Per Se Restaurant: Frenchie NYC

Mascarpone Enriched Pea Shoot “Agnolini”

Last week, I celebrated my birthday with a ten course, four-hour-long culinary extravaganza at Per Se, one of NYC’s restaurant jewels. It was a night of French haute cuisine that included everything from caviar to pigeon, lobster to lamb—the full array of a carnivore’s dream (or vegetarian’s dream if you’re so inclined), with the finest attention to detail over ingredients and execution. It’s a pity that the restaurant that’s been on my wish list for years was downgraded earlier this year. Regardless, it was a beautifully lavish night that tripped out my senses and made me feel like a modern-day princess.

 

The Time Warner Center during the day is abuzz with frenetic energy and traffic, but at night, it is eerily quiet, with just a few stragglers taking refuge in the mall or doing late night shopping at the underground Whole Foods. After getting over the surreal effect of walking into a massive practically empty space, we took the elevator up to the fourth floor. When the doors opened, it felt like NYC again, with the Center Bar, an open cocktail venue on the same floor humming with live jazz and lively conversation. We reached an interior garden alive with wild flowers, lush foliage, and comfy couches and two huge turquoise doors that marked the entrance to Per Se. As we walked in and removed our coats, we also checked in the craziness of the city and our daily lives, and time slowed down.

As we stepped into the dining room, I was surprised at the small number of tables that made up the restaurant, some flanking the modern fireplace that burnt brightly and huge windows that overlooked the stream of traffic and lights that snaked around Columbus Circle. The others, on the upper level, were a bit more private. We were seated here. Each table glowed in soft white with candlelight and flowers and for an instant it felt like we were dining in Hong Kong or Singapore. The décor was zen and restrained and at the tables around us, most of which were occupied that night, were Asian businessmen in three piece suits, middle aged couples, and older parties of four.

The maître d’ and sommelier welcomed us with the menu of the evening, and a personalized birthday message which was a nice touch. We reviewed the menu, chose the wine, and settled in. The amuse-bouche was a small cone that tasted like three of the things I love most: salmon roe, mascarpone, and sour cream and onion potato chips. Obviously the third ingredient was not really used, but the cone tasted just like the real thing. I was in heaven.

Salmon Roe Amuse-bouche

Salmon Roe Amuse-Bouche

 

My tasting menu kicked off with the special first course, which had a spoonful of Ossetra caviar and sea urchin topping littleneck clam chowder encased in a puff pastry tartelette. The sweet brininess and luxurious textures was unlike anything I had ever eaten and made a seafood lover like myself almost weep with joy. Next came the agnolini, delicate pasta filled with mascarpone and pea shoot, and crowned with pickled artichokes, braised pine nuts, gremolata and an itty bitty hen egg you could separate and swirl around to compose each bite after perfect bite.

 

Tsar Imperial Ossetra Caviar

Tsar Imperial Ossetra Caviar

Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster

Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster

 

I’m going to fast forward to my next favorite course, the fifth course and one dish on the menu that made me slightly uncomfortable: the pigeon. The menu described it as Thomas Farm’s Pigeon “En Crépinette”, which ended up being a luscious shade of pink game plated with melted curried endive, apples, sultana almonds, and red sorrel. It was slightly sweet and salty, a beautiful balance of savory, and rich interplay of textures.

Thomas Farm's Pigeon "En Crepinette"

Thomas Farm’s Pigeon “En Crepinette”

 

Shortly after came the lamb course, delicious but too safe, although I did love the garbanzo bean “croquettes”, delicate mini falafels that were light as clouds. The cheese course included a mild wedge of chévre paired with fennel pollen linzer cookie with green strawberries, beet marmalade, and crème fraiche. I’m not a beet person so this dish didn’t do it for me (although my inner glutton took over once again and polished off whole darn thing).

Tomme de Chèvre Aydius

Tomme de Chèvre Aydius

 

That was the conclusion of the tasting menu, but not the end of the night because we still had desserts for days. There were truffles with imaginative fillings like black sesame and mango, pétits fours, macaroons, donuts for dipping, and chocolate cake for the birthday girl. I ordered fresh mint tea because at this point I couldn’t fit anything else in my stomach and sat back happily in my seat until it was time to go.

Nougat

 

Per Se was a special evening that tickled my senses and filled me with pure delight. It’s a destination restaurant that just as Chef Keller promised made me feel pampered and cared for. The food was delicious, ambiance magical, and service top notch. Overall, it did go flawlessly, but there was one point in the evening hinted at some snobbishness. At the beginning when the maître d asked if we had any dietary restrictions, I said I didn’t eat spicy food. He hesitantly acknowledged and responded “There is no spice in fine dining.” This makes me wonder: Would it be so terrible if there was?

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Mint Tea and Petits Fours

Mint Tea and Petits Fours

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