A Culinary Journey Through New York City...

Per Se

As we jumped on a plane headed East out of Seattle, the weather was mild and typical. We were anxious to arrive Thursday in New York, albeit very late in the evening, but we knew that we would start the day early with a big day and evening of dining ahead of us. We awoke Friday morning to find a beautiful “spring feel”, warm, sunny and gorgeous! We grabbed a town car into Manhattan to check in at the W hotel on Lexington Avenue. We have had the privilege of staying at various W’s in the past and were excited to see how this one looked. Unfortunately, we were not the most impressed. The room was very small and after looking beyond the superficial state of the amenities, we could see that it was not well converted from whatever it was. What ever! We had what seemed like only a moment to get our selves together, walk outside to check out a street or two before needing to catch a cab to the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle. This is where we would spend the next 4 hours eating and drinking our way through a fabulous 13 course lunch, not to mention a couple “canapés”, an incredible chocolate assortment, Macaroons and a little candy bowl full of truffles! Per Se was our home for that period of gustatory sublime experience. We were greeted with utter kindness, honesty and appreciation. We were one of the first couples in for this “sold out” experience (at least two months in advance), and were taken to a table on the “plateau” above the main floor, overlooking Central Park, a view that was breathtaking on this clear, sunny day. Enough of this already. Here is where the fun started. We started off with a couple of typical “Kelleresque” amuse bouche; warm, soft Gougeres scented with Gruyere and yes, you got it, Smoked Salmon Tartare in a Sesame Tuile Cone. Always a good bite to start. My wife and each had a different menu, mine the “chef’s tasting” and her, the vegetarian menu. I also opted for the “non-alcoholic” beverage tasting to accompany the menu, what a nice addition for those of us “designated drivers”. Very fresh and elegant breads were brought to the table such as petit Epis, Ciabatta and Baguette, along with two butters, one salted local organic from up-state New York, and the other a sweet French butter. First was a warm Parsnip-Apple Soup that was poured tableside into a small cup partially filled with a Brunoise of Apple. This was paired with French Sparkling Cider, which was to follow the next three courses. My wife had the Butternut Squash Soup with Brussels Sprouts. Nice flavor, but the parsnip went better in my opinion. Next, was a small specialty, call “Oysters & Pearls”, which were two little Island Creek Oysters from the East Coast, nestled into a bed of Tapioca, Creamy Sabayon with Oyster Essence and a large quenelle of Russian Sevruga Caviar. My wife had the silky Cauliflower “Panna Cotta” with a lacing of Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar. What followed, was a small tasty salad of Smoked Kampachi (think farm raised Hamachi), with Cucumbers, Supreme of Ruby Grapefruit, Olive Oil and a Remoulade Composure. She had the Citrus Cured Kampachi Belly, (which was very tasty) with Meyer Lemons, Cucumber Allumette and Citrus Oil. This was of course before I had the heart to ask the server; Thomas, if we could just stick to vegetables. Next for me was the White Truffle Custard, gently cooked “en chemise” with a touch of Jus de Poulet infused with Black Truffle and a Chive-Potato Chip for a spoon. Hers was a nice, soft scrambled Duck Egg with Truffle Coulis and Julienne of Black Truffles. My next course in this degustation of goodness was a Taste of Baby Fennel & Hearts of Palm from the Big Island of Hawaii. It was laid out like a painter’s palette with a sheet of the palm on the palate, then a ring of Palm with braised baby Fennel inside, lightly dressed, a Truffle Coulis swiped across the plate, a quenelle of Palm Puree, silky and smooth, then lastly a drizzle of Fennel Oil. How Cool! She enjoyed a course of Young Fennel, Citrus Supremes, Shaved Fennel, and a Citrus Gastrique. If there was a course that I felt could have had some more “love”, this vegetarian dish was it. My next experience was something that I had to make sure they served from the start, FOIE GRAS! It was seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with a Candied Walnut “Crumble”, a mixture of Candied Walnuts, Turbinado Sugar and Butter, toasted to crunchy goodness. Awesome! The foie was flanked by a very nice Caramelized Asian Pear “Tatin”, a little button sitting atop a piece of Golden Puff Pastry, Mache and a little “Jus Naturel”. This was paired with a Gewurztraminer from Navarro Vineyards out of Mendocino, California. Very tasty combination for the unctuous texture of the Duck Liver. For the vegetable course, a Warm Salad of Braised Heart of Celery, Roasted Heirloom Beets and Arugula sat atop a Glacage of Horseradish. Next we came into a fish course of crispy skinned Japanese Sea Bass with what I dubbed as a “Sofrito” of House Made Chorizo, Spinach, Confit of Peppers, Smoked Paprika and Shallots. This was all moistened with a Tamarind infused Onion Glaze. The fish was paired with a Black Tea from India. She had a Degustation of Heirloom Potato, complete with a Truffle studded Mixed Potato Ragout, Grated Black Truffle and a Crispy Galette. Simple yet, excellent. I next came into my own with a Sweet Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster Tail, with a Celery-Potato-Clam “Chowder”, garnished with a Ventrêche Chip(Pancetta like) and Italian Parsley Infused Olive Oil. This was accompanied by a Tangerine Soda from GUS (Grown Up Soda). She marveled over the Braised Romaine Lettuce with Shaved Radishes, Baby Turnips and what else but shaved Black Truffles! We then both were in heaven with a very simple course….mine was Hand Cut Tagliatelle, Shaved Black Truffles, French Butter and Chives and hers Potato Gnocchi, Julienne of Black truffles, Onion Jus and Parmesan Emulsion. For the “entrée” if one will, I was served the “Selle d’ Agneau from Elysian Fields, roasted to perfection and served with Herb Scented “Panisse” (or Polenta-like cake), Sweet Baby Carrot Fondue, Pickled Medjool Dates and Cumin Infused Jus. This was paired with a “Per Se” Manhattan, or in other words for me was a Black Cherry Soda, Lemon Twist and hints of Vanilla. Chic and sexy. My wife had this very superb Wild Mushroom Pot Pie, with Matignon of Root Vegetables in a rich Glace of Champignon du Bois. We then proceeded into the Cheese course, which again is S.O.P. for Keller. Mine was a German influenced dish of Jasper Hills “Winnemere”, a wash-rind cow’s milk, very creamy and strong hint of acidity, and served with Melted Red Cabbage, White Wine Poached Stayman Apples, Mustard Seed Toast, and a Grain Mustard Aigre Doux. This was paired with a nice cold N.A. Beer from Paulaner, which fit the bill superbly. The other cheese course was an “Evora” from Portugal, a Sheep’s milk variety, quite meaty and bold in nature as well as pungent, but very tasty. It was paired with Eggplant Caponata, a crisp Spanish Caper Tuile and Verjus Vinaigrette. Now, for the finish, we each embarked on a sorbet course, mine a Grapefruit Sorbet, Confit of Ruby Grapefruit Supremes Yogurt Bavarian and a subtle Rose Foam. She had an awesome Pomegranate Sorbet with Spearmint Gelee, Mojito Emulsion, which was so flavorful, we could have eaten another bowl full, and a Vanilla Rice Pudding, all packed into this little dish. The dessert courses were even more intoxicating; with mine starting with a play on S’mores, one that I have done many times, but it is always nice to taste someone else’s version. You simply can not go wrong. It was a brick of dense dark chocolate Gateaux, then a light yet rich mousse layer, then a quenelle of Bittersweet “Cremeaux” on top. A triple layer of edible orgasm. It was served with Graham Cracker Crunch Crumbs, Soft and Toasted Marshmallow and a Valrhona “Hot Chocolate” Emulsion. This was served with a delicate Chocolate Milk. No way not to enjoy that. She enjoyed the Sweet Garden Carrot Cake, which was actually a deconstructed version of her favorite dessert! Squares of sponge, very delicate and moist, Cream Cheese Icing in small quenelles around the plate, Candied Walnut Crust scattered everywhere, but quite calculated. Black Raisin Coulis, Carrot Gelee and Caramel Jus topped off with an Indonesian Cinnamon Ice Cream. We then were graced with the presence of the Chocolates Platter, a “Bouquetier” of richness, approximately 30 flavors of them, all lined up like little confectionary soldiers, only to be rifled off by name so accurately by our server and eaten by your’s truly. We enjoyed quite a few before we then were brought a tower of House-Made Macaroons; Coconut, Almond and Hazelnut, all wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a neat Chocolate Brown Bow labeled “Per Se”. Just when we thought we were ready to be rolled out of there on a stretcher, we were brought a beautiful little porcelain candy style dish of hand rolled Caramel Truffles with a thin layer of dark Chocolate, Cocoa Powder and a nit of Fleur de Sel inside. It was from there that we were shown great hospitality and walked graciously through he kitchen, pastry shop, chocolate room, bread baking area, catering kitchen and the pass. We were introduced to just about everyone in the kitchen, one in particular, who I was very impressed with, was Richard Capizzi; the pastry sous chef in charge that day of all things sweet. Johnathan Benno and Thomas Keller both were not in, not that I expected to see Keller. What a great kitchen! It was well oiled, fine tuned and supercharged like a German automobile. Such precision. It did make me proud of our own kitchen as I could see the many similarities and attention to details. My wife and I were made to feel very important, not because someone called ahead or because I was a huge media mogul, or because I like to drop the likes of one’s 401k amount on a wine pairing, but because I was a customer in their restaurant who enjoys great food and wants to be taken care of, which one should, in culinary sanctuaries such as this one. And that is what had taken place, ten fold! We left there feeling like kings and queens. Satiated beyond belief. And then, only to turn around and go at it again in only a matter of 2 ½ hours later. We enter….Daniel!


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