The woman had dropped her napkin in the middle of the table.
Better described as a fit of disillusionment, it was her modest protest against the steady creep of mediocrity and missed signals as we were enjoying a four-hour meal at Per Se, which would cost the four of us close to $3,000 in total. Later, a passing waiter scooped up the napkin without looking to see whose lap it had fallen from, perfectly representing the heedless sleepwalking that had led to my guest’s current state of affairs.
Because of Per Se’s mystery, I momentarily considered if the omission to bring her a fresh napkin had been done on purpose by the waitstaff. The restaurant’s identity, to the degree that it differs from the personality of its owner and chef, Thomas Keller, is founded on meticulously attending to even the smallest details. After all, this is the establishment that brought in a ballet dancer to assist waiters in slipping around the tables with grace and elegance. As a result, I had to consider the possibility that the waiter was just making a kind concession for a customer who had a napkin allergy.
The fact that so many other things went wrong in the kitchen and dining room over three dinners this autumn and winter makes that idea appear improbable at this point. It’s also enough to make the notion of Per Se as one of the country’s finest restaurants, which I shared with you after previous trips, seem out of touch. To the point that the four-star rating it obtained from Sam Sifton in 2011, the most recent review it received in The New York Times, should be given serious consideration.
Every time a restaurant receives a new review, it must prove itself worthy of the stars once again. Per Se labored and failed to do this in its present shape and at its current price, ranging from respectably uninteresting at best to miserably flat-footed at worst.
At this large, hermetic, self-regarding, ungenerous restaurant, dinner or lunch will bring a lengthy march of several courses. The price for nine dishes at Per Se was $150 before tax and tip in 2004, the year the restaurant launched; this week, the price increased to $325, which includes service. Eli Kaimeh, the chef de cuisine, changes the menu on a regular basis, but he keeps a few pieces of heirloom furniture in place, such as the salmon tartare and crème fraîche served in an ice cream cone the size of a triple-A battery; the “oysters and pearls,” a savory tapioca pudding served under caviar and warm oysters; the cinnamon-sugared doughnut holes served with a froth-capped cup of cappuc
These dishes, many of which Mr. Keller made famous at the French Laundry in Napa Valley many years ago, demonstrate his uncommon blend of American whimsy and exacting delicacy, which is hard to find nowadays. The fact that Mr. Keller is continually bringing them up for discussion is a bit silly, in my opinion. Even the name Per Se was selected to convey that this restaurant would be more than a reflection of California’s greatness; rather, it would be a landmark restaurant in and of itself in New York City.
Cuisine Type: Contemporary, French
Hawaiian heart of peach palm bavarois
Herb-roasted Scottish langoustine
Banana gelato with dulce de leche
Address: 10 Columbus Circle, New York, 10019, United States
Phone: +1 212-823-9335
Website: Per Se Official Site
Hours: Closed: lunch : Monday-Thursday
Michelin Stars: 3