Because Thomas Keller is one of my husband’s culinary heroes, we felt very lucky indeed when we were able to secure reservations here for a Friday night at 5:45 on our trip to New York. I will preface this by saying that we live in Orlando, and have a five-diamond restaurant here called Victoria & Albert’s. We were expecting something similar, as far as the quality of the experience, but we were, honestly, underwhelmed.
My husband ordered the Chef’s Tasting Menu, and I ordered the Tasting of Vegetables, since I don’t eat meat. My husband normally doesn’t eat meat, but he makes an exception for vacations.
We were seated at a table with a lovely view of the city skyline:
We began with an amuse bouche: a cone of salmon for my husband and a cone of sundried tomatoes for myself. The sundried tomatoes were delicious, very flavorful, and the creaminess of this texture contrasted nicely with the crunchiness of the cone. The salmon cone had a creamy mousse at the bottom of the cone, with the salmon all at the top. He enjoyed this very much.
My husband’s first course was Oysters and Pearls, a sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and Sterling White sturgeon caviar. This was delicious and salty, but I am a big fan of caviar anyway. This was definitely the best dish I tasted all evening. The oysters were plump, though deceptively tiny. My husband really enjoyed all three elements together: the tapioca, the oyster, and the caviar. The tapioca had a savouriness that was different from the salty savouriness of the caviar. It was my husband’s second favorite dish, and we both thought it was outstanding. Our server told us that these oysters were specifically harvested to be of a uniform size.
My first course was a chilled chickpea soup, eggplant and sultana marmalade with garden mint mousse. This was a very light, very subtly flavored dish. It wasn’t outstanding, but I did appreciate the subtlety of the flavors. I was not expecting to enjoy this, since I’m not a fan of chickpeas, but the mint taste dominated even though, as I said, the whole taste was very, very light.
My husband’s next course was a terrine ofHudson Valley Moulard duck foie gras. This came with an apricot coulis and slices of apricots and onions. It was his favorite dish of the evening. He could have done without the onions; he felt they didn’t add anything to the dish. The foie gras was well seasoned; he could feel the individual flakes of salt, which added to the crispiness of the sear on the foie gras. The inside was perfect; the texture was almost like a thick pudding, and it melted in the mouth. He gave me a taste of the apricots, and they were delicious. He said that they paired very well with the foie gras.
My next course was a salad of “haricots verts” with Roma tomato petals, red wine vinegar cream, petites lettuces, and chive-infused olive oil. For some reason, we don’t seem to have a photo of this dish. It was, again, very light. The haricots verts were crisp and had a good, light flavor, but weren’t standouts in any way. The roma tomato puree had a nice, rich taste that offset the lightness of the beans.
My husband’s next course was a sauteed filet of rouget barbet with English cucumber, piquille peppers, Spring garlic, Picholine olives and cranberry bean puree. This was possibly the fishiest fish I’ve ever tasted. It was definitely not what I expected from a restaurant of this caliber. The cranberry bean puree seemed to cut the fishiness, but I was still unpleasantly surprised to see how fishy this fish was, if I might attempt to squeeze the maximum amount of “fish” into this sentence.
My next course was slow baked heirloom beets with leek “batons,” navel orange segments, bulls blood greens and red beet essence. This dish had a very light, fresh taste, though, again, did not stand out. I enjoyed the beets more than I had thought I would, since I’m not a huge beet fan either. The very thin, crispy slices of beets added a fun element to this colorful dish.
My husband’s next dish was a pan-roasted Maine sea scallop with split peas, Greenmarket carrots, Tokyo turnips, and “Mousseline Paloise.” The scallop was good, but not great. The sear and seasoning on it, like those of the foie gras, were awesome, but it could have used a little more salt and most of it was cooked for a little too long on the inside. The mint was a little pervasive, and it permeated every bite that he had of the accompanying vegetables.
Next, I had Violet artichokes “a la Grecque” with pickled Chanterelle mushrooms, celery branch, sweet carrots, and coriander seed vinaigrette. The sauce for this dish was far too celery-flavored for my enjoyment. Celery has a very strong taste, and you either love it or hate it. I hate it. The mushrooms were good, but the pickling added a tartness to them that I didn’t enjoy very much.
My next dish was Sacramento Delta Green Asparagus with soft-boiled Squire Hill Farm’s Araucana hen egg, “Pommes Maxim’s” and black winter truffle coulis. This was a very strange dish. The egg was very bland, not seasoned at all, and it was too underdone for me. I like my yolk runny, but not the whites. The “Pommes Maxim’s” were very thin and crispy and tasted like bland potato chips. I was not a fan of this dish.
My husband’s next dish was pan roasted “Cervelle de Veau,” with Heart of Romaine lettuce, caramelized spring onions, and cider vinegar sauce, i.e. veal brain. It was very rich and required the cider vinegar sauce to cut through the richness. He would not have been able to eat it without a similarly acidic dressing. It was interesting, like sweetbreads but less flavorful. The breading on it reminded him of a breading his father used to fry squash when he was a child. It was a floury, sagey, thymey breading. The onions were not good with the brain itself, but they were good on their own with the cider.
My next dish was probably my favorite one of those served to me. It was Dancing Ewe Farm’s fresh ricotta agnolotti with arugula leaves, Castelvetrano olives, ricotta salata and extra virgin olive oil emulsion. The ricotta inside the pasta was lovely and creamy, and it paired very well with the tartness of the sauce and the olives. The sauce cut through the heaviness of the cheese and pasta. It was very good, but not eye-rollingly good.
My husband had the Snake River Farm’s “calotte de boef grillee” with crispy bone marrow, hop shoots, Cepe mushrooms, Yukon gold “pommes puree” and “sauce Bordelaise.” The beef had a nice grain to it, but it wasn’t fatty. It was very soft and not chewy, and he would have expected more fat to it, since it was so soft and moist. It had an oddly lamb-like taste that he kept remarking on as he ate. The marrow was a little soapy and, by the time he got to it, it was cold. He enjoyed the hops, because they tasted like asparagus.
I then had a Gorgonzola Cremificato on rosemary focaccia, radicchio tardivo and “balsamico al Ginepro.” The gorgonzola was light, not too sharp, and I liked it with the “balsamico.” My husband liked my cheese course better than his own.
My husband had the Monte Enebro with marinated early summer squash, petit basil and yellow squash vinaigrette. This was a Spanish goat cheese, which he found a little soapy. I really enjoyed this cheese, more than my own gorgonzola, while he preferred the gorgonzola. I like to be able to really taste the animal in my cheese, and this was nice and goaty.
The sorbet course came next. My sorbet was a charentais melon sorbet with yogurt pound cake, almond “croustillant” and honeydew foam. This was a very, very light melon sorbet. It tasted like canteloupe, but even lighter than that. The honeydew foam was good, and contributed to the general lightness of this dish. I kept expecting it to float off the plate. I generally prefer a sorbet with a little more flavor and tartness, but this had its own merits. The almond “croustillant” was crunchy and sweet and paired nicely with the sorbet.
My husband had the wild blackberry sorbet with cornmeal “financier,” pine nut “nougatine” and thyme foam. This sorbet was very intense, and more my style. It was more foamy and moussy than other sorbets that we’ve had – almost closer to gelato. The cornmeal tasted just like a small piece of cornbread, so it was an odd combination with the sorbet. It did have a sweetness to it and was crunchy, so the two worked well together.
My dessert was very, very odd. I don’t know that I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it. It was called “Parfum d’Orient” and was a green tea “Madeleine,” poached rainier cherries, vanilla “caviar” and orange blossom “nuage” with Brooks Cherry sorbet. The vanilla caviar and perfume foam tasted so strange. The “caviar” was these little gummy balls, and I’m not really fond of gumminess. The “Parfum d’Orient” tasted just like eating a bite of foam made of perfume, not like food at all, and the green tea cake had a savouriness to it that made it a very weird dessert. The cherries were the best part – they were very sweet.
My husband’s dessert was better than mine. It was a “Tarte au chocolat noir et banane” with caramelized banana, candied walnuts and banana sorbet with caramel jam. Bananas and chocolate are always a good combination. The long chocolate bar had a crispy base, almost like a dark chocolate Kit Kat, but this chocolate was very good quality. The caramelized bananas were too cold, which detracted from their flavor; they had a frozen center.
After this, I was still hungry. The portions had been so tiny, and I really hadn’t had much that was filling. They then brought out our other dessert courses and, I’m sorry to say, I had to fill up on chocolates. Sorry because I resented the fact that I’d dropped massive dollars only to end up filling up on tiny chocolates, not the meal I’d planned for. I am a tiny person and don’t weigh even 100 pounds, so when I say I was not full, I mean that a grown man would probably have to leave here and eat dinner at a real restaurant.
Luckily, they began bringing out some extra desserts. I really liked this next one, which was a pot of apricot jam and yogurt, served with shortbread cookies. The yogurt was deliciously tart and sweet at the same time, and the apricot jam was very flavorful. The cookies were a little thick and mealy, so they diminished my enjoyment of the apricot yogurt somewhat.
Then came the chocolates. They were very oddly flavored. There was a rootbeer flavored chocolate, which really tasted like rootbeer extract. Very funky. There was a peach chocolate that was pretty mild, and a yogurt-filled chocolate that was repulsive. There was a raspberry chocolate and a pumpkin chocolate (our favorite) and several others that we can’t remember.
Finally, they brought out a silver dish of pistachio nougat, truffles, and caramels. At this point, I had overdosed on sweets and didn’t want to eat any of these, but I did try a pistachio nougat. It was all right but I just wasn’t in the mood for any more sweets.
I had a Knoll Gruner white wine with dinner, at the suggestion of my server. It was okay, but didn’t stand out in any way. I’m not a fan of white wines to begin with, so I probably would have been better off to just order a glass of red, instead of taking the server’s recommendation.
My husband had a Brewer Clifton, which we both liked a lot. It had a lot of berry and dark fruit notes, and it had a nice oakiness on the finish. His dessert wine was a Schistes, which tasted like a port-y sherry, but it was not remarkable. It was not too sweet.
Overall, we were underwhelmed. When I spend that much money on dinner, I expect at least half of the dishes to eye-rollingly good, and I can honestly say that the only dish I ate that was eye-rollingly good was the oysters & pearls dish at the beginning of the dinner. My husband would add the foie gras to this list, but we both agreed that we expected more oomph for our dollars. At Victoria & Albert’s, we roll our eyes at most everything that comes out, so this was disappointing in comparison. I was also disappointed at the lack of customization of the menu. There are only 2 choices at Per Se: the Chef’s Tasting Menu and the Tasting of Vegetables. Because I am a pescatarian, I was given only the option of the vegetable menu, and thus I missed out on many dishes that I could have been eating.
Overall, we were glad that we’d tried it, or else we would have always been curious. But we definitely wouldn’t eat there again; we found better quality food at other, much, MUCH less expensive restaurants in Manhattan.