Per Se Birthday Dinner

I knew that my boyfriend was up to no good, but every time I asked, I got some weird response about Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen, which had Gigli-esque reviews.

Given how everyone was freaking out after he texted me that “he got off the wait list” in the middle of my mani-pedi, I knew it was something big.

As a token of my pre-appreciation, I squeezed in my Lanvin dress, put on my Giuseppe Zanottis and waited for him to come home and take me to the blue door of Per Se. How he got a reservation on a week’s notice, I’ll never know.

We were immediately greeted with warm greetings and a menu with birthday wishes addressed to me on the menu. We were offered a vegetarian tasting or the Chef’s tasting. I made the obvious choice.

Excuse my very dark pictures. The pictures with flash destroyed the colors, and we were in a very dark room.

Cheese puff amuse bouche 9/10: very cheesy – somewhere between an asiago and an edam, it was pungent and just what one needed to wake up the taste buds.

Marinated salmon with creme fraiche 10/10: It was served on an adorable little cone like an ice cream!! I cannot point to anything that was wrong with it, and I enjoyed it very much. Therefore it was perfect.

Our white wine – a complex Riesling with a fruity finish. 10/10

The famous “Oysters and Pearls” 10/10: I can see why this is the signature dish. It was my favorite of the night. The buttery sauce went well with the mild gummy tapiocas on the bottom and the sharp saltiness of the caviar and bursting oysters. Somehow everything in this soup was round but had its own strong flavor and texture.

My only complaint was that it was a little hot and I had to blow on the soup. Why would I have to alter the temperature of anything at a 3 Michelin star restaurant? But the flavors were so good that I would have given it an 11 if it made sense, so it still got a 10.

Funny shapes for butter and bread. The first butter looked like a sorbet!

Acorn squash veloute with pears, walnuts, and sunchokes: 9.5/10. I much prefer this in lieu of a salad. I hate pureeing and straining soup, so I always appreciate a well-made complex soup, but what made this special was really the perfectly cooked pear on the bottom and the fact that this collision between a perfectly common soup and a perfectly common salad made so much sense.

Halibut 8/10: Sorry the picture is so dark but there wasn’t much to see… the halibut was never one of my favorite fish, and it didn’t completely yield to my fork. The brussels sprouts were under seasoned, but the truffle sauce pooled around the dish more than made up for it.

Butter poached lobster 8/10: It tasted a little overcooked to me! Although the butter sauce was great, I actually liked the lobster at Jungsik more (which only had 1 star) I feel like this dish fell back too much on the big fat lobster tail. It lacked innovation.

Our red for the rest of the courses 8/10. I love a good pinot noir, but the wine was a little one-dimensional.

Squab with matsutake mushrooms 8/10: The squad had a very liver-like taste. I was fine with it since I love liver, but it did throw me off. I couldn’t place if it was something already infused in the meat, or the sauce. The mushrooms were extremely fresh and strong. The whole dish reminded me of foraging with woodland creatures… and eating them.

Lamb ribeye 10/10: We both thought the lamb was a miniature watermelon when it first came out. The green pattern of the swiss chard wrap was deceiving. The garnishes of this dish continued its playful theme. Everything went well together: polenta croutons, garlic confit, bacon, and various veggies could have been eaten in more combinations than I had lamb to try. In particular I loved the cubic polenta croutons that burst into individual grains.

Sequatchie cove creamery’s “cumberland” cheese 5/10: Cheese was fine, figs were great. The pumpernickel black pudding on the lower left made me very upset, which was not helped by the random onions hidden behind the cheese.

Rainbow (raspberry) sherbet with mango sugar and orange cream 9.5/10. It was shockingly sweet and sour at the same time. It was an intense and vigorous, but it scrubbed my tongue clean of any lingering tastes of meat or cheese.

Pomegranate soda in a white chocolate shell, pine nut nougatine, lime cake, and peppermint ice cream 7/10: The pomegranate soda was the pink fizzy foam trapped in the white chocolate. I took it down like a shot. The delightful flavor of pomegranate and fizz immediately spread everywhere. The nougatine surprisingly did not stick to my teeth. The peppermint ice cream was too much – it tasted much too medicinal to me.

Butterscotch pudding with chocolate and earl grey & caramel ice cream 9/10: The dish was very rich like all of its ingredients, but because everything was either whipped in the form of mousse or ice cream, it tasted like butterscotch clouds.

Chocolate birthday cake with vanilla ice cream 10/10: it tasted more like 7/10. It was a solid cake and everything… but I got a candle and a wish!!

Assortment of chocolates. 10/10: We could pick as many as we wanted, but I was already breaking out of my dress, so I only picked 3: passionfruit, mojito, and marzipan. I couldn’t even get to the passionfruit, but the other two perfectly captured the essence of their flavors. I’m pretty sure that the mojito chocolate had rum in it.

“Coffe and donuts” 7/10: I was honestly way too full at this point and only tasted a tiny bit of each. The coffee was actually coffee ice cream with froth on top, and the donuts were hard little buggers….

Bonbons and an assortment of nougats, macarons, and truffles 8/10: system overload!! The bonbons had ice cream in the middle and were an absolute delight to eat even when we were pretty much in pain. I couldn’t even bring myself to try a nougat, but the macarons were great (although no Laduree or Pierre Hermes), and the truffles shells were a little too thick.

Cookies to go… just in case we got hungry during the cab ride 😉

Overall this was an amazing experience. Is Per Se the best restaurant in New York City? Now that I’ve tried all of the top restaurants, I can decidedly say YES (according to my ranking). It was more coherent than Brooklyn Fare, more varied than Le Bernardin (thought that’s still the best *meal*), is more modern and had a better ambiance than Daniel, and is more innovative than Masa.

However, it is not the best restaurant in North America. Alinea reigns supreme.

Some of the dishes were… dare I say… not quite perfectly cooked. But it was a 3 hour extravaganza, and the dessert courses were a tour de force. For my birthday, I wanted great dessert, and I got 5 courses of it. I have never had so many great desserts all at once.

It was a little strange that they did not have a set wine pairing for the prix fixe, but the service was the best I’ve ever had. Absolutely impeccable.

Live pineapple trees outside the restaurant! Indoors!

Best. Birthday. Ever. (Except the day that I was born). Thank you darling!!

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