world’s most confused, overdressed shoppers. We rode escalator after escalator until we saw the sign: Per Se on the 6th floor. It is on the same floor as Masa, the three Michelin starred Japanese restaurant that is noted to be the most expensive in the world (maybe next time?)
There it was. The famous blue door, the one nod to its brethren on the west coast. I had read that it isn’t actually a functioning door. I was glad of this information. My first embarrassing door encounter happened when I was still in primary school when I walked straight into a glass door in Principles. My howls were heard as far as Chorley. We walked through the sliding doors and immediately calm settled over both of us. Such a strange feeling.
We were taken through to the dining room. Can I just say that the pictures do not do it justice. Overlooking central park, it is spacious and elegant. We were given a booth on the upper level; really intimate and overlooking the other diners. I now understood why it is so difficult to gain a reservation, as there are minimal covers. Refreshing to see when they could easily double the numbers by packing more tables in, but the result is euphoric. We had our own corner, we had Central Park laid out pretty as a picture on the clear Autumnal day, it was blissful.
I’m not going to say too much more about it. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Wine list on an ipad
There’s no cocktail list, but a smooth waiter assured us they could ‘make any cocktail we could wish for.’
Warm cheese pastry balls
Salmon tartare cornets
Cape Cod Bay Scallops: Cherry belle radishes, compressed pineapple, cucumber and kanzuri
Spanish Mackerel Escabeche: Grilled leeks, sweet carrots, black olive puree and crispy chickpeas
Langue De Boeuf Grillee: Pommes darphin, caramelised broccolini, broccoli puree and whole grain mustard
Sauteed Fillet of Atlantic Monfish: Braised pine nuts, pickled sweet peppers, arugula and pimenton emulsion
Sauteed Fillet of Gigha Island Halibut: Parsnip puree, Thompson grapes, fines herbes and verjus butter
Venison: medjool dates, toasted pecans, black trumpet mushrooms
Banana Moon Pie
I once saw Thomas Keller interviewed. He said he always wants to leave the diner wanting more. He perfects this. We finished the tasting menu wanting just another bite of each course. But when it comes to petit fours, Keller brings out the big guns. There would be no empty bellies leaving that blue door today. It’s worth noting that the menu changes every day. Now that’s dedication.
The service is by far the best I’ve experienced. Like a gastronomic ballet, we found cutlery had been placed in front of us without even noticing. They read the situation perfectly. Stopping by for a chat when the moment called for it, yet leaving us uninterrupted whilst in the middle of a conversation. I don’t know how they do it, but everything is just so calm.
Yes it’s remortgage your house expensive, but worth every penny.
It’s taken me so long to write this up as I just didn’t know how to explain it. How do I put to paper that the very thought of Per Se gives me butterflies. When I remember that day, I feel a happy peace overcome me. I’ve seen people call it ‘boring’ and ‘overhyped’ but I disagree. Per Se has given me a perfect memory. And nobody can take that away.