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Per Se

A restaurant located at Columbus Circle in New York, New York.

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Culinary Perfection

  • Sep 23, 2009
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Reading devora's review of The French Laundry has spurred me into writing about its sister restaurant, Per Se. I was lucky enough to go in 2005 with a group of ten and one of the guests had a friend of a friend who worked there - otherwise, reservations just weren't going to happen. The meal was a 13-course tasting menu with optional wine pairing, and even though I dropped around $400, it was without doubt the most memorable meal I've ever had.

The quality, presentation and taste of the food is beyond what I thought was humanly possible. Every dish is plated to the table like it was designed for food photography, and there's simply no error in terms of the placement of anything, from the pouring of a sauce down to the slicing of the smallest vegetable. That's before I even tasted anything, and every course surrendered flavor combinations that were both complementary and unique, revealing tastes I simply had never experienced before. There were gasps around the table as each new item arrived, leaving little room for conversation beyond just how inspiring it was. 

The wine pairing was flawless in every respect. The sommelier was friendly and accommodating, lacking any snootiness you might expect in an expensive restaurant. He listened to all our individual preferences and chose according to the menu, not slipping even once in terms of providing the perfect pairing. The service in general was the same: it was entirely professional but very friendly, with an attentiveness that was comparable to being the only people in the restaurant. 

At the end of 3 hours and 13 courses - and yes, we were all pretty full with heads swirling from the four or so glasses of wine - we were invited to see the kitchen. I was expecting to find a busy boiler room with people being yelled at and food everywhere, much like you'd see on TV shows such as Hell's Kitchen or Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, but it was like it was absolutely brand new and nobody had ever cooked there. Nothing was out of place or dirty - it literally could not have been the kitchen that had produced some of New York's finest food to fifty people. I have seen people make cereal and leave more evidence than here.

Before visiting Per Se, my wife had given me the book Soul of the Chef which chronicles the students of the Culinary Institute of America and the difficulties in passing a CIA  test. After eating here, the second restaurant of arguably its greatest student, Thomas Keller, I finally appreciated their attention to detail, their slavish enforcement of rigorous standards, and the monumentally different results that follow. Per Se is staggeringly expensive to some, but at 4 times the average cost of a restaurant with wine pairing, I'd rather eat four times less often and come here instead, where the food is simply incomparable with anywhere else.

Needless to say, if you ever get the opportunity to go to Per Se, simply mortgage your house if you have you - it's a once-in-lifetime experience that will fundamentally change your appreciation of fine cooking. In a city with some of the best food in the world, Per Se stands head and shoulders above the rest.

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September 25, 2009
Hi....I really enjoyed this review on Per Se. I was talking to my cousin tonight (who often travels to New York), and he raved about it just as much as you do here. He's also been to the French Laundy and thinks highly of it as well. I'm planning a trip to New York in the spring and am definitely planning to check this out....even if I have to mortgage my house....!
September 23, 2009
Lucky you!  This sounds like a truly amazing experience.  I hear from some of my friends who have dined here before that it's somehow even better than French Laundry.  I'll believe it when I try it!  I wonder how you managed to dine for 3 hours, though, with 13 courses and wine pairings.  My 9 course meal at FL without wine pairings was about 5 hours long.  Awesome review, James, can't wait to try Per Se! :)
September 24, 2009
Thanks! It may have been longer than 3 hours... Apparently, Robert De Niro was sat behind me and nobody told me until we left. Of course, it wasn't as if I would have interrupted him. :-)
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James Beswick ()
Ranked #13
Lunch.com's "token Brit".
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Per Se is a restaurant located at Columbus Circle in New York, New York, on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center. The owner is Thomas Keller who is also involved in the restaurants French Laundry and Ad Hoc in Napa Valley, Bouchon, in Napa Valley and Las Vegas, and Bouchon Bakery, which is also located in the Time Warner Center in New York, New York. The chef de cuisine is Jonathan Benno. It opened in February 2004 in the Time Warner Center in New York City, and was a hotly anticipated restaurant, given Keller's high profile. The restaurant features Keller's distinctive hands-on approach, including his intense focus to detail that extends to cuisine, presentation, mood and surroundings.

Keller chose restaurant/hotel designer Adam Tihany to draw together subtle references of The French Laundry and elements from both his and Keller's pasts. The blue door entrance is modeled after the famed blue door at The French Laundry.

The dining room boasts extensive views of Central Park. There is also a salon, bar, and wine cellar. Like Keller's previous project, The French Laundry, Per Se features two daily prix fixe menus, one of which is vegetarian.

In August 2006, it was one of only three restaurants in the United States to be awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide, along with Joel Robuchon at The Mansion and The French Laundry. They received the same honors in the 2007 and 2008 guides. In their December 2006 issue, Travel + Leisure Magazine named it one of New York's Top ...
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