November 19, 2010
Morten's Per Se Experience
Morten wrote a post about our Per Se experience at Upop.no...in Norwegian. I asked him to translate it to English so I could share it with y'all. You can check out my post about Per Se for more food porn and info about our meal. Enjoy!
If you're rich, crazy, or just really love gastronomic experiences there aren't many better places to spend your money than at Per Se.
I've always wanted to be cool, but I could never quite get it right. In high school I had a large curly, blonde afro that never did me any favors. Before that I had a mullet, and in my confirmation shot I'm shamefully dressed in a dark blue suit with a large purple belt. Shortly after high school I wore silver colored pants, naturally tight and thin enough that you could see the hairs on my thighs through them. That I wore a super slim fit, white, plastic-like sweater to go with it probably didn't lift the overall impression very much. Perhaps I was simply trying too hard to be cool, or perhaps I was just trying to compensate for a mother who bought all my clothes from SparKjøp and Ungdomsklær (both low quality and low price—far from anything fashionable) all the way up to junior year in high school. I was never entirely convinced the lady at the store was right in claiming this was "current fashion."
It's with this in mind I finally ascertain that I've managed a touch of cool. The following picture of Kåre and me leads my mind towards mafia movies, and I'm very grateful for Robyn's ability to shoot photos.
When we decided to go to New York there were only two restaurant visits where I didn't rely on Robyn's recommendations. One was going to Momofuku for steamed pork buns, a dish Kåre had eaten during his last visit to New York and a meal that happened to coincide with a taping of the TV show No Reservations. Whether the taping influenced his strong recommendation for the pork buns is unknown, but the place (and everything else David Chang is a part of) is hailed in so many places that you'd be hard pressed to avoid it. The pork buns lived up to their reputation.
In addition to Momofuku I had one other target in New York: my chosen Michelin Guide meal. These days I always plan one really good meal at a restaurant when I'm traveling, and almost always it's a restaurant picked by the Michelin Guide. Mostly it's been places honored with BIB Gourmand, recommended for their good food and service at moderate prices, but in New York I wanted to prioritize Thomas Keller's three star restaurant Per Se. Three stars is the maximum a restaurant can achieve in the Michelin Guide—it means the restaurant is exceptional in food, service, elegance, and the overall experience. I had never before eaten at any of Thomas Keller's restaurants, but I owned three books based on three other places he owns: The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc at Home. They're all among my most cherished cookbooks, thus I awaited this meal with a high degree of childlike anticipation.
It's not a cheap meal at $275 per person. You can, however, chose between two menus, both consisting of nine courses: the vegetable tasting and the chef's tasting menu. I'm not a rich man, but I wanted to get as much as possible out of this visit—my first and, so far, only three star meal. Therefore, I wanted wine with it.
Once seated in the salon I was presented with a wine list—the first one that's ever scared me. It wasn't the size of the thing that scared me—although 68 pages rules out thoroughly reading through it, I was able to skim it before our host returned and asked if we wanted something to drink while waiting. What scared me was the price level. Wines by the glass priced at an average of $30, not all that bad considering where we were, but the list of whole bottles was dominated by wines from $200 and upwards, with the majority priced four to five times that. As the menu said nothing about a set wine pairing menu I was afraid to let the waiter chose for me— only God knows what I'd have to pawn to be able to pay afterward.
In the end I chose the wines myself, and was very happy with them, but later I learned that many ask for a wine pairing at a set price approximately equal to that of the food. I would've been more than happy to do that, but I was too timid to ask. My newly gained touch of coolness had dissipated.
My better half and myself enjoyed ourselves with a glass each of bubbly from Napa Valley (when in the US...) while waiting. There's no such thing as a meal that can't be improved with bubbles. For the food I chose Künstler, Riesling, Dry "Old Vines Stielweg," Rheingau 2008, which we all shared (two bottles), and a bottle of Elio Altare, "Brunate" 2005, for the two meat dishes. The Brunate was a tad heavy tasting, a barolo that reminded me of leather, dark forest berries, and the smell of my grandfathers cellar, which is rather a handful as a match with rabbit (although barolos tend to match truffles pretty perfectly). For the steak it was great, though.
As very few people find it intriguing to read a long description of each dish, I'll only say a few words about the highlights. In total we went through 12 to 16 dishes depending on how you count (I lost track).
Bread has an amazing ability to always make me happy, and their great selection of rolls was a mixture of frustrating and uplifting. All the rolls were very good, but knowing how many dishes I had ahead of me I had to restrict myself to just a few. The one that really shone was the Parker House roll. A buttery, rich, soft, and butt-shaped roll was the first true highlight of the meal, and it left an impression that continues to linger.
The next highlight was the first official starter, one of Keller's most famous creations: oysters and pearls, a sabayon of tapioca with oysters and beluga caviar. The combination of flavors and textures easily explains why this has become a famous classic. It's the sort of dish that honors human ingenuity.
A few dishes came and went before another favorite emerged. I really enjoyed the foie gras, but it was first when the rabbit arrived I again felt someone had lent a little bit of their genius to a dish. With an acidic cherryjus and an aromatic truffle puré (hello, Barolo!) the rabbit had been joined by friends so complementing that I know I have to eat rabbit again, and preferably soon. Those who think of Thumper now can ignore the next picture.
The final dish that truly impressed me was something very simple and came at a time when I was afraid I'd burst: a cappuccino semifreddo. Semifreddo means half frozen, and is a soft type of ice cream that in this case impressed with it intense yet soft coffee flavor. It was accompanied by small, round doughnuts, not unlike the ones we serve at Christmas (on the seven types of cookies that is traditionally served at least twice a day during Christmas in Norway). I could only fit one of the in my stomach.
After this there was, naturally, coffee, accompanied by an overwhelming array of petit fours. Macarons, salt caramels, bon bons, and chocolates. We managed to digest some of this as well, but we ended up leaving most of it behind. You might like to know that you can ask to have these packed for you.
Robyn, Kåre, and I had the chef's tasting menu. Kåre and I opted for the foie gras terrine as a second course, where as Robyn chose the apple salad with truffle tapenade. Aside from the second dessert course, this was the only course where you could choose between two dishes. My beloved partner in life had the vegetable tasting menu—mostly because she feared she couldn't digest all the food in chef's tasting menu and vegetables tend to be lighter, and partially because I mentioned that I was curious to see what Per Se could do with vegetables.
Vegetables are mostly presented "as is." Vegetarian restaurants have the curious habit of often cooking vegetables in a mean manner, as if they carry a grudge towards them (this is not true for the very few really good vegetarian places). That's why I was so curious to see what a place like Per Se could achieve with vegetables. I had never before tasted vegetables with such broad and deep spectrums of flavors, and I'd even go so far as to say the menu is well worth the money. If I could get this high quality at vegetarian places I'd be more than willing to go to them. However, someone needs to point a loaded gun at my head to force me away from foie gras when that's an option. The vegetables and the service, which can most easily be described as rehearsed and well orchestrated in a comfortable and professional way, were the two most impressive parts of the entire experience.
After the fact I'd also like to point out that I'd be more than willing to repeat the event as soon as my piggy bank has been restocked. This is obviously not like going out for any other dinner—this is an event.
Finally, here's the bill in case you're wondering what we ended up paying.
Now I'll take the opportunity to point out how grateful I am for having a girlfriend willing to spend a fortune at restaurants with me, and two friends to boot who were also willing to start a "Per Se piggy bank" (quote: Robyn) with me. That they also allowed me to chose wines without giving me directions as to the prices (they do, of course, know that I'm no richer than them), is amazing. Of these three people only Robyn is equal to me when it comes to food insanity.
Posted by roboppy at 3:20 AM
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