The Seven Stages of Dining at Per Se (Craig’s Birthday Lunch)

February 3, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

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The First Stage: Shock

The original plan was to take Craig to see the play “Speech & Debate,” which he’s been eager to see, and then to dinner at Soto–a Japanese place in the West Village, praised as the second best new restaurant of the year by Frank Bruni in The New York Times. And then Mika happened.

Mika, as you may or may not know, is the poppy, campy not-out-of-the-closet-but-clearly-gay singer/songwriter whose catchy tunes–including “Grace Kelly,” “Lollipop,” and “Love Today”–are taking Europe, and slowly America, by storm. I casually mentioned to Craig that I’d considered getting Mika tickets for his birthday but that I didn’t think he’d want to go (this after making reservations at Soto, but before buying tickets to “Speech and Debate”) and he said, “Awww–that’d be so much fun!” So I quickly shifted gears and was able to snatch last minute Mika tickets, rendering the Soto dinner plans a no-go and leaving a big gaping hole for the day part of Craig’s birthday.

Clearly, though, there needed to be a meal. Craig had initially responded “a nice meal” when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. Where could we go for lunch on a Saturday that’d constitute “a nice meal” before I surprised him with Mika? The first thing that occurred to me was Le Bernardin: it’s one of the best-kept lunch secrets in New York (see this post) and so I quickly called there to see if they had anything for Saturday and the hostess politely told me that they don’t serve lunch on weekends, only on weekdays.

Le Bernardin is a four-star restaurant and since I was in a four-star frame of mind, I Googled my other options. It was then that I realized Per Se has a lunch it serves on weekends. I was well aware that a reservation at Per Se is astonishingly difficult to attain–this is, for those who don’t know, the sister restaurant to our nation’s most prized, celebrated restaurant, The French Laundry–and even if I did attain it, it’d be far outside my price range.

I dialed the number, put the phone on speaker phone, and listened to the Per Se recorded message for about 10 minutes before someone picked up.

“Hello, this is Per Se, how can I help you?”

“Hi,” I said, “I know this is crazy to ask, but I thought I’d take a chance: do you have anything for lunch this Saturday?”

My finger was poised over the phone’s “off” button, prepared for her to cackle and say, “SATURDAY? ARE YOU MAD? WE BOOK UP THREE MONTHS IN ADVANCE!”

But instead: “You’re very lucky sir. We just had a cancellation for this Saturday at noon.”

I almost leapt out of my chair. “Oh wow,” I said. “Ummmm… hmmm… how much is lunch anyway?”

She told me and even though that number was FAR outside anything I ever dreamed of paying, my inner demon said, “What the hell?” and my outer demon said, “Ok, I’ll take it.”

“Excellent,” she said. “I’ll just need your credit card number to hold the reservation.”

“My credit card number?”

“Yes,” she said. “You have until tomorrow to cancel and after that if you fail to make the reservation, we’ll have to charge you for two lunches.”

I got out the card, read her the number, and, once my shock subsided, entered the second stage of Dining at Per Se…

The Second Stage: Terror

The night before Craig’s birthday, he invited a bunch of his friends to the Washington Square Hotel for drinks. Last year, he had a wild night before his birthday that left him groggy and hungover for the dinner we had at Blue Hill. Obviously, because this Per Se reservation was a much bigger deal, and because if we didn’t show up I was going to be charged a mini-fortune, I had to keep a nervous eye on Craig all night. And if there’s one thing Craig hates it’s being monitored.

I sat with Diana as we watched Craig sip a Manhattan.

“If he drinks too much tonight, he won’t want a fifteen-course feast tomorrow at 12 o’clock,” I whimpered.

“Plus,” I added, “he won’t want any wine.”

So, when I got the chance, I played up how what we were doing the next day was a BIG DEAL and he should really try not to overdo it so he’d enjoy it. “Just keep in mind,” I said, “You’ll be drinking wine tomorrow at 12 o’clock.”

To his credit, he contained himself quite well and by the time we got home he was in good spirits and clear-headed.

“Do you have any idea what we’re doing tomorrow?” I asked.

“Not a clue,” he said happily.

Craig likes surprises.

The Third Stage: Surprise

This stage is best expressed by two videos:

Escalator #1:

Escalator #2:

The Fourth Stage: Acclimation

And, at last, we were there. Here’s Craig outside in a blurry picture:

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Now many of you may know, I’d been to Per Se once before (see here) and while I praised the restaurant, it left me a bit wary of fine dining: I thought all the finery and ritual and precision was a bit too intense for my tastes and that I ultimately preferred a homier more boisterous environment with rustic less fussy food.

That was four years ago. Both the restaurant and I have had a chance to change. The restaurant, which had been accused of too much formality by writers other than myself, had time to loosen up. And I–having discovered that I can cook rustic food and serve it boisterously at home–was ready to appreciate food which no home cook should be able to do at home (unless you’re this home cook): artistically conceived, flawlessly executed dishes that are plated with the flair of a painter and the skill of an architect. In other words, Per Se and I had a date with destiny: sparks didn’t fly last time, would they fly this time?

The Fifth Stage: Awe

Oh, how they flew.

The smiley hostess led us to a cushy table up on an the second tier that overlooked the park and afforded us just enough privacy to feel like we were in our own secluded dining room. (The sommelier, Roxanne (who we fell in love with) told us that my friend Phoebe Damrosch–who wrote a memoir of working at Per Se, Service Included–dined at this very table when she ate here with Andre in the book.)

As soon as we sat down, a man with glasses poured us two big glasses of champagne. This made me raise an eyebrow because the bottle of champagne had a very fancy French name and I seemed to recall this is what happens when you’re VIP-ed, according to Phoebe’s book.

And, sure enough, when our waiter came over he said, “Welcome back, Mr. Roberts. The chef would like to cook you a special menu, if that’s ok.”

Oh yes, I realized, I’d been spotted and we were going to get the VIP treatment. This was corroborated when the waiter made reference to my initial post, saying: “From the picture of the menu on your post, it looks like you were here when we first opened.”

How did they figure me out? Do they have a team of researchers? Did they Google my name and figure out I had a food blog? I don’t know and if I were still a food critic, I’d worry about it. But luckily I’ve disavowed food crticism (see here) so I could just smile and tell Craig, “This is going to be good. This is going to be REALLY good.”

And then the food started coming. I could’ve made this a holiday from work and kept my camera put away, savoring the food with my eyes for no one else to ever see but that wouldn’t be fair to you, would it reader? So here they are, a parade of pictures that should have you salivating and a bit of commentary on each one (which, I suppose, is a form of criticism–but this write-up won’t render a final judgment.)

Salmon Cornettes

Famously, a Thomas Keller meal–at least at The French Laundry and Per Se–always starts with a little ice cream cone, filled with creme fraiche and topped with diced salmon. This put a big smile on Craig’s face (mine too) and heralded all the joyous tastes that were about to come:

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Squash Soup with Lingonberries and Basil

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Imagine the best squash soup you’ve ever had, multiply it by ten and then add lingonberries. “Whenever I see lingonberries, I think of IKEA,” said Craig and I recalled the IKEA Lingonberry jam we have in our ‘fridge. This was far better.

“Oysters and Pearls”–”Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Iranian Osetra Caviar

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This is, perhaps, Thomas Keller’s most famous dish and rightfully so. I put it in the Top Three bites of the whole meal, it’s so extraordinary. First there’s the playfulness of the name which I missed, I think, the last time I was there: you see, because pearls grow in OYSTERS so it’s witty b/c it’s oysters and pearls; the pearls being, in this case, tapioca pearls. So the whole thing is a big creamy bowl of flavors from the sea–the briny sabayon, the salty black caviar and then the rich and buttery oysters. It’s as sexy as food gets–creamy, eggy, oystery–and, like good sex, you don’t easily forget it.

Marinated French Sardines–Sultana Puree, Nicoise Olives, Parsley Shoots and Spanish Caper Vinagirette

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Lest you think this’ll be a love letter post with nothing but amazing things to say about every course, this one was the first clunker of the day. Not so much a clunker as the kind of bite that caused Craig and I to look at each other with confusion. “I’m not sure I liked that,” I said after taking a bite of this sardine which was surprisingly flavorless, the sauce strangely bitter. “Ya,” said Craig. “I agree–not my favorite.”

But still, a clunker at Per Se is better than most dishes you’d get at an average restaurant. Can’t say it’s not beautiful, right?

White Truffle Oil-Infused Custard–”Ragout” of Periogrd Truffles

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By contrast, this was a dazzler–the richest, most deeply flavored custard that’s ever met my lips, enhanced with a truffle flavor so beguiling and lovely I was (and this’ll gross you out, but who cares…you’re not reading this–you’re just looking at the pictures!) burping lots and lots later on and all my burps tasted like truffles, which I appreciated. When you love the flavor of your burps after your meal, that’s how you know it was good. Wasn’t it MFK Fischer who said that?

“Smoke”–Cured Wagyu, Smoked Eggplant and Pimenton Oil

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People, to understand the impact of this dish visually you have to know how it was presented: see how it’s in what looks like a giant wine glass? That was actually a full orb and it was filled with smoke. It was brought to the table and Craig said, “Whoah! It’s like something from Star Trek.” The waiters simultaneously lifted the tops and a big puff of smoke–from Alder chips–wafted up to our faces and it was extraordinarily theatrical. I’m visualizing it right now and it makes me smile: this was the funnest moment of the whole meal. I plan to serve smoky food in crystal orbs at all future dinner parties–people will love it.

Unfortunately, this bite itself was closer to the sardine than the custard in terms of how we both felt about it. It was fine–an unfamiliar flavor, that’s for sure–but almost so exotic as to be otherworldly. Didn’t make me smack my lips with joy, but still the presentation was so fantastic I wouldn’t say no if they wanted to present it to me again.

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm–Confit of Young Fennel, Heirloom Radishes “Cuits et Crus,” Crystallized Fennel Chip and Radish “Aigre-Doux” with Fennel-Infused Oil”

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One of the most beautiful courses, this was light and refreshing–a welcome contrast to some of the richer food we’d been having. It’s amazing how many words it takes to describe what’s on the plate, though: doesn’t the title of the dish seem more substantial than the actual dish itself?

At this point we were presented with a choice of six salts to put on our bread, butter and/or food. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what those six salts are, but some are from volcanos, some from the sea and one from Amy Winehouse’s dressing room. At least they said it was salt:

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“Terrine de Queue de Boeuf Et Foie Gras D’Oie”–Celeriac Remoulade, Julienne of Granny Smith Apple, Celery Branch and Green Apple Mustard with Grilled “Pain de Campagne”

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We were each presented with a different foie gras course here and mine is the one you see above, a lovely terrine that was earthy and meaty, a stark contrast to the sweeter foie gras dish Craig had…

Sauteed Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras–Compressed Gala Apples, Apple Butter, Red Endive Spears and Apple Cider “Mignonnette”

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Since I prefer sweeter food and Craig prefers savory, we swapped our foie gras about halfway through and that was a good move for me: I preferred Craig’s because of the interplay between the sweet tart apples and the super rich liver. I know people are touchy about foie gras, but there’s one thing that can’t be denied: when prepared well, there are few gastronomic pleasures that surpass it. Whether the benefit of its taste–an extraordinary benefit–is worth the cost to the animal is for each individual to decide. Me, I’ll keep eating it unless a duck convinces me otherwise.

“Sole de la Manche En Rouelle Pochee”–Globe Artichokes, Nicoise Olives, San Marzano Tomato Marmalade, Roquette and “Sauce Choron”

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At last we were done with appetizer food and up to fish. And this fish, sole, was light and lovely and the sauce was bright and beautiful. The tomato marmalade certainly amplified the dish and the artichokes were a nice final gesture.

**Scottish Langoustines “A La Plancha”–Slow Roasted Young Beets, Preserved Horseradish and Kendall Farm’s “Creme Fraiche” with Bulls Blood Greens and Dill-Infused Oil**

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I’m starring this dish because it was our hands-down favorite. Of all the dishes, this, for both of us, captured what Per Se does best: takes wonderful ingredients, prepares them in a way that enhances their natural splendor and then dresses them with clever, artful flourishes that elevate it to a whole other plane. In this case you have langoustines, which are like the apotheosis of all shellfish have to offer, and they’re served with a tangy horseradish cream and that cream, as you can see, is offset by a beautiful red beet powder which unites those flavors with the flavors of the beet on the plate. Can’t you imagine this in a museum somewhere? And the way it tasted matches its aesthetic beauty. This is a masterpiece in every sense: neither of us will ever forget it.

Hand Cut “Tagliatelle” with Shaved Black Winter Truffles

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There’s never too much of a good thing when it comes to truffles, and as you can see here our waiter not only showered our tagliatelle with black winter truffles, he practically drowned it. But those truffles are so extraordinary and so unusual that I’d like everything and everyone I know to be showered with truffles on a regular basis. Life would be so much better that way.

Thomas Farm’s Squab “Roti a la Broche”–Yam Puree, Purple Top Turnips, Cranberries and Squab “Jus”

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This was the dish that pushed us over the edge, a lovely preparation of squab (they showed us the whole cooked squab at the table before carving it) but so heavy with all those Thanksgiving elements–the yams, the cranberries–we entered the next stage of our Per Se experience…

The Sixth Stage: Stupor

“How are you guys doing?” asked our waiter.

“We’re ok,” I said. “You may have to call an ambulance, but we’re ok.”

And then came this…

Snake River Farm’s “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee”–Crispy Bone Marrow, Russet Potato Gratin, Heirloom Carrots, Young Brussels Sprouts and ‘Sauce Bordelaise’

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This is the feast you’d want to have before you died, right? I mean look at the colors on the plate, how luscious that beef looks. It was marvelous–cooked to perfection–and the vegetables were fresh and buttery and that crispy bone marrow was inspired and explosive and if I were suicidal, I would’ve eaten that gratin too. But I couldn’t–I was at my limit–and so it was with great gratitude to Bacchus and all the gods of food and wine that this was our last entree course. But it leads us to the only real misstep of the meal, I think…

“Grilled Cheese Sandwich”–”Chateniere,” Cornichons, per se Cole Slaw and Fingerling “Potato Chips”

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They brought us grilled cheese with big smiles on their faces. My guess is that they know I have a fun playful website and they wanted to bring us a fun playful dish. But we were so full at this point, a grilled cheese was the last thing we wanted. I would’ve preferred a more traditional cheese course with something light and vegetal on top. The last thing I wanted here was eggy brioche bread, fried in butter stuffed with cheese.

That said, though, the grilled cheese was as good as grilled cheese can be: which is to say, wonderful. And the slaw was exactly what I wanted at this point in the meal: vinegary, peppery, tart and cleansing. Because of the coleslaw, I was ready for the onslaught of dessert…

Guava Sorbet–Tamarind “Genoise,” Goma “Nougatine” and Cream Cheese Foam”

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This course was nice, but it didn’t make a big impression. I actually don’t remember much about it except that it was nice. Nice, nice, nice.

“Mont-Blanc”–Chestnut “Dacquoise,” Whiskey-Scented Chocolate Ganache, Cocoa “Sable” and Vanilla “Icing” with Chestnut Ice Cream

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A dynamite chocolate dessert, though I tend to prefer fruiter desserts (which I suppose the previous one was). The plating reminded me of a Mondrian painting.

“Coffee and Doughnuts”–Cinnamon-Sugared Doughnuts with Cappuccino “Semifreddo”

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Another Thomas Keller signature dish, this too was worthy and delightful. The doughnuts were expertly prepared and the cappuccino semifredo, which I’ve often thought about making from the French Laundry cookbook, confirmed that it’d be worth the effort.

Creme Brulee

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Just cruel, at this point, but, as expected, sheer perfection. The perfect final note… but wait, that’s not the final note.

“Mignardises”

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The chocolates you see in the picture above were presented with great detail and excited description–especially for the salted peanut butter truffle (lowest left corner) and the yuzu-infused truffle. Obviously, we could barely bite into them (I tried the paprika, which was strange, and the salted peanut butter which was truly good) so our waiter was really kind and offered to wrap them up for us to take home. They’re in the fridge now and I just had a fruity one. I liked it.

The Seventh Stage: Reflection

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I feel like I’ve written a novel, and yet there’s so much more I want to say. So I’ll say it with little brackets:

- meals like this are so wildly excessive, they can cause one to ponder the meaning of fine dining and whether it’s justifiable in a world where people suffer. My answer is that because there’s so much suffering in the world, and because life can often be so terrible, we need places like this where food is presented with such zeal and joy; where you are transported to another realm, where a master chef shows you that the things you take for granted–ingredients like cream or eggs–can, if one takes the time to study them and appreciate them, become almost spiritually-charged expressions of all that life has to offer. At at place like Per Se, food isn’t just food: it’s the very thing that makes life worth living.

- The wine we drank at this meal was unforgettable and we have our sommelier, Roxanne, to thank. She was so natural and so playful and charming that we let her pour small glasses of wine with every few courses and these were wines unlike any wines I’d ever had in my life. Here’s the list, for you oenophiles (SAT word!):

Pierre Gimonnet, Blanc de Blancs, Cuise, 1er Cru, Champagne MV

Chateau Musar, Bekka Valley, Lebanon 1998

Bert Simon, Riesling, “Serrig Wurzberg,” Goldkapsel, Auslese, Mosel 1989

Paul Pernot, Puligny-Montrachet 2006

Moccagatta, “Bric Balin,” Barbaresco 2004

Boon, “Fromboise,” Belgium

Ramos-Pinto, “Quinta do Bom Retiro,” 20 Year Tawny, Oporto MV

Ok, so the Lebanese wine was wild–it tasted like fermented grape water, which I know sounds like a strange thing to say, but there was something weirdly watery about it and yes it was compelling and enjoyable, with a great golden color.

My favorites were the Riseling (because it was sweet) and the Port (also because it was sweet).

The Boon was in response to a joke made earlier in the meal (and shows you how light-hearted and fun Roxanne was). She asked if there were any wines we didn’t want, and I said: “I’d like to avoid any Bartles & James or boxed wine.”

She laughed and Craig said, “And no Boons,” which I didn’t really get and I’m not sure I’m transcribing it correctly (he’s sleeping, can’t ask him) which I think is a super cheap beer. And she told us they actually carried a Boon beer from Belgium that was raspberry flavored and that she’d bring it out later in the meal, which she did with the grilled cheese. It was a lovely raspberry flavored beer–a flavor combo you wouldn’t think would work, but did.

- Roxanne’s awesomeness extended to the whole staff. Maybe it was in reaction to the post I wrote four years ago that talked about how stiff and stilted it all was, or maybe they’ve just changed their tune, but there was nothing intimidating about eating at Per Se. Everyone treated us like old friends and we had fun conversations throughout the meal–with our waiter (or was he our captain? I should know this having read Phoebe’s book, but I’m not sure!) about Cleveland (where he’s from) and Napa vs. New York (he used to work at French Laundry) and even movies (talking about the Lingonberries in the soup, he referenced “The Big Lebowski.”) Even though this is one of the most revered restaurants in the country, we felt like we were in somebody’s house–and that’s saying something about the service.

- Eating at lunch was a WISE choice, in fact I think it’s preferable to going for dinner. Why? Because you get to linger, you let the day go by, the sun is out so you see the park fully illuminated, and when it’s all over you’re stuffed and tipsy and you don’t need to eat another thing for the next few days. You can go do something fun like go to a bar or a play or, as in our case, a concert…

…which, to bring it all back to the beginning, was the perfect end to a perfect day. Craig said he loved everything and the Mika concert was the ideal capper to a day of sophisticated comfort and endless decadence. I’d say to any of you who’ve considered going to Per Se, but who are terrified by the price and the cache, do what I did and take a leap of faith: give them a call on a whim and see what they have available. You may have to fast for a month later and take in a few boarders to cover the cost, but it’ll be worth it for a memory that’ll last a lifetime.

Though if you go to a Mika concert afterwards, it’ll be difficult not think he’s singing about you when he sings this:

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Categories: Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews, Upper West Side

  • http://josephbayot.smugmug.com Joseph Bayot

    Heh I’ve been staying up waiting for two things: my grade for my first english paper this semester to be posted on my professor’s website…and… for the update of this blog

    The food looks wonderful and I’m glad Craig had a great time, which is what the day was all about.

    I’m really glad you addressed the two concerns that have been in my head about fine dining: the formality and the price. I like your explanation of both.

    I can’t wait to go to per se. I’m saving up the money right now and plan to go to when I turn 21 in September 2009 so I can splurge on the wine pairings (may as well go all the way with it huh?) With what you’ve written and the reputation of Thomas Keller and his staff, I’m sure it will still be just as tough to snag a reservation two years from now.

    All the best,

    Joseph

  • camille

    wow! when you compared it to painters and artistry i thought, “yeah, right. that’s a little much.” oh, how wrong i was. the dishes really do look like little paintings.

  • Dave

    Damn rich people. “Boons” was actually “Boones” as in Boones Farm. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boone's_Farm

    I wish I was brought up in a place where there was no Boones Farm at high school parties.

  • http://foodwatchblog.blogspot.com John

    Dear Dave,

    Excellent blog, though some of it is a little alien to me since I live and work in New Delhi. Please see my food blog. I would really appreciate your comments and suggestions.

    I am also adding this to my Blog Roll.

  • http://ellysaysopa.vox.com elly

    wow, eveything looks and sounds amazing. glad craig had such a good birthday! we are going to see mika tomorrow night. can’t wait!

  • http://www.postmodernfeeding.blogspot.com Sarah

    Oh, dear. I don’t believe Mika’s closet is big enough to contain him. I think he has chosen sides already…

    That meal sounds (and looks) life-altering. I am jealous. Very. Jealous.

  • Adrienne

    What a beautiful post. I’m glad you had such a lovely meal, and Happy Birthday to Craig! I went to a Mika concert this summer and if he were going to be in Boston on my birthday (this Thursday, actually) that is exactly what I would want to do.

  • http://www.marabous.se/nicolette/ Nicolette

    adam, this is probably my favorite post of yours, i smiled through the whole divine thing! and mika at the end was a perfect capper. also, i definitely do recommend soto, its also amazing, though nowhere near this incredible meal. i can’t wait to break my bank at per se.

  • http://brendacoulter.blogspot.com Brenda Coulter

    meals like this are so wildly excessive, they can cause one to ponder the meaning of fine dining and whether it’s justifiable in a world where people suffer. My answer is that because there’s so much suffering in the world, and because life can often be so terrible, we need places like this…

    Absolutely. Food and service does not come out of thin air. The money you paid for those few hours of enjoyment was distributed to everyone who had a part in making that meal possible, from the people who laundered your table linens to the farmers who produced those squashes and the servers who brought everything to your table. You didn’t buy only food, you bought entertainment–and in doing that you played a small role in helping a number of people make their livings.

    I am a published romance novelist. I am occasionally asked why I write “fluffy” books when this troubled world needs “serious” ones. My answer is that I write romance novels precisely because the world is such a troubled place. My books have made a lot of people happy, at least for a few hours, so in my very small way, I am helping to make the world a nicer place. And I think that’s what you’re doing here on your blog, Adam.

    I enjoyed seeing the photos and reading about your meal at Per Se. I hope you get to go back there soon!

  • http://www.judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/ Judith in Umbria

    I liked it very much but I am only going to say it once.

  • Emily H

    I’m not sure which I’m more jealous of… That amazing-looking and tasting food or a Mika concert. Hehehe

  • tim

    Excellent post.

    I am thankful that my boyfriend and I loath special events such as birthdays and don’t bother to acknowledge them. But on completely random occasions I’ll take him out to a excellent restaurant and have the ‘tasting dinner’ for obscene amounts of money. Three quarters of a way through the last meal he turned to me and stated ‘wow … food makes me happy.’ That is all the thanks I needed.

    (as for Mika – I didn’t know he existed until I saw him on Graham Norton a few weeks ago. Considering the content of some of his songs – yea not a closet big enough for him)

  • Fatima

    Oh, god. Reading this post was so good. I feel like those kids in ‘Hook’ when they’re pretending to eat a feast and they get all full. I actually feel like I ate all of this.

    Why don’t I have friends who do this for my birthday?

  • http://agategoddess.blogspot.com Agategoddess

    What a wonderfully decadent way to spend Craig’s birthday! I will be heading to the Big Apple myself in June and can’t wait to take my friend out for a nice meal. Our budget is a little smaller but I’m hoping to hit somewhere nice that he will enjoy.

    As for Craig’s request of “no Boon’s”, I laughed out loud. Boone’s Farm was a staple for us poor college kids. Bottles cost maybe $5 each? Just the mention of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill is enough to send me back to the mid-90s and raucous frat parties…ah college.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sararah sarah

    Boone’s Farm is hardly $5 a bottle, I have seen it for $0.99 on sale at the supermarket and it is probably about $3 when not on sale. It is likely much cheaper to get drunk on the Boone’s than cough syrup or Listerine.

    I have personally never enjoyed this “wine” but it comes in vibrant kool-aid colors and flavors like “kiwi strawberry” and “blue razzleberry.”

    When my friend from Northern WI was invited to a wine and cheese party we joked that her contribution should be Boone’s Farm and Cheddar.

    Now that I have written a tome on Boone’s Farm, the meal looked fantastic. Usually I am an anti-food snob about these things (seeing as I live in Iowa and a gourmet dinner here will run you $20-30 max), but I suppose I’d give it a try. I have to learn to like olives first.

  • http://laowai.blogspot.com Spike

    Just want to say that I think this might be your best post ever. Great story, great writing, great photography. I loved this!

  • BCarter3

    Wonderful post, as usual. And a belated “Happy Birthday” to Craig.

    I’ve never been to Per Se or The French Laundry. How do you eat the mini-ice-cream-cones with salmon tartare? With a spoon? Like a regular ice cream cone?

  • http://www.betterbitterblonde.blogspot.com christianne

    You don’t know about Boone’s? I wish I didn’t either….

    what a fabulous meal! so decadent!

  • http://bigdaddyseashell.wordpress.com Gwen

    Happy Birthday to Craig. It looks like a fantastic meal. VIP treatment is the best.

  • tisme

    so – did they comp your meal? Or, if you paid, how much was this luxury?

  • tisme

    so – did they comp your meal? Or, if you paid, how much was this luxury?

  • Jonnie

    Thanks for the great review. I know that point when an amazing gourmet meal/wine feast becomes too much – you get the upper lip sweat and your lower intestines get nervous. *Or is that just me?* But a priceless experience nonetheless.

    And the fact that they brought you out grilled cheese was so sweet it almost brought a tear to my eye. Funny that a restaurant as “important” as that would try so hard to gain your approval. I would love that grilled cheese right now. The sheer amount of food and sweets that was showered upon you . . . I can only imagine the cost. I hope Craig repaid you in kind. ;>

  • Felix

    I Wanna live in New York! That meal looked so good. I agree with “Spike” that this may be one of your best posts ever. I think the photagraphy was awesome!

  • http://minxeats.blogspot.com Kathy

    Dayum. Ain’t it great being a celebrity? That sounds like a fantastic meal, and I hope you got comped. :)

    And…happy Birthday, Craig!

  • Sam

    Beautiful pictures, Adam! You’re becoming much better as a photographer. :)

    I guess you’ve arrived now, eh? Getting the VIP treatment out of nowhere? That’s gotta feel pretty cool. :)

  • http://www.frenchlaundryathome.com French Laundry at Home

    I still dream about the steak with crispy bone marrow — we had that dish back in October and it was, perhaps, the most glorious thing I’ve ever eaten.

    You should try the semifreddo from TFLCookbook. It’s super-easy and you’ll be glad you did.

  • http://www.amateurgourmet.com Adam

    Oh no, this wasn’t comped at all. Believe me, not comped! But worth every penny.

  • cybercita

    i really enjoyed reading this!

  • cybercita

    i really enjoyed reading this!

  • andrenna

    AH! I’m excited just looking at the photos!!! That looks amazing! Nice birthday gift!!!

  • http://bplans.typepad.com/blog/ Chelle Parmele

    Oh, my mouth is watering! How did you ever survive all that food? I think I would have had to be rolled out of the place.

    What a great way to spend a birthday! Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

  • Maria

    What a birthday present! I laughed at the photo of the um, truffles with pasta garnish. That is too awesome.

  • http://aladyinred.wordpress.com Dani

    Boone’s Farm wine, comes in kool aid colors, and pretty much tastes like it too. We used to buy it for $2 a bottle in high school.

  • http://fourand20blackbirds.wordpress.com Maggie

    BEST. POST. EVER!!!! Wow. I’m so jealous.

    Boone’s Farm is responsible for 3/4 of all pregnancies around these parts. True story!

  • http://aftertastebysherry.wordpress.com AT Sherry

    Hi Adam-

    I write a blog (http://aftertastebysherry.wordpress.com) and while I don’t generally enjoy other blogs (such a hypocrite, I know), I do enjoy yours immensely. However, I didn’t really understand how you could rhapsodize about the staff’s attention and playfulness. Clearly (and you admit this, which I appreciate), the staff knew you were someone noteworthy in the food world. There’s a very fine line between merely describing a great meal on your blog and openly praising the staff as much as you did when most people who will go to Per Se and drop that much money will probably receive only about 10% of the service you did. Although you address the fact that they recognized you, I still think your post was a little misleading.

    Respectfully yours,

    Sherry

  • SLOLindsay

    What a wonderful post! I really loved the descriptions. This is actually why I started reading your blog in the first place a few years ago — for the amazing ability to live the NY food scene vicariously through you.

    Keep eating and enjoying (and photographing)!

    And happy birthday Craig!

  • Andie

    My answer is that because there’s so much suffering in the world, and because life can often be so terrible, we need places like this….

    Yup, looks like you suffer and have a terrible life…

  • Katelyn

    One blog post closer to me getting a credit card.

  • http://www.teoyellowlunchboxes.blogspot.com Kate

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for introducing me to MIKA. I workd an unfortunate 16 hour work day yesterday and the only thing that got me through was the fact I had read your post and downloaded a couple of songs from itunes in the morning.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    This post made me realize how well you must have done in creative writing classes. You can turn a simple birthday dinner with your boyfriend into a fantastically written essay/novel and keep us all there to the end.

  • Spee

    Whoaaa! What a birthday present…how thoughtful is that !! Enjoyed this post immensely. Belated Happy B’day Craig!

  • http://www.andtheeggs.net Jennifer

    wow. i read this twice, slowly. good call, great plan. wonderful birthday lunch…i am living vicariously through this post, sitting here in my office, thinking about lunch. i just realized what haute cuisine really means. i’m very jeal, but hope to have an experience like yours at least once in my life. happy belated birthday to craig!

  • stuffed owl

    This sounded AMAZING…

    … and in response to AT Sherry, read Carol (French Laundry At Home)’s description of a Per Se meal. She was clearly a first-time customer, and received as much special attention and friendliness as Adam described.

  • Laura

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Not an experience that I am likely to have. And, so I thank you providing an evening’s entertainment for me, vicarious though it may be. Did make me want to order the FL cookbook, also.

  • http://onefoodguy.blogspot.com one food guy

    Oh…My…G-D!!!!!

    Insane. I don’t know what to say. Amazing. Happy Birthday Craig!

  • KimberlyDi

    For dinner, Per Se offers two prix fixe tasting menus for $275; a 9 course Tasting of Seasonal Vegetables or the 9 course Chef’s Tasting Menu, which changes daily. For lunch, in addition to the two 9 course menus, a shorter 5 course menu is available for $175.

    Wine selections & cost vary.

  • Ashley

    Adam, This looks great – thanks for posting all the photos.

    I must say that I’m dying to hear how Soto is. Soto had a restaurant in Atlanta for many years and was known as the best sushi chef in the city, state, southeast . . . let’s just say I’ve had many a food orgasm at his restaurant. Your faithful Atlanta readers are dying to know how about his place in NY!

  • chasgoose

    I am so glad you went back to Per Se. It’s kind of like coming full circle for your website. I went to Per Se for my 21st birthday, and while we didn’t get offered a special menu (although we probably wouldn’t have been able to eat it all anyways) we did get personalized Happy Birthday menus and we got a great table (the four top right to the left of yours).

    The food was obviously amazing (with the exception of a tuna dish paired with a mint “succotash” that didn’t quite cohere) the thing that makes Per Se so special is its service. I can’t think of another restaurant where the service is so finely attuned to each table in the restaurant. We were definitely impressed by the personalized Happy Birthday menus that we received when we arrived (they are still the only “posters” I have in my room), but what was more impressive was how they were so successfully able to “read” our group and decide the best service strategy.

    They were formal enough to give us the four star treatment, but they understood that we were relatively young so they didn’t go over-the-top stuffy with us mixing in a warmth and, for lack of a better word, informality when it seemed appropriate. They educated us about the wines we were having without seeming pedantic and condescending while indulging our own commentary despite our limited knowledge. Once they knew that we were more educated in the realm of food, they didn’t dumb down their descriptions of what was happening in the dishes they were serving. They managed to achieve a perfect balance of interacting with us and leaving us to ourselves. In a word, it was absolutely perfect.

    To me what was even more impressive was how the same captain acted completely differently, yet completely appropriately with our surrounding parties. They dropped the overly showy formal service with the couple sitting in your table and did everything they could to insure that the service was as invisible as possible. With the table of Asian businessmen behind us, they pulled out all the stops giving them the attention they desired, while never dropping the formality as they did with us. I know its easier to personalize the service when there are so many captains and only 16 tables, but it is still remarkable that they are able to do it so well and so precisely day in and day out.

    While you can certainly get similarly stellar food at other New York 4 star restaurants like Jean Georges and Le Bernardin, only at Per Se do you feel like you are the only party in the room.

    Finally to sum up this ridiculously long post, I just wanted to mention that in addition to a great evening, they must have given us a significant discount on wine, because I asked the sommelier to make a pairing for around $100 a person (that is by no means cheap, but it is quite a challenge for a 9 course meal at Per Se) and not only we were not charged the full $100 per person, when I went home to look up the wine that we consumed based on the list we received, the retail price alone (I just estimated the cost of the glasses) outstripped the estimated $100 per person we asked to pay. They never mentioned it at our meal, but it was like a bonus to remind me how special our evening was.

  • CJ

    I’m with Sherry. You didn’t mention how much the meal cost which makes me thing you were comped. That definitely takes away from the post for me. I’ve really enjoyed your honesty when it comes to costs on your blog so I have to wonder why you’re being so coy with this one. How much was this meal?

  • http://foodwoolf.blogspot.com foodwoolf

    Thank you so much for inviting us into your incredible meal. Through your incredible descriptions and photographs you were able to bring all of us along (for the price of 2)! Thank you for the invite,

    Brooke

  • Levinedym

    Everything’s so beautiful! I have never actually had food of the gourmet level before, but I’m a gourmand at heart. Each and every one of the dishes was stunning!

  • Anomita

    Adam, I was just going through a few restaurants on Open Table: my sister’s coming down from London in March and I wanted to treat her to something special and awesome. Course I thought I’d never ever be able to get a table at a place like Per Se, and was worried that even if I did, it’d be way too intimidating. Then I read your latest post about lunch and went back to Open Table..and actually found a table! It seems like a minor miracle :) Am now going to be eating lunch at Per Se third sunday of march – and am totally looking forward to it thnks to your blog!

  • anya

    “meals like this are so wildly excessive, they can cause one to ponder the meaning of fine dining and whether it’s justifiable in a world where people suffer. My answer is that because there’s so much suffering in the world, and because life can often be so terrible, we need places like this where food is presented with such zeal and joy;”

    why do people (i.e. the AG) feel the need to justify their own extravaganzas? It’s not as if you are robbing some poor person blind by dining at Per Se. It’s ironic the true sharks and robbers (politicians and CEOs etc) never bat an eyelash at the havoc they wreak, and yet perfectly innocent people like the AG actually stops to think about and feel the need to justify their own totally blameless (in my opinion) actions.

  • Lorri

    I read “Service Included” last month so it was great to read about your visit to Per Se (and see pictures of your food). I never like the vague “it was so expensive” remarks because that only makes me more curious about how much was. And what is expensive to one person might not be expensive to another. I’m glad KimberlyDi called it out. $275 is a lot but it sounds like a great experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://teaandcookies.blogspot.com Tea

    You guys are sweet–what a lovely birthday.

  • Anonymous

    I love your blog, most of all I love your honesty. My friend John, we do not have food like this in Delhi because food writers here are so dishonest in their reporting and until that changes we will get served the crap we get at the unreal prices we pay.

  • Freddie Laker

    First, did they comp the meal for you, being an important food blogger and critic ?

    Second did you get any nooky from the BF after such a big day you planned for him ?

  • AmyE

    You did answer the question about being comped–you said that you paid. But in reading your post, I was confused about what I might expect, if I made a reservation for lunch…I’m assuming that tray of chocolates was a VIP perk, but it is difficult to tell what was a perk and what an average joe might expect. i think it’s important for you to be clear in your review about what people can expect.

  • http://www.thewinefiles.blogspot.com Drink, Memory

    First of all, you made me so happy with that Mika video! I like your style and your choice of lunch spots, though I must say, don’t knock ALL the boxed wines until you’ve tried a few…lest you miss DTour, the exciting collaboration of Dominique Lafon, Daniel Boulud and Daniel Johnnes. Not quite a box, but a tube. Try it, you might like it! http://www.dtourwine.com (no similarity to boones farm or franzia)Trust me.

  • Leigh

    “It’s as sexy as food gets–creamy, eggy, oystery–and, like good sex, you don’t easily forget it.”

    I think this is one of the best explanations of what something tastes like…I love it! I am in total appreciation of your blog. Thanks for showing those of us who fondly remember Boone’s Farm Strawberry Punch on prom night, how elegant food can be … it is as much about the memories as it is the taste in my opinion.

  • http://dunhamsteve.blogspot.com Steve

    AmyE -

    I think the chocolates are a typical part of the Mignardise. When I dined at French Laundry, they brought out a tray of truffles with six flavors and invited us to choose what we wanted. They also provided small portions of crème brulée for the girls and pot de crème for the guys, an orange tuille, and another candy that I vaguely remember (I think it was coated with sugar and contained nuts.

    My memory of it was that all of the courses were done, they kept bringing out desserts, and I was thinking I wasn’t sure how much more I could eat.

    They also brought us little breads at a couple of points during the meal – the breads may be different at Per Se, since the Bouchon Bakery isn’t down the street, but if they have the little pretzel breads with salt and black pepper, be sure to try one.

    I’m an average joe and our service was outstanding. The meal was perfectly paced, and they accommodated Emily’s food allergy by substituting dishes for two of her courses and altering a third course. The substitutions were as superb as the original courses, and likely came from a different day’s menu.

    We did have a camera with us (no flash, of course), and the captain asked Emily in a joking manner if it was for her blog, but I don’t think we got any special treatment because of it. (The photos are at: http://flickr.com/photos/embem30/sets/72157600047019556/ )

  • http://www.cookeatfret.com claudia at ‘cook eat FRET’

    i just ate there a week ago with carol from french laundry at home. i posted about it yesterday. someone sent me the link to your post and i only now wish that i had some natural light to shoot the food!!!

    was fun to relive it through your eyes..

  • Melanie

    Hahah, my boyfriend and I were at the table next to you guys that day for our anniversary. I couldn’t agree with you more about how friendly and unpretentious the staff was. The service was remarkable, and the food of coarse, amazing. We are going to Napa late April and they gave us so many great reccomendations, they even LET US IN THE KITCHEN!! I felt like such a tourist (I’ve lived in NY 3 yrs) but oh well, it was an unforgetable experience!

  • Anne Ternay

    I was at Per Se last summer and had an amazing meal. There was a 14 year old chef from Philadelphia and the Inquire wrote and article about him. He was saving all of his work money from the restaurants he worked at after school to go to Per Se. I contacted his mother and to make a long story short, I ended up on a date with a 14 year old! (I am 40!) Keep in mind, my husband is a chef and I have always wanted to go to Per Se. I paid my own way. I emailed the PR person for all of Keller’s restaurants and sent her the article. I thought it would be a great experience if he could me the chef. Knowing it would not be Thomas Keller, I would have been happy with a Sous Chef. We ended up with a 20 course meal! Now that was 20 different courses for each of us! And they gave me wine paring with each and made amazing mock cocktails for Nick. They gave us a full kitchen tour after lunch. We dined from 11:30A until 5:30P and Nick and his mother just made their train back to Philadelphia. I have some great shots from the lunch. The oysters & Pearls was amazing. Glad you had a wonderful experience as well. I just discovered your blog and LOVE IT! You should come to Philadelphia and try some of our restaurants!