Per Se – 17 April 2019

Per Se, the definition of traditional fine dining. Well, The French Laundry would be the ultimate goal, but any Thomas Keller restaurant is going to be of that calibre, that standard, that makes other chefs who they are.

This is also reflected in the fact that the famous blue doors of TFL are also present here, so I spent a few minutes, all dressed up, trying to get a good photo of myself, and of the doors, and then just being continually disppointed at how bad I looked! Lol! The staff waiting for us must have been mighty amused, because one of the waitstaff cheekily said that there was a 20 photo limit here, and I likewise responded with, “but what if I delete them and keep taking more!”

Wow. This place immediately feels more spacious than Eleven Madison Park, and for some unknown reason, also follows a stepped-level format – there’s a slightly lower floor, and this upper floor after like, 4 stairs. How interesting, I wonder if it has something to do with the buildings themselves, or if there’s a reason for this style.

Per Se, a high tech restaurant? No way! Are you serious, they have a digital wine list! What a great idea as a paper saving measure, though I kind of miss the massive phone book weighted stuff, like how Rockpool’s wine list was just the biggest folder I’ve ever handled. This was quite easy to use, and it’s always a good sign when the waitstaff breeze through this so easily to be able to guide you to certain pages.

Alas, there’s no non alcoholic drink pairing here, but I was feeling special, so I decided to choose a nice red.

WOAH. ZALTOS! WHAT! Oh my goodness my dream has come true, I’m at a restaurant with these gorgeous Zalto stems I must be in heaven! This was a Rioja Alta 2009 Gran Reserva 904. I had mentioned that the barolo I saw on there was super tempting, but I also wanted to change the style of wine I drink and go for something super aged and mellowed out, instead of tannins that would potentially be very tongue-ripping halfway through. Good choice, this was very, very drinkable!

Some of the surroundings. You can see it overlooks Colombus Circle really nicely, and there’s even a fireplace here! Wow!

And here’s my drink posing with the fireplace. Cheers!

The starter starts out really strong! I mean, look at that plate! That is a big, bold, statement maker! Wow!

What a cute, super tiny little cone! I didn’t catch exactly what this was, but afterwards I heard it mentioned at another table, so I think it’s a kingfish tartare. It was delicious!

There were also some cheeky fancy cheese and biscuits!

More decor, this time the lamps because my friend noticed they were unusual. If you look really closely, those are actually laundry symbols. Another reference to their California home!

Oysters and Pearls – “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and Regiis Ova Caviar

Wow. Look. At. That. This is their classic dish, the one that’s been on their menu since the beginning. That is a beautiful quenelle of caviar in very lovely cream! The oysters were so soft too, and the tapioca pearls were quite subtle and worked really well to acccent the caviar for me, as if it made the caviar have texture on top of flavour! Look at the massive mound of plates too. That’s pretty insane. In fact, a lot of the plating here at the beginning reminds me a lot that restaurants put a lot of thought into their servingware, as haute cuisine should. It’s just something nice and really enhances the entire experience!

Royal Ossetra Caviar – Pacific sablefish “rillettes”, rye melba, slow cooked hen egg

So I had actually interpreted the menu incorrectly. I thought that the menu was presented in a way that there was the Oysters and Pearls, and that the Royal Ossetra Caviar was an optional course. My friend and the staff quickly clarified and explained that it was a choice of either or, and that was something we’d need to decide for a few dishes, so we decided to alternate in order to experience every item on the menu. It was the easiest way, but also the most expensive! This cost an extra $60!

Salt for the next course. There was a lot of salt choices! And the tiniest spoon I’ve ever seen! I don’t even remember what all the different salts were, something smoked, something French, something charcoal, and so on! This was for my next dish, and next dish only.

Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras – granny smith apples, celery branch “ribbons”, Virginia peanut “butter” and greek yoghurt

The way these guys put parentheses around certain terms of the menu is pretty quirky, as if they know it’s not actually what they’ve made, but that it’s similar enough or meant to be of that style, that they’ve decided to quote it!

This foie gras was pretty spectacular looking because of how it;’s been wrapped. If you look really closely, that foie is actually wrapped in a green striped, very soft textured outside! I actually had no idea what that was, but the whole thing tasted pretty good!

This little bundle of bread was to be paired with the foie gras, and it was a warm flakey little bun. I broke off pieces of this bread, spread the foie on, and then tried out a few different salts. The salt was mainly to add texture, said my waiter, and that he himself preferred to not add the salt, but that it was all down to personal preference. I also believed it didn’t need the extra salt, but adding salt didn’t detract from the experience either.

Anyway, as I was enjoying my foie covered bread, I had waitstaff come along and TAKE AWAY my remaining bread, only to replace it with a brand new fresh warm one! What? “Foie gras and the bread taste best when the bread is warm!” they claimed. Oh, ok… if you say so. I tore a piece off this new bread, and enjoyed more foie gras on it, but I ate it a little quicker for fear of it cooling down again and THEY CAME ALONG AND TOOK IT AWAY AND GAVE ME A NEW ONE AGAIN. I couldn’t win! I felt really bad because I was enjoying it anyway and it wasn’t like the bread was getting cold? I thought it was kind of wasteful, and really didn’t know what was going on with this. Maybe this is just the formal style so everything is just absolutely perfect because it had to be?

Green Walk Hatchery rainbow trout – green almonds and ramp top

Green almonds! So this is how you use them in cooking! And I love that there were ramps being served in this dish. Ramps are a garlicky type green that taste pretty amazing, and I got really excited because again, it’s not something you see in Aus. The trout was pretty up there too. It actually reminded me a lot of Tetsuya’s confit ocean trout, in terms of how soft and melty it was. The two are completely different though, so I’m not comparing, rather, it’s just interesting to see what foods at what restaurants, trigger memories of other restaurants I’d been to. I really liked this dish!

Scottish Langoustines “A la Plancha” – razor clams. bomba rice, and “Piperade”

Yay langoustines! The base of this was a sort of risotto, and so I was a bit apprehensive as to whether or not I’d actually fully enjoy it, just because I find that I don’t like risottos no matter how we’ll they’ve been made. The langoustines felt a little over, but only because I’ve had an experience at Saint Peter where yabbies were so borderline *just* cooked that it’s my benchmark for crustacea.

Bread and Butter – smoked paprika “Parker house roll” and Diane St Clair’s animal farm butter

Bread course time! What a cute little soft bread. I love the flower shape, and it was designed in a way that made each “petal” easy to pull off. The butter was also really nice, but it was hard to see exactly how much butter there was in the dish. I think this one was a cultured butter, but I can’t remember – I just know there was only one place I dined at that the “culturedness” was really prominent in the flavour. For some reason, when I saw this butter dish, I actually missed Sepia’s perfect sphere of butter. I wonder why, could I be getting sentimental? I remember not really giving it much thought when I had it, but now, it just seems like it was a much more impressive shape to achieve!

Buttermilk fried Diamond H Ranch quail breast – cipollini onions, “soubise”, California pistachios, and “sauce perigourdine”

Quail! I love quail! This was a cute little dish because it was essentially fried bird and onion, and it was a great combo! This one was cooked really nicely and I preferred it over the langoustine dish.

Elysian Fields farm “Collier d’Agneau” – caramelised green garlic, Piedmont hazelnuts, poached sultanas, and cauliflower “tapenad

And the red meat dish. This was the standard option, while a sirloin of Miyazaki wagyu was the special option that cost an extra 100USD. Yeah. Imagine paying 100USD on top of the existing cost of the meal for a similar sized chunk of really, really good, fatty, lusciously melt in the mouth cow. Okay yeah it was also worth the money, and I liked it better than my lamb only after I got past the crust. Basically, I tried a bite of the outside of the wagyu, and it was like an ordinary steak, and I didn’t think of it as anything too special. My initial reaction was, I felt that Japanese restaurants, like Waku Ghin prepared their beef far better. It wasn’t until my friend reached the middle, where it was a nice and rare, that it became mindblowingly good. Woah. I had to take another taste and yes, now I see why it cost so much, it was definitely the elite level of deliciousness that I expected! Woooah definitely splurge on the wagyu if it’s available!

The only comment I’ll make about my lamb dish, in contrast, is that I’d been nursing my single glass of wine all the way through the dinner, since I can’t pretty much at all without getting woozy. I knew that the last few sips would be perfect timing for my lamb, so I was getting excited to finish a glass, since I hadn’t done that in ages.

Then along comes the waiter and he just tops up my glass! He refilled it back to almost a whole glass again! Oh no! He must have thought that I was stretching out a single drink, when in fact, I was just observing my own safety limits. Now I can’t even say that I managed to finish a glass of wine here! I felt so bad! Ahahaha. I made an immense effort to drink as much as I could to do the wine justice, but I think I only made it to maybe 1.25 glasses worth before calling it a valiant effort.

Gougere – with aged Gruyere and black winter truffles

I actually only remember this as a “donut” and honestly, couldn’t tell you if it was sweet or savoury, or if it had a filling, or anything about it, really. However, good thing I have a copy of the menu for reference and it totally makes sense now! This is the transition-from-savoury-to-dessert cheese course!

I also didn’t realise it at the time, but this meant the meal represented both winter and spring, for featuring truffles and ramps in the same sitting. Is that a thing? Imagine instead of a restaurant going through four seasons in their menu, making eight seasons instead, the four main ones, and then special, fleeting sets between then main seasons for super inventive hybrid flavours! Maybe that’s what chef’s specials are for! Now that’s an interesting thought!

Hibiscus poached rhubarb – Madagascar vanilla bean marshmallow, lemon posset, and candied citrus
K+M “Hacienda Victoria” Trifle – Persian lime “pate de fruit”, spiced gosling’s rum, and feuille craquante”
Honey-oat ice cream – blackcurrant “flapjack” and kumquat marmalade

Woooah what. Yeah, you just got spammed with pictures. You know why? Because we got spammed with food. All of the above came out at once. What???

That is literally how our table looked for desserts. Where do we even start???

I am actually not going to write this in the order that the photos display in. The captioned desserts are displayed this way because that’s the order the menu has it. I will instead, write about them in the order I feel like it! Hopefully the descriptions are clear so that no one gets confused about which dessert I’m on about.

Firstly, the ice cream. Being ice cream, I felt it was the most sensible option. It was quite a nice cream and I liked the thick, sticky marmalade on the side. Not too bad, but I was here for speed more than anything else.

The trifle was next, which was actually really delicious and followed the cream, sponge, jelly format. I believe the cream was actually coconut flavoured which was nice and I totally wasn’t expecting it!

The cappucino cup looked pretty cool, and it was an espresso semifreddo inside, to be paired with the donuts. I think I kept calling it the espresso or cappucino cup and I actually tried to see what happened when I tried to drink the foam, and didn’t really get much success out of that haha. Gotta spoon that semifreddo!

Lastly, the posset. I’d actually forgotten that’s what it was because they pronounced it “poss-ay”, where as at Dinner by Heston, I asked how it was pronounced and they said “poss-set”. Who was right?!?!?! What a mystery! Okay, I really liked this one. It had a marshmallow, and that marshmallow was so cute, I found it fun to eat! I also loved the fact that there’s jelly on top, because I love jelly. I sound like such a kid right now, describing my love of marshmallows and jellies. There were even limey-gummies, the very tiny, green looking cubes. They were a firmer jelly than the hibiscus jelly, and added a really nice zing to the dish. That was definitely really nice. And, the lemon posset itself. Yes, such great lemon flavour! It’s super tangy, just the way I like it! The actual lemon itself was similar to how Dinner by Heston made it, and in my mind, they were equal. That one was also fun because it was encased in a pastry that I was warned about that would crack suddenly. This, was more fun because it was pretty and I felt young because the elements included “candy” type preparations. While they were vastly different in technique, tradition and whatnot, I liked this one better. This was my favourite dessert here!

The macarons were super small, so I ate mine, but I kept the nougat since it was wrapped, so that I could enjoy it another day.

But wait, there’s more! So many sweets! Lastly, the waiter came out with a massive wooden box that absolutely glowed with the shine on these truffles. There were several selections, of all different colours, each of them perfectly made and super glossy. It was hard to decide choosing a flavour! Crazy me, I ended up getting this one. It was a miso and shichimi pepper flavoured truffle, and woah, it was nice and actually also packed a small punch! It was like a chilli chocolate but one that I could tolerate and the flavours worked really well! I do like this, it was a different kind of chocolate experience!

For tea, they actually had a much more interesting selection than Eleven Madison Park. Okay, I can’t really say, I actually think both menus contained pu-erh. But this one had a very old vintage, so I asked about it, and they said something about the tea being healthy. Oh. Do I look like someone who cares about being healthy? No way, I just wanted to know what a super aged pu-er tastes like! So I ordered this.

Did you know that that’s a teapot that looks like it’s the Jing brand? If so, you’d be right! When I saw it, I thought to myself, that looks like a Jing pot! So I looked underneath, and yep, as I guessed! I can’t believe I spotted a brand of teapot by how it looks!

This was like no tea I’ve had before. This tea tasted mushroomy. Like deep, earthy, and strong. Wooah. That was a cool flavour I’ve never tasted before! I’m so glad I got to try this pu-erh!

The waiter also offered us a kitchen tour, which was pretty cool! I am not sure if all diners got this offer, but it might have been to do with a little intermission we had (read: bathroom break) and the waiter chatted to me about my holiday here, how long I was spending, where I was planning on eating at, etc. He gave me a few extra options – a restaurant (Gramercy Tavern), a steakhouse (Keen’s Steakhouse) and bars (I don’t really remember the bar one, something about a rabbit?), so I kept those in mind, though I didn’t really plan on spending insane amounts of money after this restaurant and wanted to keep it low key (spoiler alert: famous last words. Or thoughts, in this case).

I also wondered if it had to do with how long we’d spent at the restaurant. We’d been here four hours already, maybe the table was actually somehow booked after us? We had a 5:30pm booking, so maybe in some kind of extreme case, this table was booked for 9:30? Would they even risk a double table like that? I am not sure how these restaurants operate, but if it was booked, it might explain the rush of desserts all at once. That also really confused me, but I also then started thinking about the skill of the restaurant and waitstaff for being able to control these situations without creating a sense of urgency. What if the offer of a kitchen tour was a completely artful way of making us speed up without even hinting that there was a time constraint? I will continue running all these conspiracy simulations through my mind!

And here’s the bill. Ouch. Wow, ouch. That’s some real ouch right there. That was a one thousand dollar bill! For two! What! It says $800 because Per Se requires a $100 deposit per person during booking, hence you have to add that to the final total. That’s crazy! I think Eleven Madison Park clocked in maybe a couple of hundred dollars cheaper. Man, fine dining outside of Australia really is expensive!

However, it was a wonderful experience and I love that these guys also do handwritten bills. Definitely worth the cost if you take in absolutely everything about the place, and understand the significance of the Thomas Keller name.

Once that was settled, we got our kitchen tour! Wow, the dining area was so serene that there was only a low hum of conversation, but here in the kitchen, it was controlled chaos. You could feel the energy and urgency, with the chefs and expeditors and all these other staff coordinating with each other to make sure that each dish was plated perfectly, and ready at just the right time. Such a busy place, and you wouldn’t know it from how well everything just works in the dining room!

As I was leaving, the most crazy thing happened. The maitre d’ who’d initially joked about the 20 photo limit was here and spotted us leaving! He even checked in again and was like “did you stick to the limit????” and I was like… what if I don’t tell you! Ahahaha. That was kind of a surprise moment and I was impressed he remembered!

Speaking of cheeky interactions, Per Se is the only restaurant that I’ve been to, that enforces a formal dress code. Like, guys must wear suits, and ladies to match. This level of grooming and dress up almost made me back out of the restaurant because it sounded so daunting and almost too… posh and stiff. However, the actual staff were nothing like that. They were relaxed and super friendly! I think the dress code more controls the type of people that come in, which sets a certain demographic and a real sense of “I am here for a purpose” which works with the restaurant’s aesthetics. Don’t be afraid of the dress code and take pleasure in dressing up and and having a great night!

Thanks Per Se for a great meal, and thanks for the morning-after care package of chocolate biscuits!