Friday, October 1, 2010

Paleo Until Dessert: Per Se

Okay -- here's the thing: I'm all about eating paleo now, but there are some rare priorities that trump caveman dining. One of them is food by Thomas Keller.

Last night, we had dinner at Per Se, and I'm still on a high.

Over the past dozen years, we've eaten at The French Laundry a handful of times, and have consistently had insanely delicious experiences there. But there has always been a bit of a disconnect between the bucolic Yountville farmhouse environment and the formal, hushed service. At Per Se, though, the sleek urban Columbus Circle setting is a perfect backdrop for Keller's uber-sophisticated, mind-blowingly awesome food.

Bonus: Most of the meal (with the exception of the never-ending plates of brioche that accompanied the foie gras) was pretty much grain-free and sugar-free! That is, until the multiple dessert courses began.

More after the jump...

The tasting menu tonight began with a few much-loved signature plates from the French Laundry: salmon cornets, and "oysters and pearls" (pearl tapioca sabayon with oysters and white Sturgeon caviar). And then we really got going with course after course of precisely prepared, immaculately plated, ridiculously tasty dishes:

  • Honeycrisp Apple Salad (caramelized Belgian endive, toasted English walnuts, mustard cress, Burgundy truffle tapenade): delicious and light.
  • Terrine of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras (buckwheat crumble, Eckerton Hill Farm's chestnuts, young beets, huckleberries, whipped acacia honey, aged balsamic vinegar): the whipped honey made me want to lick the plate. Per Se must go through entire bins of brioche each night; before you've even had a chance to bite into the beautifully toasted buttery bread, it's whisked away and replaced with another plate fresh from the oven.

  • Crispy Skin Fillet of Line Caught Striped Bass (littleneck clams, toybox tomatoes, celery branch, parsley shoots, nicoise olive oil): The microgreens and sweet pickled clams were particular highlights.
  • "Noilly Prat" (butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster mitts, red pepper tortellini, compressed cucumber, jingle bell peppers, pickled garlic, "sauce noilly prat"): One of our favorites of the night. The buttery, foamy sauce and peppers perfectly complemented the tender lobster. My mouth is watering as I write this.

  • Cervelas de Lapin (pomme Sarladaise, marinated young onions, sause perigourdine): Who doesn't love rabbit sausage?
  • Bacon Wrapped Rib-Eye of Marcho Farms' Veal (cepe mushrooms, heirloom carrots, watercress leaves, sour cherry "pudding," sauce Bordelaise): It's hard to upstage perfectly pink, tender veal encircled by salty bacon, but the sour cherry "pudding" was a standout. I'm not usually a bread pudding kind of guy, but I couldn't get enough of it.

  • Toma Piemontese Fonduta (fork-crushed sunchokes, Hadley Orchards' medjool date coulis, shaved young fennel): I wanted more of this warm cheese course. The subtleness of the savory, soft cheese was offset by the pleasant sweetness of the dates and the crisp fennel. Hands-down my favorite cheese course ever.
  • Strawberry Sorbet (Rick Bishop's tri-star strawberries, strawberry lace, Saigon Cinnamon Soda): the soda looked like a little scoop of ice cream, but as soon as it hits your tongue, it crackles and pops. Delicious and clean.
  • Tropical Tea (passionfruit-chocolate cremeux, Earl Grey genoise, passionfruit mousse, Earl Grey ice cream): No tasting menu is complete without a chocolatey dessert, and this one -- featuring several tea-flavored combinations -- didn't disappoint.

  • Buttermilk Ice Cream (root beer syrup, poached pear): I love root beer, but even if I didn't, this would have been a big hit. The drizzle of syrup atop the ice cream gave the dish a nice kick.
  • Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream -- with a candle for my birthday. This extra dessert was simple, straightforward, and my favorite of the bunch.
And then came the mignardises. Holy moly. The post-dessert sweets were out of control. I'm pretty sure I lost count of the varieties of little bites that appeared on our table at the end of the meal, but highlights included:
  • Selection of Chocolates: We picked from a variety of dark, milk and white chocolates -- I loved the olive oil white chocolates and the raspberry darks; my wife favored the dark with aged balsamic and sour cherry.
  • Popcorn Sorbet Bonbon Covered in White Chocolate: A sweet explosion.

  • "Coffee & Donuts": A few times, we've jealously watched this dish being served to VIP tables at The French Laundry, but this is the first time we got to taste it. And believe me: it was worth the 12-year wait. The "coffee" was a silky-smooth cappuccino semifreddo, and the "donuts" were, well, donuts. Donut holes, to be precise. The best ones I've ever tasted.
  • Truffles: Like ten of 'em, in various flavors: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, coconut. We only had room for two.
  • Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Dragees. These were dusted with cocoa powder and served in a little porcelain vessel that I wanted to just throw in my bag and take home. I'm not usually a milk chocolate fan, but these dragees were addictive.
  • Caramels and Sugar Candies: I pocketed a few.
  • Shortbread Cookie Sandwiches: Filled with chocolate ganache and packaged to take home, these are beckoning to me as I type.
After dinner, we took an hourlong stroll back to the Meatpacking District to try to stave off the sugar coma.

My God. This meal was insane.

Up next: Eleven Madison Park and Momofuku Ko.