10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
Of all the restaurants we visited in New York, Per Se was the one that excited me the most. French Laundry was one of the finest meals of my life and I wanted to see how the East Coast version fared. Perhaps that is an unfair label as Per Se is more than a carbon copy of Laundry. The restaurant's conflicting desire to stand apart from its more famous brother while honoring their common roots is evident from the get-go. Outside the restaurant there is a small garden area but more akin to what one would find on a penthouse apartment balcony than a rustic farmhouse. Similarly Laundry's famous blue doors have been replicated but as you walk up it is actually the glass that slides to the side to allow entrance. The interior again follows a more urban theme decorated like a well appointed apartment replete with fireplace and beautiful city views.
Again illness reduced me to sticking with soft drinks which I believe are complimentary at both French Laundry and Per Se.
Amuse 01: Gruyère Gougères
Crunch down on the airy morsel and you are rewarded with a burst of creamy salty-sweet cheese. Wonderful!
Amuse 02: Salmon Coronets - Black Sesame Tuile, Sweetbread Crème Fraîche
Another staple amuse, the salmon coronet was also a starter at Laundry albeit with a different flavor of crème fraîche. I thought the red onion at Laundry was a more harmonious pairing as the flavor of the sweetbread vied with the salmon for dominance in this course.
Unlike our trip to French Laundry, my companion and I selected different menus in order to maximize the number of courses we tasted. Originally we planned to order one Vegetable Menu and one Chef's Menu but during the Fall/Winter seasons the restaurant offers an Offal Menu. Having watched numerous episodes of No Reservations and Bizarre Eats while in New York I've seen how much the hosts praise offal as the best food of any culture. How could we pass up the opportunity to see how Mr. Keller does offal?
Chefs Tasting Menu 01: "Oysters and Pearls" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
Perhaps the most famous of Chef Keller's signature dishes we had it at French Laundry and I can still remember the experience vividly. The dish has changed little, the Island Creek Oysters are a bit denser and than the Beau Soleils at Laundry and the whole combination felt a bit heavier, still a masterful combination.
Offal Tasting Menu 01: "Torchon de Foie de Lotte" - Green Apple Gelée, Crystallized Apple Chip and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
When our waiter explained this was monkfish liver with apple and caviar, I expected something similar to preparations of Ankimo I have tasted in the past. Perhaps the liver was prepared differently, as the initial flavor is a pungent fishiness masking the velvety richness I typically associate with ankimo. The use of apple added a sweetness that tempered the ankimo allowing for the the buttery flavor of the caviar to come to the fore.
Gift: Calf's Brain - Scrambled Egg, Shaved White Truffle
For some unfathomable reason the kitchen decided to present us with a most luxurious gift: calf's brain atop scrambled egg with a liberal dose of white truffle shaved from a truffle the size of my fist (the smallest one they had). The ethereal perfume of white truffle pairs so perfectly with the soft scrambled eggs. The calf's brain was much softer than what we had at Laundry, with a rounder flavor, it added a sweetbread-like richness to the eggs and truffles. One of the truly stellar courses of the night. When we asked our waitress she mentioned this gift wasn't given to everybody and implied it was because of our previous trip to Laundry or the 20-course Keller/Achatz dinner (which I inquired about but never went, apparently the restaurant tracks every interaction, slightly intimidating in an Orwellian kind of way).
Bread: - Baguette, Pretzel, and Semolina
The bread came with two types of butter a fleur de sel butter from Vermont (made by Diane Sinclair exclusively for Keller), and a butter from Straus Family Creamery in California. Given the daunting meal ahead I decided to skip the bread.
Chefs Tasting Menu 02: Terrine of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras - Black Winter Truffles, Frisée Lettuce and Balsamic Reduction with Toasted Brioche
What fortune, the foie gras preparation of the evening was a terrine. In my mind, the terrine at Laundry is the standard all other preparations of foie gras are compared against and I was truly eager to find out how the East Coast cousin would compare. Truly this was a faultless preparation of foie, buttery smooth texture, nicely salted and very rich. To top it off, Per Se served their foie layered with truffles, in terms of luxury this dominated Laundry. Sadly, the foie gras at Per Se lacked the elan that set the foie gras at Laundry apart from all the rest.
Offal Tasting Menu 02: "Confit de Langue de Boeuf" - Horseradish-Scented Kendall Farms' Crème Fraîche Roasted Heirloom Beets and Red Watercress with Red Wine Vinegar Sauce
My recent experiences with beef tongue have flown in the face of my previous assumptions. The tongue looked almost like ham and had a soft texture somewhere between Kobe beef and gelatin. Surprisingly mild, the dish relied on the beets and crème fraîche for a flavor.
Chefs Tasting Menu 03: Fillet of Mackerel "Cuit à l'Huile d'Olive" - Saffron Poached Yukon Gold Potatoes, Caramelized Cauliflower and Shallot Shoot with Saffron-Espelette "Aigre-Doux"
The barely cooked fish had a supple texture that belied its oily flavor although the tangy sweet sauce and cooked vegetables deftly attenuated the fishiness of the mackerel. As with all of the preceding courses the best way to enjoy the dish is to take a bit of everything together.
Offal Tasting Menu 03: "Aile de Raie Farcie Aux Crétes de Coq" - Braised Red Cabbage with Whole Grain Mustard Emulsion
This dish had a nice transition of flavors. The skate wing filled with an unidentified stuffing (turned out to be rooster combs) actually reminded me a bit of a Mc Donalds Filet-o-Fish. The use of mustard gave a nice tanginess to the skate and the cabbage left a nice undertone of bitterness that lingered.
Chefs Tasting Menu 04: Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster - Confit of Fennel, Niçoise Olives and "Mousseline des Topinambours"
Like the foie gras, the lobster at Laundry remains one of the highlights of my foodie career. This lobster was surprisingly tough and dull the texture was nothing like what I was expecting. The flavor was also quite forgettable. Very disappointing.
Offal Tasting Menu 04: "Trippa Piccata" - Monterey Bay Abalone, Globe Artichokes, Meyer Lemon and Parsley Chips with "Sauce Piccata"
Even though the key ingredient of the dish is the tripe, the abalone was actually more memorable. Two large pieces, cooked slowly with a soft even texture and wonderful simplicity. As for the tripe, I couldn't detect much of the characteristic flavor of cow stomach, really the sauteed batter was the most obvious taste. The use of citrus with shellfish is always a safe decision in my book and the tripe benefited quite a bit from the lemon as well.
Chefs Tasting Menu 05: Herb Roasted Cavendish Farm's Quail - "Jambonnette en Crepinette," Turnip "Mostarda," Blood Orange "Suprêmes" and Sylvetta with Quail Jus
What I thought was a quail leg was actually a sausage shaped like a quail leg, hence the fattiness. This is actually the second time I have been fooled into thinking sausage is quail. There actually was a piece of quail breast that didn't have the richness of the sausage but it was very tender with a satisfying simplicity. This was one of the few courses where the sauce was a distraction from the flavor of the meat.
Offal Tasting Menu 05: "Bacon and Eggs" - Crispy Four Story Hill Farm's Pig Tail Deviled Quail Egg, Haricots Verts and Frisée Lettuce with "Sauce Ravigote"
For some reason I thought the pig tail would actually be fatty similar to oxtail but it was very lean and dry, very much like a pulled pork. Lightly flavored, the tail benefited from the tart sauce. The monotony of the "bacon" was broken up nicely by the egg, crunchy haricots verts, and slightly bitter lettuce.
Chefs Tasting Menu 06: Elysian Fields Farm's "Selle d'Agneau Rôtie Entière" - Herb-Scented "Panisse," Sweet Peppers, English Cucumber and Meyer Lemon Coulis with Lamb Sauce
I thought this was one of the stronger courses of the night, extremely simple but just brilliant. Perhaps the tenderest lamb meat that I have ever eaten, with the perfect hint of gaminess added onto the savoriness of the meat. The lemon coulis ran like a tangy jolt of electricity along my tongue, setting off the lamb beautifully.
Offal Tasting Menu 06: All Day Braised Elysian Fields Farm's Lamb Neck - "Ris d'Agneau," "Pommes Boulangéres" and Tokyo Turnips with Lamb Sauce
I think at this point the restaurant was running out of offal to serve so they decided to serve lamb neck wrapped around sweetbreads. The result of all day braising left the meat so soft it broke apart at the merest touch. Combining lamb with sweetbreads made for a decadent unctuous meat, a very heavy end to the savory courses. The turnips were fairly bursting with liquid that served to refresh the palate but I didn't care for their slightly bitter flavor.
Next came the cheeses served with mustard, cranberry, and pecan bread.
Chefs Tasting Menu 07: "Manchester" - Compressed Mutsu Apples, Celery Branch Filaments and Marcona Almond Butter
A very mild cheese, fairly firm with a sort of rustic flavor that begged to be paired with the juicy apples and bracing celery.
Offal Tasting Menu 07: "Peccorino Pepato" - Salumeria Biellese "Guanciale," Confit of Eggplant and "Salsa Verde"
Another mild cheese, although I did pick up some notes of pepper at the end. The pairing of what was effectively bacon and eggplant made this a bit more savory than most cheese courses. Still I liked the dish even when taken with the bold "Salsa Verde".
Chefs Tasting Menu 08: Pineapple Quince-Cider Sorbet - "Pain au Lait," Rice Pudding and Maple Gelée
I immediately detected intense vanilla and medicinal notes layered in with the fruit. My companion humorously remarked it was like a "scented candle." I was really expecting something more acidic and tart but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised Per Se didn't choose such an obvious and one-dimensional route.
Offal Tasting Menu 08: Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras "Parfait" - Per Se Raisins, Juniper-Tellicherry Pepper Melba and Sultana Coulis
Showing some the foie's characteristic fattiness, the raisins served as a wonderfully sweet accompaniment, reminiscent of the pairings found in a savory foie gras. My companion thought the dish a bit odd, but I admired how the kitchen adroitly used the fat of the liver to basically make an ice cream. A bit heavy for a palate cleanser but still managed to be quite refreshing.
Chefs Tasting Menu 09: "Mille-Feuille de Poire" - Walnut Mousse, Confit Bosc Pears, Candied Walnuts and Licorice Ice Cream
I wasn't sure what to make of this course. Almost a bit too busy for its own good, the disparate flavors and textures never really meshed well.
Offal Tasting Menu 09: Jam "Roly-Poly" - Pumpkin Jam, Chestnut Steamed Pudding and Smoked Bone Marrow with Four Spice Ice Cream
I have to hand it to the kitchen, even the desserts have some form of offal in them. Despite typically being ingredients in savory courses they manage to use the ingredients effectively even in the desserts. Unsurprisingly the four spice ice cream provides the majority of the flavor. I really liked the crumbly texture of the bone marrow and how it contrasted nicely with the creamier elements.
With the official end of the meal, we steeled ourselves for the onslaught of sweets that passes for mignardises at French Laundry and Per Se.
Yogurt Pot de Creme - Guava Jam
The yogurt was slightly tart but definitely took a backseat to the sweet vibrant fruit of the jam. Yoplait should package this stuff and sell it, they'd make a killing.
House-made Chocolates - Venezuelan Dark Chocolate, Honey-Thyme, Hazelnut, Cherry-Vanilla, Fennel, Maple-Pecan, Raspberry, and Vanilla
We took one of each chocolate just to taste. All quite good but nothing particularly noteworthy.
Chocolate Covered Hazelnuts
A very traditional pairing chocolate and hazelnuts, nothing wrong with it per se, but I prefered the hard caramel covered macadamias at Laundry.
A variety of tiny hard candies. By this point I think we had too many sweets to really distinguish the flavor. Given these were individually wrapped, my companion and I wondered if they just reused the leftovers.
Caramel, Nougat, & Truffles
I almost don't know what to call this, other than that damn heavy jar. It came filled with walnut-cherry nougat, salted caramel, and house made truffles. The truffles were definitely the standout each with its own charms. The white chocolate with coconut was incredibly sweet with the coconut shavings providing a gritty textural contrast. The milk chocolate with caramel had a wonderful sweet-salty balance. Lastly the Amedei dark chocolate truffle gave off complex fruit and coffee notes.
After trying the truffles we asked to take some chocolates home and were given two boxes in lieu of the typical gift of cookies.
Easily the best of the three restaurants we dined at in New York. The real question is how does Per Se stack up to French Laundry? I'd have to say it was a valiant effort but in the end it does fall a bit short. The courses are among the most well-developed I have ever eaten. In many dishes, eating everything together fundamentally changed the way the dish tasted, mostly for the better. This suggests a deep understanding of the individual ingredients and how they work together. Still for all the technical proficiency the food didn't move me the way Laundry did.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
10 Columbus Circle