Back in 2016, Pete Wells of New York Times sent a shock wave through the culinary community with a two-star review of Per Se, a major demotion from its previous four-star status. Following that review, the venerable Thomas Keller who helmed the restaurant and the French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, quickly apologized with a note that he believes “we can do better for ourselves, our profession and most importantly our guests.” Since then, Per Se’s status in the culinary upper echelon has been shaky. Even while retaining three Michelin stars, in the latest World’s Best Restaurants list of S. Pellegrino, it is not even listed in the top 50 of the world. So, is Per Se no longer the standard-bearer of New York’s fine dining scene? At least anecdotally, my wife Jun and I have heard over the past few years from our friends who visited the restaurant that it is not worth all the money. Surprisingly, given how long we have both lived in NYC, neither of us has been to the restaurant before. Our second year anniversary was approaching soon, so I figured this would be a good time to evaluate Per Se for ourselves. So, is Per Se a bad restaurant? I highly dispute any notion that it is an average restaurant for we did have an outstanding meal together. The question we constantly asked ourselves was, was this dinner experience absolutely worth the money?
The chef’s tasting menu at Per Se is one of the most expensive in the city, at $355 per person. In order to book a seat, you have to put advance deposits at $100 perperson. Even for our special occasion dinner, that financial proposition felt somewhat daunting at first. Still, there is no question that we immensely enjoyed many of the dishes from the menu, starting with the now iconic oysters and pearls dish with pearl tapioca, Island Creek oysters and caviar, followed by the Hawaiian heart of peach palm “bavarois” whose cold soup with radishes, ginger, avocado and “everything bagel” crisp was exquisitely balanced in its flavor with all the ingredients working together beautifully. Halibut is one of the go-to fish types at fine dining restaurants, and Per Se’s version with “pommes rissoles” and “chowder sauce” would certainly belong right up there with the likes of Le Bernardin.
One of our consensus favorite dishes was the slow-poached Scottish langoustine with koshihikari rice, broccoli florettes and “crème de crustaces”; the texture of this shellfish was simply breath-taking with a perfect level between crunchy and soft. I could not remember if I had encountered a chicken dish as delicately prepared as the “supreme de poularde” at Per Se, accompanied by white asparagus, California rhubarb and green garlic “pesto,” and Jun constantly marveled at how the kitchen removed any gamey feel to the lamb dish with cauliflower “tabouleh” and roasted green almonds to give an absolutely moist texture to the meat.
Based on our impression of all these outstanding dishes, were we ready to fully endorse Per Se as the best restaurant in NYC? That, we were not so sure. While the execution of the dishes was thoughtful and meticulous, having been to dozens of fine dining restaurants in our lives, we expected a little bit more spark of ingenuity here and there that we were not able to quite see. The menu’s lack of accessibility, using all kinds of French jargons and quotation marks, also didn’t help us with understanding what kind of culinary philosophy the kitchen was looking to showcase in its offerings. Lastly, the desserts lagged behind the savory dishes. Among the half dozen individual plates that came before us, the only dish that I would come back for was the delightful honey-oat ice cream whose depth of flavor was quite memorable.
As noted above, you have to put advance deposits through Tock to secure a reservation. There is full bar with, not surprisingly, a very expansive list of expensive wines (although a bottle of red Chateauneuf-du-Pape slightly below $200 that we ordered for our dinner was absolutely delicious). The service, as you would expect from a fine dining restaurant in Manhattan, was very professional without overly stuffy. The ambiance of the dining room, overlooking the Columbus Circle, is comparable to other NYC institutions such as Eleven Madison Park. I certainly recommend trying Per Se if you haven’t been yet before. Would I recommend the restaurant for multiple visits down the road? Jun said unequivocally she is not sure she will come back to pay for a meal at this price point even though she loved almost everything that she had eaten. Maybe I’ll come back a few years down the road (assuming the menu has changed by then). Until then, Per Se is an excellent restaurant but not the game changer in New York’s great dining scene.
KenScale: 8.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
Telephone: (212) 823-9335