Per Se, to me, is like an oasis of calm and beauty above a bustling and oftentimes chaotic city. Once you step through the doors, you notice the tranquility within, and the natural light filling the room. We were seated next to the sleek open-sided fireplace with a large expanse of window overlooking Central Park, which fortunately for us, was one of our two most preferred tables in the house (the other being the one on the opposite side of the hearth).
The young and attractive staff were warm, welcoming, well-spoken, and well-trained.
As there were certain items my companion and I preferred not to have, there was absolutely no problem with substitutions, and thus we ordered suggested items off of three separate tasting menus, with the staff re-arranging the service to synchronize our new courses.
Some of the highlights of our meal that still stand out in my mind include:
the “oysters and pearls”, which looked to be a seemingly simple dish of fresh oysters and a quenelle of caviar surrounded by a savory sabayon, but underneath was the pleasant surprise of tapioca pearls; the dish tasted of the sea, but the brininess of the oysters and caviar was beautifully balanced and smoothened out by the creaminess of the sabayon, and the tapioca pearls added an interesting and unexpectedly playful textural element, all of which was served with a spoon carved from mother of pearl- a decadent yet delicate treat;
perhaps similarly “decadent yet delicate” was the veloute of caramelized salsify from the vegetarian menu- the taste was surprisingly rich and flavorful, and the texture velvety and light- it was hard to believe that a dish so luxurious could be prepared entirely of vegetables;
then there was the artfully presented crab, which I thought was perhaps the most striking of all the presentations; it was a deconstructed crab salad, with a cylinder of pressed crab wrapped in a dark green lettuce leaf atop a slice of egg, served with a swoosh of black olive puree, a dollop of red tomato marmalade, sprinkled with slivers of radish and a couple leaves of baby romaine - it tasted as good as it looked;
as there seemed to me to be a bit of a British theme running through parts of the menu, I thought the cod topped with a “flower” of crisp thinly sliced potato looked to be a take on English fish and chips, which I appreciated and thought looked and tasted wonderful;
the beef short rib, as one would expect, was well-cooked and delicious, but what I thought was the star of the show were the petit thumbnail-sized “barbajuan”, which are savory pastries that were fried til golden and puffed, looking like little flowers or turtles scattered around the plate and one precariously perched on the edge of the beef;
the degustation of suckling pig was also delicious and impressive in its painstaking preparation- it featured pork three ways; jellied in aspic on toast, cured and pressed with mustard, and cassoulet with beans;
the cheddar Yorkshire pudding with ham was good, but what made it unusual was the “micro-confetti” atop the filling which I believe was different colored cauliflower- purple, green, orange, and white, along with a cauliflower “tree” sticking out the top.
The desserts were impressive and presented very whimsically, and the amount of work and thought that went into their preparation was evident:
I especially liked the “banana moon pie” which featured a chocolate brownie, chocolate mousse, banana compote, banana crème fraiche sherbet, and what looked to be a banana gel;
and the presentation of the deconstructed chocolate caramel ‘cheesecake”, whether intended or not, looked like little “mice” playing in the woods, and featured a chocolate mousse, a caramel mousse, a log of dulce de leche, and a cream cheese ice cream “mouse” sitting atop chocolate soil- if the scenario was intended, then it would be one of the most clever and amusing “plays” on words and food that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing and tasting.
There were however some problems with the meal, most certainly not for presentation, as the plating was exceptionally artful and exquisitely executed throughout, but rather for the taste of several of the seafood dishes, which we found were particularly over-salted. Some of the meal’s misses included:
the lobster with tangerine confit, which was so salty that it was not possible to finish the dish;
and the scallop with brown butter, although featuring only one scallop, was also left unfinished, as one bite was enough.
The meal in its entirety was concentrated, complex, and imaginative- new layers were found to the meal even long after having finished it.
The aesthetics and intricacy of the dishes, the complexity in conception through to execution, were exceptional. Incredible attention was certainly paid to the often striking and memorable multi-layered presentations, however, for two of the simplest dishes both in terms of presentation and preparation, the biggest detail was missed- the taste.
The service, as expected, was accommodating, attentive, yet discrete.
Overall, a memorable and admirable meal.
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