Even on a holiday (Martin Luther King Jr's birthday) and even while in transition (chef de cuisine Benno is officially leaving at the end of January), the staff at Per Se did an amazing job. I'm going to have to separate this review into 3 parts like I did with the Barbot stint at Ko.
Atmosphere: The dining room was elegant with a simple color scheme and perfect lighting. It was a good mix of business elegance and warm comfort.
The famous blue door, an ode to the blue door at the French Laundry. You don't actually enter through it though. The glass on the side is actually an automatic door that slides open.
The large windows open up to a nice view of the surrounding buildings, while the fire really adds to that warm comforting feeling.
Service: Everything you would expect from a top tier restaurant. Knowledgeable staff who are friendly and helpful. I was offered champagne when I first sat down and finally stopped after two glasses. I chatted with my server a lot throughout the evening. She'd worked both front of house and as a cook in some famous kitchens, so it was fun listening to her talk about truffle hunting in Alba and other things. Dining solo, it was nice to be engaged in conversation throughout the evening. I thought it was a perfect middle between Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where they got a little too caught up in talking about the produce. She felt that I was someone who truly enjoyed food (and was taking pictures), and the kitchen was very generous the rest of the evening. I specifically tempered expectations of what kind of blog I kept (I don't pretend to maintain some big food blog to get extras), but they seemed genuinely happy that I was just enjoying my food so much. I don't even remember which of the dishes below were part of the original 9 course menu and which were extras. I think part of it is their understanding that this is a dining event (only the two menus, no prix fixe staple menu), and so adjust the service accordingly.
Food: Here we go.
The signature salmon cornet and gougeres to start. The marinated salmon and onion mixture was nice, but I was more fascinated by the tuile batter used to make the cornet. So simple (I think it was only flour, butter, sugar, salt, and egg whites) but so delicious and worked really well with the salmon mixture. The gougeres weren't as warm as I would like, but the burst of the liquid cheese center was terrific.
CELERY ROOT "VELOUTE" with CELERY BRANCH "FILAMENTS" and CONFIT OF GARLIC CRISP
A terrific way to start the meal. The soup had terrific celery and garlic flavor. The crisps, confit, froth, and soup were a perfect range of textures coming together.
"OYSTERS AND PEARLS": "SABAYON" OF PEARL TAPIOCA with ISLAND CREEK OYSTERS and STERLING WHITE STURGEON CAVIAR
Another signature Keller dish. The caviar was bursting with flavor. While I feel that tapioca is often misused in dishes, the tapioca sabayon provided a perfect texture accompaniment here. Again, hitting a range of flavors and textures.
SASHIMI OF ATLANTIC FLUKE with YUZU, GLAZED TURNIPS AND SCALLION "EMINCEE" with MOROMI PUREE
Oops, forgot to take a photo of this one. It was served in a vessel shaped like a sake carafe. While fluke is one of those fish that chefs love but I'm only ok with (like skate), the fish was fresh and I really liked the scallion slices that came with it. The moromi (mash that ferments to become sake) puree was not as strong as I would have thought.
PAVE OF SPANISH MACKEREL with TOMATO MARMALADE, HOLLAND PEPPERS, and SAFFRON RICE PUFF with PARSLEY OIL
This was the first dish where I thought I grasped the essence of the genius at work here. Similar to Barbot, the superiority here is about balance. A recurring theme throughout the night was how such strongly flavored components could come together in harmony without any one being overpowering. The fish was just right, and I could taste the different flavors coming together.
WHITE TRUFFLE OIL-INFUSED CUSTARD with "RAGOUT" OF BLACK WINTER TRUFFLES and POTATO CHIVE CHIP
Another Keller classic. Hard to go wrong with this one. Smelled and tasted wonderful. I wasn't so hot on the chip though. I could kinda see the texture he was aiming for, but it just comes off like a stale potato chip because of how hard it was.
A birds-eye view so that we can see the black truffle "ragout". I can still remember the amazing aroma.
That's it for tonight. More to come.
For Part 2, click here
For Part 3, click here