This had to be my first. Superlative everything. I am so proud of myself to have discovered this place.
February 2010. It was the husband’s 29th birthday.
A few days before, I entered into the pursuit for a fancy restaurant.
I was interning with UN for that spring semester and my supervisor handed me the Zagat survey book and the NFT guide. Not that I wasn’t plugged in on Zagat online, but just wouldn’t buy it myself. Didn’t key myself onto the NFT guide then.
I scanned almost the entire Zagat book, looked for the restaurants and the best-in categories – top food, top decor, top service, most romantic, great views and so on. Some of the names that recurred were Jean Georges, Daniel, Masa, Bar Boulud, Kings Carriage, La Grenouille, Union Square Cafe, Terrace in the Sky, One If By Land and Per Se.
I started going onto their websites, looking at their pictures, their menus, their reviews. It was an assiduous assay. Shortlisted on Jean Georges, Masa, One If By Land and Per Se.
Now, another couple that we know, whom I do not admire as much, had already been to One If By Land, so that was crossed out – only for the reason that I don’t like them (well I don’t like only one of them) and that I’ll go there on any ordinary day. Yeah, I am wicked.
Anyway, coming back to Per Se – that is what I finally had zoomed in on. I read so many of their reviews – more great than not, that I had to go there. And I had to go there for his birthday. This birthday. This is two days before the 11th. All the reviews suggest you make your reservations well in advance. That made me a tad sad thinking of whether I’d be able to get a reservation or not. I called them. I did. I would’ve hoped for something earlier that evening, since the reviews suggested it would be about a four-hour affair, but I got one for 9:00 or 9:30 that evening. Couldn’t complain, now, could I?
Again, it’s February – super cold, it snowed for the last couple of days. It’s all snowy and slushy, both of us come home from work, change, and get going. The husband doesn’t know what place. He just knows that it’s going to cost him a bomb 😉 Yes, he knows the price ($295 per person) for the nine course tasting menu – I got intimidated looking at the price so I ended up calling and asking him if that was OK.
He said yes.
I called up Per Se and I made a reservation.
He (the husband) again called back and asked if we could save that for another occasion. I told him that I’d already reserved and that we should go.
So, go we.
The experience was phantasmagorical. He enjoyed it. He said he relished the experience more than our skydiving – which we enjoyed so much.
We went for the vegetable tasting menu – nine courses.
It began with a mini sampler from the chef – a three tiered serving dish with smaller than bite sized items.
The menu changes every season.
The presentation was fabulous.
The first course was yam soup – delish. Absolutely delish. The quantity, as they say, enough for you to taste it well yet leave you asking for more. I wanted to go for it a second time already.
Second was a small salad. Very good – cold greens with warm, flavourful beans. And again, it’s gone even before you realize.
The third was a preparation of some root vegetable. The taste of the root was a little on the bitter side, but it was all so well done. With French cooking, I’ve come to realize that it’s all cooked to perfection.
Then there was an aubergine dish. Since we were two and they had a choice for almost every course, they got two different ones so we got to taste both. I personally did not like it as much. It looked gorgeous with all the colours, but I did not like the taste – not a fan of aubergine, anyway. It was probably one of the best done dishes, but I could only have a bite. There was light cream beneath, the brinjal was done in extra oil, sesame seeds on the top.
Then there were a couple of cheese dishes. Different. Fresh. The layer of cheese you see down here almost tasted like they just made it fresh, like cream on the top of boiling milk. The crispy greens complemented the cheese well. Again, cheese imparted all the flavour to the dish.
I didn’t eat eggs at that time, so they modified their dishes slightly. The main entrée – pasta in almond butter with sautéed cauliflower was wow. Perfectly done cauliflower. Amazing taste of the butter. I was so impressed that I tried it at home once. It turned out to be good, very good, but not as good 🙂
They have about four types of bread and three types of butter to go with them, all at the perfect temperature to spread over the bread. Things like these got Per Se brownie points from me. And the service too. Top notch. Oh, and did I mention apt cutlery for every item they got for us.
They usually get out dishes for all on the table at the same time – two or three people depending on the setup of your dish – and they coordinate it to the T so that they place it before you at the exact same time.
And most of the great restaurants that I have been to explain the ingredients of the dish before you begin to gorge on them.
Three dessert entrées after that.
Some cookies, thin fruit slices, semi crisp. Jelly. Sugar cookies. Sorbet. Paper thin dried fruits. The pictures would be worth more than the words. Here they are.
Towards the end, not on the menu but must-have is their coffee and doughnut – mini donuts and it’s coffee mousse. Perfect temperature – cold. And the doughnuts are nice and warm. As I began to savour those, our serve came up to me and said that it contained eggs. Oh! I loved it anyway 🙂 In fact, glad I did not miss it.
They got some more mignardises for us.
You can pair your meal with wine, we didn’t go for the wine pairing, just had a couple of glasses separately.
The portions might seem small, so if you are a big eater, go for the bread. If not, you leave satisfied. With a bag of goodies. Not gluttony full, but satiated. Super. The word is PHANTASMAGORICAL.
You may ask them to show you around their kitchen. It’s a wonderful experience – it was the close of their day, and we saw the chefs sitting around and deciding the menu for the next day. And they have a camera, live from French Laundry.
Save the place for your most special occasion, because once you visit here, nothing else will match up.
I enjoyed reading about Thomas Keller as well – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Keller
French Laundry is now on my mind. Definitely.