Per Se has surpassed Wendy’s as my second-favorite food in the world. (The first, of course, is Chick-Fil-A. To confirm, I had Chick-Fil-A the day after my meal at Per Se, and my chicken sandwich was still superior). I visited Per Se as a last taste of New York City. I did not have a reservation, so I opted to eat in the Salon. Per Se has a funny effect on a person, it is so far superior to just about every dining experience I have ever had (including time at Jean Georges, Le Bernadin and others) that attempting to find flaws were merely a way to keep myself entertained. Any “flaw” I discovered was like complaining a supermodel’s hair color was a shade too dark, or that that bottle of Bollinger Grande Anee is a half degree too cold. I’m simply not sure if food or service can be much better. At the time of this writing, Per Se is ranked the best restaurant in the United States, and 6th worldwide. I now know why.
Upon entering, I informed the Maitre D’ that I would be dining alone. She placed me near the window at a table for four, easily the second-best table in the Salon. The best, which overlooks the park, was already taken.
It is very hard to describe my interactions with my servers. It seemed as everyone’s mission was to ensure that my experience at Per Se was whatever I wanted it to be. My time there was just that, mine. If I wanted a snack, I could have a snack. If I wanted to linger, I could linger. If wanted to drink, then drink I shall. Wine? Great. Cocktails? OK. Allergies? No problem, we’ll modify whatever you like.
Knowing I could not afford a ridiculously expensive meal there, I actually went to a $1 pizza place before Per Se. I found it fitting to eat the cheapest NYC meal in advance of one of the most expensive. I was still very hungry, but not starving. In retrospect, this was a brilliant decision, as Per Se’s tasting menus are exactly that, tastings.
I wanted to try the dessert tasting menu, but I also opted to taste a few savory dishes as well. Upon placing my order, I asked my server for a martini-esque drink. He said to try The Admiral. I was a bit skeptical with his selection, but I went with it anyways.
Cocktail: The Admiral - Auchentoshan 12 year Scotch, Saffron & Butterscotch Foam
Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
Salmon Cornettes – Atlantic salmon tartare on top of black sesame tuile cone filled with red onion creme fraiche, garnished with a single chive
Slow Poached Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Fois Gras – Peach Marmalade, Toasted Hazelnuts, Celery Branch Salte and Black Winter Truffle Puree
Mascarpone Enriched Arrowleaf Spinach “Agnolotti” – “Champignons de Paris,” Preserved Meyer Lemon and Hazelnut-Brown Butter
Wine: Karthäuserhof, Riesling, Spätlese, "Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg," Mosel 2002
Olive Oil Sorbet – Compressed Watermelon, Basil Blossoms and Toasted Pine Nuts
Chamomile “Lemonade” – Lemon Puree, Shortbread Crumble and Gooseberry Sorbet
“Purple Cow” – Whipped Battenkill Valley Creamery’s Milk an Concord Grape Sherbet
Cocktail: An off the menu concoction of rums and cherry. Unreal. To be released on the menu shortly.
“Coffee and Doughnuts” – Cinnamon-Sugared Brioche Doughnuts with Cappuccino Semifreddo
“Chocolate Milk” – Dark Chocolate Torte, Caramelized Milk Jam, Toasted Hazelnuts and Milk Ice Cream
The meal concluded with an assortment of candies, and sadly, the bill. I say sadly when I received the bill not because I expected a free meal, but more so because the experience was ending. I say was ending because it was not over, even after I paid.
To set up the scene, Per Se’s servers are truly a team. I had a main server, who was knowledgeable about the menu, pacing, and what might make a well-balanced meal. He was accompanied by an assistant server, who took care some of the slightly more menial tasks, though knew the answers to my occasional questions. There was also a busboy. Finally, there were the servers whose sole responsibility was to describe what was on my plate. They were the youngest, some of them seemed too young to drink. They were my favorite, as their eagerness to serve was apparent, and they appeared so proud to be working at such a great restaurant. They also made me laugh.
The most impressive moment came at an odd time. I had placed my credit card to pay the bill, but my waiter was nowhere to be found. A new face came and took my card. We had not had any previous interactions, but I figured things would be fine. When the man returned after swiping my card, I asked him for a copy of what I had eaten. He said no problem, it will be with the Maitre D’ on my way out.
I lingered a little longer, hesitant to leave. As I made my way out, I complimented the Maitre D’ on the excellent food and service. She was grateful. And then she handed me copies of the menu.