Saturday, June 03, 2006

Per Se Redux New York City Entry #99

Perhaps the most sincere compliment I can pay Per Se is that I didn't much care for the "Ravigote" Dressing on the White Asparagus.

Earlier I decided not to re-review restaurants (WD-50 has been the sole exception), and did not bring a camera.

Lunch at Per Se is very much like - indeed, precisely like - dinner with the same menus at the same price (a three hour lollapalooza): it is the perfect dinner for those who recent arrivals afraid of the effects of a jetlagged evening.

My compliment is not a back-handed one - Jonathan Benno's other preparations were within hailing distance of perfection. But this sauce, supposedly Velouté with shallots, chives, and tarragon, tasted like an uptown version of a mayonnaise blanketing macaroni salad. The accompaniment, a sunny-side up quail egg in a toasted brioche ring ("Toad in the Hole"), was unpolluted by its partner, and was enchanting.

Given this was lunch, my companion and I selected the "Tasting of Vegetables" (although fruits and vegetables would have been more precise), believing that a lightness of spirit suited the noon hour. As I was forcibly reminded at my last meal at Trotter's, an inspired chef sees vegetables as an opportunity, not a constraint.

I shall contain my euphoric waxing, only noting that if my finest New York meal was at Per Se, my second finest New York meal was at Per Se as well. And I won't tolerate debate over which was which. The service left no cause for complaint.

A brief recap:

Amuse: Black pepper tuile with tomato confit over eggplant caviar. Each element blended superbly and each had a sparkling, noticeable herbal ingredient. Perhaps the first bite of the tuile suggested that the cookie might soon become moist, but beyond that bite the tuile was suitably crisp.

First: Chilled Yellow Pepper Soup with Roasted Sweet Peppers, Niçoise Olives and Rosemary-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil. A luminous golden soup with a scoop of peppers and olives as a mix-in. A transcendent soup that combined a sweetness with an herbal twang.

Second: "Dégustation" of Early Summer Melons with Tahitian Vanilla Bean-Scented Fennel Bulb, Sauternes "Gelée" and "Fines Herbes." (Note the quotation marks). The most beautiful dish in the galaxy! What produce and what subtle transformations! Watermelon, honeydew, and some melons whose names were unfamilar. What might Benno do to durian? Perhaps someday we shall learn the answer from a chef who treats aroma as a key to dining.

Third: "Toad in Hole" with Sunny-Side Up Quail Egg, Toasted "Brioche", Garden Mâche, Braised Holland White Asparaus and "Ravigote" Dressing. (Note, again, the quotation marks). As described.

Fourth: "Confit" of New Crop Potatoes with Pickled Pearl Onion Shoots, Garlic Scrapes, Ramps, and Red Onion "Gastrique." Chef, let's kill the "quotation marks." What might Lynne Truss say as we eat shoots and leaves? Yet, not a wasted punctuation mark was to be found on the plate, a display of root vegetables that harkened back to the melon artistry. Perhaps garlic "scrapes" are a bit "precious;" sure am good, though.

Fifth: "Risi e Bisi" with "Carnaroli Risotto Biologico", Sugar Snap Peas, Pea Tendrils and "Parmigiano Reggiano." I'm beaten into submission. (Note to TK: commas in the U.S. are placed inside quotation marks.) Sprinkle your menu with marks, just keep the rice and peas perfect. This sinuous, silky risotto was unworldly. Never stop.

Sixth: Forest Mushroom "Crêpe" with Herb Roasted Hen-of-the-Woods Mushroom and Field Mizuna with Madeira Cream Sauce. Actually a pair of crepes but who is counting? And why so casual with Hen-of-the-Woods, what about "Grifola frondosa" or at least Maitake? Another splendid dish. Which comes first the dense pasta or the crisp fungus? I give credit to the Madeira. This is a dish that is so robust that one believes that Maitake is the other white meat.

Seventh: "Crozier Blue" with Celery Branch, Kumquat "Confiture", (sigh), Tellicherry Pepper Shortbread, Cutting Celery and Balsamic Glaze. The cheese on its shortbread was as pungent and as fungal as the Hen-of-the-Woods, but what amazed was the array of celery and kumquat. A remarkable offering.

Eighth: "Vitre Glacée" with Napa Valley White Verjus "Ice", Red Verjus "Foam", Muscat Grapes and Raisin "Purée." This lovely dessert consisted of a slanting sheet of white verjus ice, just thin enough that it broke with the touch of spoon and melted on the tongue. Below was as spicy and luscious a pool of grape liquid as might be found this side of Napa.

Ninth: I chose to replace the "Black Forest" dessert (six quotation marks for those counting) with a Banana Pepper Tuile with Raspberries, Blackberries, and Berry Sorbet. This dish echoed the elegance of the melon and root vegetables. A tuile for all jobs.

Tenth (a lagniappe): Peach Panna Cotta and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulée, the former a stunning rendition of peaches and cream; the latter shaming the many pretenders whose sugar does not snap, crackle or pop.

What can one say to a restaurant whose greatest need is a proofreader? How about: try me.

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle (Time Warner Building)
Manhattan (Columbus Circle)
212-823-9335

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