Posted on | February 8, 2010 | 18 Comments |
Last weekend we flew to New York City for a foodie getaway, a birthday gift from Siv. His idea was to take me on an Iron Chef restaurant tour, but as soon as I heard that we were going to New York, I had to pick out the places. Yeah, I am kind of a control freak when it comes to food. So instead of the iron chef tour, we went through the 2010 Michelin list and picked the places from there. Even though we didn’t really plan it like that, it so happened that our meals (the three fancy ones) were in the order of increasing number of Michelin stars day by day. First night’s dinner was at Casa Mono (1 Michelin Star, Spanish by Mario Batali), second night at Alto (2 Michelin Stars, Northern Italian) and the final day lunch at Per Se, a 3 Michelin star restaurant by Thomas Keller.
We sure saved the best for last. Since Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is the #1 restaurant in my wishlist, dining at Per Se -which is supposedly the urban interpretation of the French Laundry – was the most exciting part of this trip. We really wanted to have dinner here, but unfortunately the place gets booked way in advance and we were lucky to even get a lunch reservation. But lunch itself is such a lavish affair here, I don’t think we missed out on anything.
Per Se is located on the third floor of prestigious Time Warner center at Columbus circle, right opposite central park. As soon as we entered the restaurant, starting from the staff who greeted us at the door and the ones who seated us, we knew we were going to be completely taken care of, in terms of service. And yes, the service was impeccable. The restaurant is beautiful, with picture windows that offer spectacular views of the Central park. We didn’t have a window table, but our seats were strategically positioned in such a way that both of us had a view out the window and were able to have a conversation with each other without hurting our necks. The decor is very minimalistic, – which I’ve heard is the same at French Laundry – to let the beauty of the food shine through. We had a 12:15 reservation, a few tables were already occupied when we got there and by the time we were done, all the tables were taken.
The menu offers two Nine course tasting menus – a chef’s tasting menu and a tasting of vegetables are both $275 per person. The lunch menu is 5 courses for $175, but you can order the 9 course menu for lunch as well. Since we were still on PST, which makes it a 9:15 AM meal, we decided to get the 5 course lunch as we knew at places like this a five course meal will have at least seven courses with the amuse and the additional desserts they always offer.
The amuse bouché was the famous Salmon Cornets. I’d heard so much about this signature Thomas Keller dish. My expectations were sky high that I was sure I’d be disappointed. But it was everything I expected and more! Salmon tartare and sweet red onion creme fraiche in a hot crispy sesame cornet was so delicious, we wanted more!
After that the real courses started. First course was the Ajo Blanco Con Camarones – Thompson grapes, Macrona Almonds, Cilantro Shoots and “Croutons de Pain de Campagne” with Garlic Chips. This dish was a play on the texture contrast of the different ingredients. (BTW, these plates with the houndstooth pattern are from Thomas Keller’s own line of porcelain ware.)
Here is a closer look at the crispy shrimp which were absolutely delicious. I could just eat a whole bucket of these!
Next came the Terrine of 24 Carrot Farm’s Rabbit – Fennel Relish, Sicilian Pistachios and Watercress with Sweet Carrot Vinaigrette. Rabbit and carrot, so cruel, but so good!
For the fish course we picked the Sautéed Fillet of Mediterranean Sea Bass – Chickpea Panisse, Castelvetrano Olives, Romaine Lettuce and San Marzano Tomato Marmalade with Bottarga Emulsion. Another amazing dish.
For the meat course we had a choice between lamb chops or the chicken which is served for two. Since it is very rare to see chicken in a fancy restaurant menu, we decided to go for it. Four Story Hill Farm’s “Poussin Rotie En Cocotte” – wilted savoy cabbage, compressed Bartlett pear, slow roasted parsnips and mustard cress with Jus de Poule. We chose wisely, never had such succulent chicken before!
Since I was the one who made the reservation, I hadn’t told them that we were celebrating my birthday even though they had asked me twice. I didn’t want them to make a big deal. Anyway during a casual conversation with one of the staff members just before the dessert course, Siv blurted out that we were celebrating my birthday and of course, the dessert came with a candle. If they had enough warning I am sure they’d have written happy birthday on it too. Here is the delicious “Brownie and Malted Milk” – Double chocolate brownie with Pecan Marquise, Caramel ice crean and Malt Mousse.
With the dessert, we were so full we couldn’t think of taking another bite. Then came the coffee with a couple more desserts, the “Mignardises” – creme Brulee for me, pot de creme for Siv. Even though these were delicious, we could barely make a dent. While we were struggling with these, they brought out a platter full of truffles and asked us to pick the ones we like. When we said we were too full even for a single truffle, they graciously offered to box some up for us to go.
While we were chatting with the manager, he asked us if we’d like a tour of the kitchen. WOW, Jackpot!!!!! I can’t think of anything better than being able to peek into such a famous kitchen. So right after the meal we were taken to the kitchen where the whole magic happens. I was so humbled by the action that was going on in there. The TV on the right top side is a live feed of the French Laundry kitchen which has the same set up to view the Per Se kitchen. That busy table right in front is where all the plating happens. At least 2-3 chefs were involved in plating each dish.
There were different stations for meat, seafood, dessert etc, I already forgot which one is which, in fact I wasn’t really paying attention to the words during this tour as I was overwhelmed by all the action that was going on in there.
Once the kitchen tour was over, we were handed our coats (by the way they don’t use any coat tokens here, they just remember who’s who), these beautiful pastries and our truffles all packed up neatly in a bag and an envelope with print-outs of all the menus from that day. Now that’s what I call great service!
I can go on and on about the day, but if I had to describe the experience in one word, that would be “perfect”. This was one of the best dining experiences of my life, I can’t wait to visit French Laundry to relive this all over again!