Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dinner at the Salon at Per Se

I have wanted to eat at Per Se for quite a while now.  Per Se opened in 2004 as the little sister to Chef Thomas Keller's famous California restaurant, The French Laundry.  Located in the Upper West Side of New York City, Per Se serves its diners thoughtfully conceived dishes with elegant presentation while they look out across Central Park.  As Sam Sifton wrote in his review in The New York Times, "[t]he restaurant more handsomely rewards the companionship of those who love one another as much as they do pleasure and indulgence."

The menu at Per Se changes daily, although some standards remain.  The restaurant serves small, focused dishes that are made to be a tasting experience.  Typically, meals at Per Se are prix fixe, with the standard ten course tasting menu set at $295 (service included).  Reservations can be made up to one month in advance.

For those who don't have the time to dial and re-dial desperately a month before their desired dinner date and who perhaps don't want to invest in at ten course meal, Per Se also offers the option of dining in the salon.  The salon does not require a reservation and you really don't need to make one -- it seems that few people know about or decide to take this option available for dining.  The menu in the salon is a la carte and includes dishes from the tasting menu.  This was the option that B. and I chose for the occasion of our post-engagement celebration.

We simply walked in and asked to be seated in the salon, where we were offered a choice of seating in elegant armchairs with a coffee table or at a high glass bar with tall stools.  I chose the high glass bar because the lighting was better in that area and I am always thinking about how my food will look.  Also, I thought it would be more comfortable to have a table at the proper height, rather than bending down to a coffee table to eat.  I was hoping there might be a place I might put my purse other than on the table we were eating at or on the floor, so when I asked our waiter, he very kindly brought over a small wooden table for my purse.  I also forgot to bring something to write on, so I requested paper and a pen, which he also provided, no questions asked.  This was just the beginning of a night of excellent and attentive service.


To start our meal, we were given two small Gruyere cheese gougeres.  These little balls (on the right) were light and fluffy.  That one bite was so perfect in its warm depth of flavor that it had me both satisfied and craving a hundred more.
Each of us was also given a salmon cornet with a sesame tuile and sweet red onion creme fraiche.  This cold amuse bouche contrasted nicely with the warm gougeres and the sesame tuile provided the perfect crunch.  It was great how such a small bite could offer textural contrasts as well as acidity, fat, and creaminess.  Both of these little bites were a great start to what would be a delicious meal.


Then out came the bread basket, which had (starting from left to right) three little pretzel rolls, three sourdough boules, and three French baguettes.  We were also given butter from Loire Valley and two types of salt - a grey sea salt and a pink Hawaiian salt.  We tried everything.  My favorite was the little French baguettes as the crust had the perfect amount of crisp bite to it while the inside was light and airy.  The other bread options were also fantastic.  I think between the two of us, B. and I managed to eat almost everything in the bread basket.


For my meal, I chose the "Terrine" of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras ($40) which was served with Macerated Blackberries, Celery Branch "Ribbons," Black Walnut Coulis, Toasted Oats and Tellicherry Peppercorn "Aigre-Doux."  In a lovely linen napkin, I was also given a fresh brioche roll, which was warm and salted; a piece of this was like eating air.  Each time I finished my brioche, I was given a new one in a fresh linen.  Our waiter brought me four in total and I ate them so quickly sometimes I had to wait a bit between for a new one to come out.  I've read from other diners that if you take a while to eat the brioche, they bring you out a fresh warm one, even if you haven't finished the one on your plate; this, however, was not a problem for me.
The foie gras was very good.  It truly melted in the mouth and the entire dish was very well executed.  I didn't have a single complaint, except that I could have continued eating another entire plate of this, rich though it might be.  The plate was designed as a wonderful experience, so that a bite of the foie gras with the celery branch was different from a bite with the toast oats, and a bite with everything together was a symphony of flavors.  This was a 9.5 out of 10.  To pair with this, I ordered a glass of white wine, a sweet Sauternes, 2001 ($45).


For his meal, B. ordered the Herb Roasted Thomas Farm's Squab ($36) with Garden State Sweet Corn, Poached Bing Cherries, Braised Swiss Chard and "Sauce Périgourdine."  This was incredible.  It definitely had a wow factor.  The squab was cooked to the perfect pinkness and the corn, Bing cherries (pitted, but left whole), and Swiss chard all married together beautifully.  Again, this was a 9.5 out of 10.  To pair with this, B. had glass of an Italian Brunello ($55), for which I forgot to mark the year.  He liked this, as he enjoys more oak-y wines, and it went well with his dish.

I really appreciated that even though we were ordering by the glass, the servers still came and poured us a taste to sample first, to make sure we liked what we were ordering, before they filled our glasses.  They also let us keep our bread basket even after our main courses were cleared, since we enjoyed munching on the bread so much.  There was no feeling of being rushed.


For dessert, we decided on the creme brulee with ginger snap cookies ($20).  This was served with red verjus gelee.  There was a very nice layer of caramelized sugar on top, which cracked gorgeously under the tapping of my spoon.  My favorite part though was the soft and fragrant ginger cookies, which I could have happily had a plate of one their own, maybe with a glass of milk.  The verjus gelee was a nice touch and the creme brulee was very good, but I felt like it was missing a wow factor.  B. and I both agreed that this was not the best creme brulee either of us had ever eaten.  We gave it an 8 out of 10.

After dessert, we were bought a 3 tiered mignardises tray.  There was white verjus and red current pate de fruits which were sour and flavorful, white chocolates filled with sesame and mango which were very dense and rich (though I didn't get a strong sense of the mango flavor), and almond nougat with raspberries which was sweet and sticky.


To take home, we were also given two little packets of raspberry shortbreads to have for breakfast the next day.  They were very good with coffee; sweet and sandy in a lovely way, the only thing they needed was a very light sprinkle of salt to elevate their flavors.

Overall, Per Se was an excellent experience with wonderful service.  All of the wait staff were friendly and kind, and it was not at all over imposing.  They were attentive, without overdoing it.  I would be happy to return and to sample more of the menu.  B. and I even joked about having our wedding reception at Per Se.
Of course, the meal comes with a hefty price tag -- even higher if you commit to the full tasting menu -- but you are paying for an experience, and what a wonderful experience it was.


Per Se
10 Columbus Circle at 60th St.
Time Warner Center - 4th floor
New York, NY 10019
Tel. 212-823-9335

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this thoughtfully written review. I assume that during lunch hours, there's plenty of natural light in the cafe for photography? How is the main dining room?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because of the tall windows, the salon has wonderful natural light for taking pictures up until around sunset. The windows face west, so afternoon light is very abundant. Note that lunch is only served on Friday and Sunday.
      If you eat in the salon, you don't enter the main dining room, as it is through a set of double doors. However, the main dining room also has very tall windows all along the wall, so it is well lit until sunset. Unfortunately, after the sun goes down, most of the lighting is low "romantic" candle lighting, which is terrible for photography.

      Delete
  2. Wait, your glasses of wine were $45 and $55?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. Such is the mark up for a Michelin rated restaurant,

      Delete
    2. yes, I know this was 3 years ago. Hard to tell how much of a markup without knowing the actual wines.

      Delete
  3. Do they take reservations for the salon, or is it walk ins only?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't know if they take reservations (you would have to call; Open Table reservations are only for the dining room, it seems), but there is plenty of room in the salon, so you really shouldn't need to call in advance. We walked in and were seated immediately.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is perfect blog for anyone who is looking for topics like this. It has got it all, information, benefits and overview. A perfect piece of writing. Good job. Salons in delhi


    ReplyDelete
  6. So hows it work? First come first serve, reservations? Details about how we can find seating for 2

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, there is no need to make reservations; you just show up. It is first come, first serve, but very few people eat in the salon, so you never really need to worry about space. Typically, you can even choose where to sit (e.g. on the couches, at the tall counter tables, etc)

      Delete
  7. Serious question - were you ever uncomfortable taking photos of your food? I only ask because I believe I've heard that pictures are frowned upon (or forbidden) in the main dining room.... Hoping it's somewhat more relaxed in the salon?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never felt uncomfortable taking photos of my food. I will note that none of my photos were taken with flash, and my camera is an unobtrusive digital camera. But the staff smiled as I took my standard 10-15 pictures per plate, and even offered to take a picture of my partner and I with our meal. The salon atmosphere is not at all stiff; it's a relaxed kind of formal, like what you would feel a good friend's wedding reception

      Delete