NEW YORK, NY
I was unsure as to how I would feel about Per Se as commentary from my social circle was quite mixed as regards this restaurant. Some ooh-ed and ahh-ed about it while others said to steer clear quite vehemently. I decided to take the plunge anyway so that I could make my own opinions of the restaurant. In the end, I would say that the restaurant left me in a mixed state as well and I know I really should not start an entry with a summary but… oh well. Please read on.
So the restaurant is located in Columbus Circle, a shopping mall of sorts in Manhattan and upon entering you are greeted by all the staff that is lined up by the door. That was somewhat impressive to me as I have not experienced that before. That feeling was short-lived though as they seemed to have trouble finding my reservation. So what started out as an amazing welcome very quickly turned into an awkward moment of about six people staring at me. A bit of an uncomfortable moment I must say. Moving past this slight, they made up for it with the phenomenal view of Central Park that I was given at my table. I opted for the Salon seating which is right outside of the main dining room as the name indicates. I was not seated at a normal table in this space but instead on a sofa of sorts made with what I can only believe is velvet. Another somewhat awkward moment as I was walked to the table was when I was asked if I was from out of town. I answered no and my guide looked at me as though I was an alien. He looked so bewildered and with such disbelief on his face, I started to wonder if I did something wrong by coming to eat out alone. For him, fine dining seemed to be reserved either for out-of-towners or a special occasion whereas for me… I do this for fun. I just do not think it is something that he had seen before which in all honesty is weird to me. In any case, I decided to stay the course. I should probably mention that I personally think it would be better to pay the extra money to eat in the dining room if you decide to come here. Please note also though that you can come to the Salon area for dinner without a reservation so consider your options before you decide.
A little bit on the service. My waiter started out quite cold. Most fine dining restaurants that I have been to except maybe Cafe Boulud have been warm and welcoming but this man was just quite cold. He eventually smiled when I ordered the caviar bagel and softened up over the course of the meal but first impressions are everything. I know that I am not asking too much on that. Service is included so there was no way to “provide commentary” on his service. He did give me a very clear description of the two wines that I had been trying to make a choice between so I will give him a compliment there. It was a Barolo by the way and it was by the glass and beautiful. Expensive but beautiful. Perfect tannins and balanced acidity… I had a few glasses through my meal. A little awkwardness came once again with my Salon seating as my table had a bit of a leather overlay. Whenever I went to pick up my glass, the bottom would stick to the leather causing me to almost spill my wine on more than one occasion.
I was conscious of being alone here but not uncomfortable. Generally, I do not notice but this place did make me aware of it. I do not know why. With the sun going down, the lights coming up with the view of Central Park front and center, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday evening and I very quickly forgot this fact. Anyway, on to the food finally. The tasting menu is a choice of four dishes and dessert with each plate having a choice between one or two options. I should mention that they have really small portions here. While, I was satisfied by the end of the meal with dessert, I figure that I should give you fair warning on that.
We start with the snacks of salmon tartare in a cone with creme fraiche and a pimiento cheese cracker. The cheese has an overwhelming taste of red pepper but that is a signature ingredient of the cheese so I guess they got it right. The cracker is salty and buttery which balances out the overwhelming red pepper flavor though. As for the salmon cone, I had a bit of a challenge identifying that it was salmon. Quite frankly, I probably would not have been able to tell if my waiter had not mentioned it to me. It was good especially which the creme fraiche. Both snacks were rather messy to eat but that is really just me. I love a clean napkin so smears of white creme fraiche and orange pimiento was a bit of a turnoff for me.
For my first dish, I opted for the caviar bagel with sablefish pate. It was a choice between that and oysters with pearl tapioca. My choice was wholly based on the fact that I had not had good caviar in a while and further still, I had never had Kaluga caviar. I began to notice at this point that the service was much improved but as I mentioned earlier, it all began with placing my order. Maybe they were reserving their niceness for the food order? I do not know or understand. It still was not as warm as I had experienced but much better than the start. Anyway, the caviar. The caviar is not as salty as I am used to and the pickled onion paired with it makes for a nice bite. The light salt makes the flavor of this bite a bit restrained. Almost like it is begging to burst out salty juices but it is scolded to “stay home” in flavor. The bagel is very crusty and I could not cut into it with my silverware. I gave up after a point and resolved to eating with my hands but what did that leave me with? Messy hands and an even messier napkin. This did not make me any happier. Honestly, I feel that maybe a saltier caviar would have made this dish come alive. Maybe, the pate of sablefish was supposed to be the added salt but its flavor was forgotten in the back of my palate as it did not shine at all. In the end, I could definitely skip this dish and go on being happy with my life. I will say that their plating and silverware was beautiful with this bite.
As I was on the sofa in the Salon area as I had mentioned prior, it was quite hard to lean back while waiting between each dish. The back of the sofa was so far away that I had to resort to sitting up straight for the entire meal. This is really my biggest reason for mentioning that you should just sit in the main dining room. There are normal tables in the Salon but they do not have a view of the park as with the main dining room.
The next dish was the fennel salad with hazelnuts, shaved Serrano ham and aged balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately, my waiter was not very clear with his introduction of this dish so I had to resolve to my palate to identify what I was eating. There is a smoky element to the sauce in this dish but I am unsure about what that ingredient is. The balsamic vinegar is a welcome sweetness to the rest of the salty dish. I am generally not a fan of hazelnuts but the preparation here is not bad lending a slightly sweet balance to the dish. This dish was served with bread but there was nothing special about it. Quite frankly, you could get better bread at Whole Foods even though this was warm. Alas, the bread was necessary to scoop up the sauce though. Once again, I could skip this dish and be okay with life.
The next dish was the dover sole with creme du truffle, marinated cabbage and carrot. There was a truffle explosion in my mouth with this dish. There is also a very heavy vinegar and oil presence on the cabbage. I figure that this was purposeful to cut through the truffle. As I found through this dish, dover sole is a very meaty fish and the flavor with the truffle just works. It breathes life into the fish. I love this dish and it was certainly a good and tasty couple of bites. As with the other dishes, this was quite messy to eat as it was quite difficult to get all of the pieces on my fork. This seems to be a trend here and I did comment on this to my waiter. Do not ask me what he responded with, I have no intention of telling. Past that interaction, I resolved and attributed the messiness of the dishes to my awkward seating on the sofa in the Salon. Despite the challenge of getting all the pieces together on the fork, the bite was well worth the effort. The bitter flavor of the cabbage paired with the rich flavor of the truffle and finally the firmer texture on the fish. It just worked and wa a lovely dish. In this case, I wished that I had some of that bread for the sauce as it was so delicious and I did not want to leave any on the plate.
The next dish was the lamb with grilled spring onion and gremolata. The same waiter that unclearly announced my dish earlier was a repeat presence for the introduction of this dish. As with before, I could not understand him and resorted to my palate. After the first bite with this dish, I nearly choked as some of the pepper got lodged in my throat. Despite that fact, this was my favorite plate. The crust on the lamb was phenomenal. The temperature was perfect for me at medium rare. This dish like the others was messy to eat but as I have mentioned prior, it was most likely due to my seating versus the actual dish. Regardless, it was a bit of a turnoff. The black pepper on the lamb actually leans towards sweet in its usage here. Please be advised again though that portions are small here. They are not as small as the portions at Momofuku Ko but still small. At least I was not hungry at the end of the tasting which is a good place to be.
Finally the dessert and it is basic with nothing particularly special to highlight. We have a peanut butter brownie with hazelnut, candied sorghum and double cream ice cream. The chocolate is okay and candied sorghum is tasty. The sorghum tastes like candied popcorn. As I ate the dessert, I did reflect back to the few friends who told me not to come here and I thought that I should have listened. My thoughts drifted back though to the lamb and dover sole plates and I scaled back my negativity. I love double cream and I had high hopes for its usage in the ice cream but the texture was more icy than creamy. The ice cream with the sorghum and the brownie was a delicious bite though when taken together. As it was the final dish, taking stock, the dessert was necessary to fill me up at the end of the night which is generally not the case for me. I am usually full long before dessert.
So in summary, they have some good dishes and some just okay ones. I did not have any repulsive bites. The view is amazing and my wine was delicious. It is a tasty and decent place but I will not be rushing back for a repeat meal. One last tidbit, it gets cold in here so you would be better served to bring a jacket with you as a woman. Men, jackets are required.