Friday, 31 December 2010

Oysters & pearls: Dish of the year at Per Se, New York (and a little rant about Blogger)

The finishing touches. Naturally, I don't have a photo of my dish of the year..

I had written a big, long blog post about my truly wondrous meal at Per Se in New York.

It was, of course, hilariously witty and insightful (there's a first time for everything), intelligently reflective about the year gone by and it waxed philosophical about the differences between London's restaurant scene compared to New York's (there are still 3 light years between them, although London's continues on its way up - bigtime). Then, Blogger wiped it last night. Completely. Aaarghhhh (*furiously whacks computer with big branch, Basil Fawlty style*)

So, TPG having gathered the weeping, raging mess from under the desk and poured gin and tonic into it, I'm back. Gingerly. With Per Se.

I'm not writing it all again. It's New Years Eve and I have a life to live - there's champagne to be drunk and I need to buy saucepans. Suffice to say, at Per Se, I had my most extraordinary, wonderful dish of the year - the oysters & pearls.

This is Thomas Keller's classic dish. It originated at his other 3 Michelin star restaurant, The French Laundry in California, and is bestowed upon every guest at Per Se in New York. It's a seductive, luscious treasure trove of a creamy "sabayon" of pearl tapioca (each grain perfectly firm and distinguishable), briny Island Creek oysters, salty Sterling white sturgeon caviar, egg yolks, cream, black pepper, creme fraiche, vermouth and shallots. It's head rollingly superb.

Like so many of the dishes we ate at Per Se that night, the oysters & pearls is stupendously memorable, and was a moment by moment delight to eat.

Oh yes, there was more. In true special occasion spirit, we gorged ourselves on the 9 course chef's tasting menu (alternatively, there's also a 9 course tasting of vegetables which was the basis for Frank Bruni of the New York Times endowing the place with 4 stars back in 2004 - that's some set of vegetables).

The amazing beef

There was a salad of Greenmarket broccoli with abalone mushrooms, sweet carrots, garden mint and bonito essence (Per Se takes vegetables to another level), there was a grilled fillet of Colombia River Sturgeon and there was a Nova Scotia Lobster poele. There was porchetta with swiss chard, pickled sweet peppers and caper brown butter, there was herb roasted Cavendish Farm's quail with sweet potatoes, cape cod cranberries, frisee and maple syrup. There was cheese and 2 desserts - golden pineapple sorbet and then a tropical tea assortment (which tasted better than it sounds, although desserts were not the highlight for me). But, oysters & pearls devoured, the other dish that I day dream about most is the Snake River Farm's "calotte de boeuf" with slow roasted young beets, Bartlett pears, pistachios and watercress - the meat so rich and succulent that you want to nuzzle up to it on the plate.

Service is faultless - friendly but with an eye to every detail. It is one of the other elements of the evening that affixes to your memory as part of the perfection and enhances the whole experience. The sommelier is fantastic - he listened to us and got it right every time. Even the mignardises at the end (tiny, bite sized chocolates, caramels, doughnuts, macarons) were in the "best ever" category, and we were given a package of truffle popcorn to take away and make at home. (It was delicious.)

All this, you enjoy while overlooking central park among only 16 well spaced, "romantically lit" (ie. check out my rubbish photos) tables.

If you are cynical about expensive fine dining, Per Se might not be for you - what I see as adventurous might irk some and it probably won't have the universal appeal that I think is a strength of Britain's equally expensive The Waterside Inn (review to follow). On the other hand, Per Se is opulent and luxurious but it doesn't suffer from stiff formality (hello Del Posto, if I can be bothered, I'll get to you later. Both these restaurants hold 4 stars, but are in completely different leagues in my book.)

Once you factor in drinks, the tasting menu at Per Se may cost you more than your flight to New York. It's the most expensive meal I've ever paid for (the most expensive meal I've ever not paid for was probably at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, and it wasn't perfect). So it might mean I'm putting off that home deposit for yet another year, but Per Se will dazzle you, it will pamper you, and you'll be day dreaming about it long after the cost is forgotten.

I agree with the New York Times - 4 stars.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Per Se, 10 Colombus Circle, Midtown West, New York, New York 10019

Per Se on Urbanspoon


  1. Can I recommend that you look at Live Writer - freebie software that I write my posts on on my PC, it makes it easy to insert images, edit the code, preview, include category tags, set post time and date and so on.

    And it then publishes to your blog when you are ready.

    Advantage is that if blogger falls over you can upload later.

    It's a godsend...


  2. Thanks so much, Kavey! Best tip ever. Happy New Year! x

  3. I feel your pain- so much. Blogger. Shakes fist. But also know the pleasure you talk of- had a fantastic meal at Per Se half way through last year- found the service so much more charming than at French Laundry (where my husband, sitting next to the fire, was scolded for taking his jacket off when he was scalding)... Can't wait to hear about Del Posto- missed it when we were in NYC and was wondering if we had made a tactical error...

  4. Tori - Your comment about The French Laundry is interesting - although I've been desperate to go there. I thought I was going to like Del Posto best of all, but we had a really off night there. Service was really stiff and awkward, and we were seated in a boring pocket right near the service area where they pretty much watched us eat. The food was nothing to write home about, and in one case the pasta was overcooked. The sommelier was pretty much hopeless in guiding us towards wines to match our descriptions of what we wanted to drink. I totally disagree with Sam Sifton on this one (and we ate some of the dishes he recommended). Babbo is much better in my opinion.

  5. Ah- feel much better about our choices now! I'd say French Laundry - or more particularly- Yountville in its entirety is absolutely still worth a visit- I think we may have just had some off staff (it was over the Christmas break 2 years ago). Yountville itself is beautiful in winter- they light the whole main street with fairy lights and Bouchon and Ad Hoc are great fun...

  6. I really, really want to go back to New York! This time to eat at more restaurants. Who needs to own a house house anyway? ;-) At least Carrie had her shoes to look at in place of a house deposit, mine, like yours, has all been eaten. :-)

    Happy New Year! xx

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