per se (Click to show)
I went to Per Se last night. It was my first time dining there, or any Keller establishment, for that matter.
Edited by mgm9128 - 7/14/12 at 7:35pm
The restaurant is beautiful. Throughout the night, I felt as though it was empty, but that was only due to the ample spaciousness, as there are merely 16 tables.
I was welcomed with champagne. The head sommelier, who had spent 8 years at The French Laundry, poured a Jose Dhondt, Blanc de Blancs Brut. With this, of course, were gougères, and the salmon cornet. I enjoyed both.
The first amuse to arrive was a chilled carrot soup. This was poured, table side, over medjool dates, cilantro shoots, and whipped ginger. The color was vivid orange, on the verge of red. I really adore chilled soups, especially as the start of a meal, and this was refreshing and delicious. The medjool dates were formed into tiny spheres using a small parisienne scoop; their sweetness adding nice balance to the slight bitterness of the ginger. The only trouble with this was I felt too much soup was poured, and the garnish was gone by the time there was still half of the soup left. The last few spoonfuls were a few too many.
Oysters and Pearls. Not much to say. This was executed perfectly. The tapioca given just enough salinity from the oyster juice, the caviar exceptional, and the oysters plump and tender. An excellent balance of flavors and textures.
Next, a terrine of Atlantic fluke layered with kombu, surrounded by dots of avocado mousse, thin slices of the smallest grapes I've seen, mizuna and gingko nuts. This dish was exceptional. The terrine was seasoned perfectly, with a hint of lime, and crystals of sea salt that offered a pleasant crunch. I love sea flavors, so I loved the use of kombu here. The garnish added just the right amount of fat and sweetness to the dish. Fantastic.
The last amuse was the white truffle oil infused custard, served in the shell, with ragout of black winter truffle and chive potato chip. The chip was perfect looking, but it was tough, and hard to eat. The ragout was fine, but the overpowering taste of truffle oil and reduced veal stock was cloying.
Next came the foie gras. "Slow poached Élevages Périgord Moulard Duck Foie Gras- brooks cherries, young fennel, green almonds, petite lettuce, and Tellicherry pepper yogurt. This torchon was presented wrapped in a thin gelée of duck consommé, along with that infamous selection of salts. A roll of brioche accompanied this, which was replaced periodically with a warm one. Unfortunately, the foie gras, itself, was under salted. I'm not sure if this was purposeful, with anticipation of the diner adding their own salt, but eaten alone, the taste was quite bland. I also felt the bread was much too soft and buttery to pair with the richness of the foie. A 2001 Trimbach Riesling "Cuvée Frédéric Emile" was poured with this.
Atlantic Monkfish "A La Bordelaise". The monkfish had been wrapped in smoked bacon, accompanied by a trumpet royale mushroom, petite pearl onions, and a bordelaise "vinaigrette". I think there was a slice of cauliflower, as well. The smokiness of the bacon worked well in this particular dish, however, it was very hard to taste the monkfish, itself. Eaten without the bacon, the fish was nothing more than a texture, without much flavor at all. My guess is that it was under salted, to account for the saltiness of the bacon. The accompaniments were all delicious, though--the mushroom especially, which tasted like it had been glazed in a sort of bacon emulsion. The plate, as a whole, was good. I just didn't taste enough monkfish. A 2011 Keller Riesling Trocken was poured with this, and the next course.
Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster. I think I was looking forward to this dish more than any. The lobster came parading out, wearing a little hat of brioche, alongside a sunchoke "rissole", glazed candycot, and saffron-Riesling emulsion. I picked up my knife to cut the lobster and, to my chagrin, the lobster did not cut, nor taste, as tender as I had expected. I've cooked many a lobster tail, and have spent pounds of butter doing so, and I can say, without doubt, that this lobster was overcooked. What a shame, too. I was really hoping it would be the most tender lobster I've eaten. Alas, this was not the case. The candycot tasted like candy, and was hard to cut, as it was placed skin side up. The sunchoke was crisp and delicious. The saving grace in this dish, however, was the sauce. Saffron and Riesling any day, and I am a happy man. It did cross my mind that it may have been better to serve this dish before the monkfish, rather than after.
To accompany the final three savory courses was a red Burgundy. "Domaine Hubert Lignier, "Les Seuvrees," Gevrey-Chambertin 2009.
The next course was hand cut "tagliatelle" (not sure why that's in quotation marks on my menu). Onto which was shaved Australian black winter truffles. I really can not have any complaints with this dish.
Four Story Hill Farm's Rabbit "Galantine". Two sliced rounds of rabbit wrapped in Serrano ham, covered with circles of a Pedro Ximénez gelée, French Laundry squash and pickled garlic. I had the choice between this and quail. In the context of the meal, the quail would have been the better choice at this point, as this was a cold preparation, but delicious, nonetheless. The rabbit meat had a wonderful denseness, and the gelée brought wonderful acidity to balance the richness of the ham. The shaved squash tasted like things I've eaten picked right from the garden. There was also a squash puree, spiked with mint, which added a good herbal kick. The lack of proper cutlery would be my only criticism of this course, as the rabbit was difficult to slice with the knife I was given.
The final savory course was Elysian Fields Farm's lamb. "Fork crushed La Ratte potatoes, romano beans, "Pommes Maxim's" and caper jus. It pains me to say, but the lamb was overcooked. How in the world that is possible, I do not know. The flavor, however, was, and is, still superior to any lamb I've tasted. For me, this helped make up for the toughness of the meat; I was happy enough to simply taste the purity of this extraordinary ingredient. The potato mash was seasoned with lemon zest, which I will certainly remember for future applications, and the gorgeous pommes maxim was the crunchiest I've tasted. The beans were cold by the time I got to them, but the jus was really nice here, and actually broken with a bit of fat, which I thought was unusual, given Keller's sauce making proclivities.
Cheese was "Kinderhook Creek"--a sheep's milk cheese-- which was served with english peas, a pea barbajuan, romaine lettuce and black truffle puree. A lemon coulis dotted the dish, as well. This was nice.
Desert as follows:
"Sake-Soda"-green tea ice cream, matcha powder, and verjus gelée.
"Gateau Marjolaine De Fernand Point"-"Glace Vanille-Chocolat"
"Coffee and Doughnuts" (my favorite of the three)
After my meal, I took a tour of the kitchen, and spoke briefly with the chef, which was a real pleasure. I have to say, I had been looking forward to eating at this restaurant for some time. I tried my best to restrain from building up any expectations of the experience. The food, with the exception of a few slip-ups, was pretty damn delicious. The service was extremely friendly--maybe more friendly than absolutely professional; there was a certain inherent confidence, as if to say "we know we're the best, so we don't need to pretend to be".
I am still struggling to form a definitive opinion of per se. I do not know if one can accurately judge a restaurant from merely a single visit, but I do know that a restaurant of such accolade should certainly leave a strong first impression, and, maybe regrettably, I can not say that I was blown away.