Roasting a chicken is a very personal thing; those of us who are regular chicken roasters (and, in the winter, roasting a chicken is almost a weekly act for me) know what we like. For me, that’s a combination of fennel seeds, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt on the outside of the skin and thyme stuffed inside (see here). That recipe comes from the Chez Panisse cookbook and no matter how many other roast chicken recipes I try–the River Cottage one, for example–no chicken has been able to unseat the Chez Panisse chicken. That is, until last week.
[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Earlier this year, I joined Craig for a trip to the Florida Film Festival, mostly so we could go to Disney World. On the day of the awards, we sat at a table with filmmaker Matt Morris. Then something extraordinary happened: the MC called his name and his documentary, “Pickin’ & Trimmin'” won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Short. Here Matt wins my grand jury prize for a dish I want to eat RIGHT NOW. Take it away, Matt!]
Adam and I met at the Florida Film Festival. Craig’s movie True Adolescents was playing there, as was my (ahem, award-winning) documentary short film, Pickin’ & Trimmin’. It was only later, through the brilliance of Facebook, that I found out Adam was a food writer and blogger.
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…