Monday, October 15, 2007

French Laundry at Home Special Edition: My Dinner at Per Se

Guess where I ate dinner Friday night?

Yep, Per Se.

I had to be in New York on business this past weekend, so I called a few days prior to my trip to get on the waiting list. I never expected to get in and had given up hope and made reservations elsewhere, when lo and behold, I was sitting in Le Pain Quotidien in Chelsea, sipping a lovely coffee when my Blackberry started going batshit. I answered the phone, and it went a little something like this:

Me: "Hello?"

Per Se: "Hi, Carol, it's [name withheld] from Per Se."


Per Se: [Giggling] "We just had a cancellation for a 9:45 seating and I'd like to see if you would like to join us."

Me: "WWWWWWOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!! I mean, yes, ahem, of course. I would be honored."

Per Se: "Great; now, do you need to check with your other party to ensure that time works for them?"

Me: "That person will be DEAD to me, should they decide they cannot make it. We will be there."

Per Se: "That's great -- we can't wait to have you join us."

Me: "Me too. I think I'm going to go pass out now."

Per Se: "Ha, ha, ha, I hope you do not do that."

Me: "No, hyperbole is my middle name. I'm actually going to go dance up and down the street like a moron and grin from ear to ear like some kind of mental patient."

Per Se: [probably wondering if they should even let me in the Time Warner building] "Oh, Carol, you are so funny. See you tonight!"

And that, my friends, was my Friday afternoon. Knowing I would be having the most amazing dining experience later that night, I decided to let my giddiness carry me into the West Village where I promptly dropped way more money than is necessary on the greatest, most awesome Hayden-Harnett bag at Verve. I justified the expense by telling myself that I needed a special accesory-related memento for my evening, and thus this new bag would henceforth be known as my "Per Se bag." Hey, I'm a girl. We do stuff like that sometimes.

I went back to my friend Todd Fries' apartment and we gabbed for a bit, showered, changed and got ready for dinner. Am I a total nerd in admitting that it felt like going on a first date? (Not with Todd; he doesn't play for my team, plus we've known each other since we were four) It really did. I was a little giddy, a little nervous, but really hopeful and ready to get going. I even put on eyeliner, people. Eyeliner. That should tell you how excited I was for this evening.

We got in a cab and rode uptown and just kept saying, "I cannot BELIEVE we are going to Per Se" and giggling like a bunch of doofuses (doofi?). We got there, sat in the bar area for a few minutes (where I had the smoothest, coldest, best Sidecar I've ever had), and then were seated at our table. We were on the upper level, right in the center, with a full view of the other 15 tables and the beautiful view of the park and the skyline across Columbus Circle. (note to self: eat at Per Se when it is snowing because I bet the view outside the windows is stunning then, what with the lights and all.)

I didn't photograph the food, because, well... because I didn't want to. It didn't seem right. I will, however, share with you what we ate. We thought about doing the wine pairings, but knew that with this much food, we'd want to go easy on our wine consumption, so we stuck with one bottle for the course of the meal: a Turley White Coat. Turley is so hard to find that whenever I see it on a restaurant's wine list, I have to have it. It worked well as a white, and heavied up when it needed to instead of having a red.

Ready for the food? Good. Here we go:

Salmon Tartare in Cornets

Gruyere Gougeres

Egg custard with truffle and chip

"Oysters and Pearls": I actually danced a little bit in my seat as they were presenting this dish; I was so happy to see it and even happier to taste it. It was outstanding, and makes me want to cook it all over again and spring for the good caviar. It made the dish even better, if that's possible.

Sautéed Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Musquée de Provence Pumpkin, Tokyo Turnips, Wilted Dandelion Greens and Sauce Périgourdine: Without a doubt, one of the best flavor combinations I've ever eaten. The foie gras was seared to perfection, and the pumpkin was a nice surprise. This dish was so flavorful and texturally appealing that I will try this at home sometime. We had some really nice bread with this dish, as well as a few selections of butter, which both Todd and I would've happily eaten out of its little container, no bread required, it was that good.

Fillet of Pompano Doré with Red Kuri Squash, Rainbow Swiss Chard Ribs, and Green Pistachio Butter: It was delicious, but not a standout. You'll see why as I continue to share the menu with you because everything else just blew this one away by far.

"Macaroni N' Cheese": Again, a pure delight to be able to eat something that I've already made for this blog. If I do say so myself, mine was pretty damn good, but the version at Per Se was so rich and fragrant and just fantastic. It was really rich, and just gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

Aiguillette of Liberty Valley Pekin Duck Breast with Confit of Fennel Bulb, Compressed Mission Fig, Anise-Hyssop and Saporoso Vinaigrette: Duck me. Duck me hard. Duck me six ways 'til Sunday. This was was my favorite.

Pan-Roasted Ris De Veau with Ragout of Benton's Smoked Tennessee Ham, Corn Kernels, Collard Greens, and Black-eyed Peas with Mustard Seed-Veal Jus: As they brought this dish to the table, they were just two feet away when I could smell a pork product, my siren song of culinary indulgence. This dish was smoky and hearty, and even though Todd said he might have issues eating veal or anything veal-related, he loved this dish and rolled his eyes in delight at the first bite. I must say, I love sweetbreads and these were the best I've ever tasted. I don't think I ever would have been able to come up with this dish, because to me sweetbreads, ham and corn is not a combination that is top of mind. But it will be now, because this was fantastic.

Snake River Farm's Calotte de Boeuf Grillée with Crispy Bone Marrow, Abalone Mushroom, Rissolée of Fingerling Potatoes, Haricots Verts, and Sauce Bordelaise: Two bites into this one, and we're starting to feel the pain of indulgence. Crispy bone marrow?!?!?! Whose awesome idea was that? The beef itself was succulent and the preparation overall was perfect. Crispy bone marrow. I want to bathe in it... or at least eat it more often. Wow. Just wow.

Tete de Moine: Guess what?!?!? No frakkin' sauerkraut! Woo-hooooo!!! Instead, it was served with Marinated Greenmarket Carrots, French Green Lentils, Cilantro Shoots (which I picked out and put on my bread plate because, ew), and a Toasted Madras Curry Oil. The lentils were delicious. Much better than with stupid stank-ass feet-smellin' sauerkraut.

Chevre Noir with Extra Virgin Olive Oil-Poached Vine-Ripe Tomato, Young Lettuces, Brioche Crouton, and Kettle Garlic Soup: Again, feeling more pain of eating so much, but one sip of the garlic soup and I was re-energized to keep going. That garlic soup was amazing, but the combination of the cheese, tomato and brioche were so lovely.

Pomegranate Sorbet with Almond Pound Cake, Comice Pear Jam, and Per Se Granola: Dear Santa, this year for Christmas, I would like forty bajillion jars of the pear jam from Per Se, okay? Thanks. Love, Carol.

Palet D'Or: This was a chocolate dish that featured beaucoup de pamplemousse, which in English is grapefruit, which in Carol language is "glarrghhhh" because grapefruit whacks out my palate as badly as cilantro does. So, I asked if perhaps I could have the "Coffee and Doughnuts" dessert instead (because I had seen someone at another table have it, and it wasn't on the menu). So, what did they do? They prepared the chocolate dish using mint gelée and other chocolate and mint combinations, AND brought me the cappucino semifreddo and a doughnut. Both these desserts were beyond compare. I can't WAIT to make the "Coffee and Doughnuts" at home because now I know how good it can be. And, their willingness to try something different with the grapefruit substitution was so kind and wonderful. I love them all, I really do. (even you, Stephen Durfee... don't think there ain't enough love to go around when it comes to pastry chefs)

Gingembre et Pomme Vert with Granny Smith Apple Consomme and Frangipane Croustillante with Ginger Ice Cream
: I was so full by this point that I barely remember how it tasted, other than I know I didn't hate it. I was still in the love-haze from the Coffee and Doughnuts, that I've sort of blocked this one a bit.

Following the dessert service, they brought out a tray of chocolates with so many different options I just can't remember them all. The two we enjoyed the most were the "root beer float" and the "peanut butter" chocolates.

Following the meal, our table staff took us on a tour of the kitchen, prep areas, offices, and walk-ins. We met the staff (they were breaking everything down because it was 2 a.m. and yet they all had a smile and a friendly hello for us), we met and thanked Chef Benno, and got to see the video conference system they have in the kitchen to check in on The French Laundry. We got to see what was going on in The French Laundry's kitchen: everything from viewing the menu to seeing who was at work at which station. That was pretty damn cool, but not as cool as checking out all of Per Se's produce, meats and other items to be used in the coming days. I'm a little jealous that Saturday night's diners were getting rabbit, but that's okay. I got to see if before they did, and it looked beautiful. I'd never smelled a fresh yuzu before, either, and got to do that (ah, the simple things that please a nerd like me). Being able to go behind the scenes to see how it's all laid out and done was really remarkable, and I'm so grateful we were able to do that.

It almost goes without saying that the food was amazing and beyond compare. But I also have to take the time to tell you how wonderful the staff was. From the moment we were greeted until we were walking out the door with our goodie bags in hand (they gave us a few bags of macaroons AND a ton of chocolates), everyone was really cool and fun and so knowledgeable about everything. They were a delight, and our waiter in particular was just outstanding.

After that meal and such an amazing experience, I have to ask: is it medically possible to have a food hangover? I'm pretty sure I did. With all that food in my system, combined with the excitement of the night, and a fantastic bottle of wine, I slept fitfully and woke up Saturday morning feeling a little off. I spent some time with one of my clients that day, but took some time in the afternoon to walk in the crisp, fresh air, which helped. I had no appetite most of the day Saturday, but was rarin' to go on Sunday. I had a big event for one of my clients, after which I went to a late lunch with a friend and her family. We ate at a little place on W. 57th near 6th Avenue, and who should appear outside the window right where we were sitting? Eric Ripert. Hailing a cab with his wife and kid, and I couldn't even carry on the conversation I was having with my friend's father because I am a huge nerd and was completely and totally awestruck at seeing Eric Ripert in the flesh (well, maybe that's wishful thinking; he was clothed).

So, Per Se, the Dalai Lama, and Eric Ripert all in one weekend. Life doesn't suck, that's for sure. I smiled the whole flight home.

Up Next: White Corn Agnolotti with Summer Truffles

EDITED TO ADD: Some have emailed to ask me this (some people were nice about asking; others not so much), so I want to be explicit about my reply and let everyone know that this dinner was not comped or discounted in any way, shape or form. I paid for it out of my own pocket.


Sally Forth said...

How wonderful for you! It does sound as if you had a fabulous weekend on the physical and spiritual planes.

John said...

I should know better than to read your blog before lunch, Carol.
Sounds like a stellar evening, where all the planets aligned and you were right in the middle of it all, and I am now officially famished.
(on the phone)"hello,can I get a plane reservation to NYC,ASAP?!!!

Jo said...

Lucky that's all I can say.

bettyjoan said...

Wow...just wow. Sounds like a wonderful time! Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

Catherine said...

Eric Ripert.


: shakes fist :

hollerhither said...

Wow! I can't even comment on the food (and tour!)...just, wow. And Eric Ripert -- whatta trip!

Yes, you can have a food hangover, sadly I've had them before and they can be as disabling as the, er, classic hangover. All I want at those times is raw, practically macrobiotic butter, no sauces...lots of water, and lots of sleep. And aspirin. You were very smart keeping the wine consumption to a minimum -- if I *ever* get to Per Se I will (try) to do the same.

brian said...

Hee hee! When I went to the French Laundry back in 2005 we also got to see the kitchen, although at 2am on a Sunday there, it was fully closed and nobody was there any more, so it was a little less exciting than your kitchen tour sounds.

That said, we saw their videoconference system to Per Se. It's funny, seeing the other end of it. Had it been an episode of Heroes instead of real life, presumably I would have seen you staring back into the camera from the other side.

Casey said...

This was so much fun to read. And I join you as a member of The Eric Ripert Crush Club. I want to nibble his caviar-filled croque monsieurs (see yesterday's NYT magazinie) while listening to him talk--about anything.

Jim said...

Egad, I am jealous. I consider finding out my hibachi chef is actually Japanese to be a classy dining experience. Glad you had a good time!

Hey, I'm a girl. We do stuff like that sometimes.

So do guys. We just buy XBoxes instead of purses.

queenofsheba said...

As much as I appreciate the pastry love, and you are right, we need more, can I just instead go back in time and trade lives with you for a day? Please? I'll still make sure you get your Per Se bag and not an Xbox...

Sarah said...

OMG so jealous!!! Your dinner sounded just amazing, the food, the service, everything :) I don't know about a food hangover, but I have gone into food coma's after eating a delish meal.

Denise said...

Wow. . .your tummy's so full the next day and you go to seminars on emptiness? :-P

Xani said...

I could not be more jealous! Sounds like it was totally worth the food-hangover...

Jake said...

Man. Sounds great. Thanks for writing it up!

MrsVJW said...

She ate an oyster!! And liked it!

Sounds like an awesome meal... made even better by fantastic treatment from the staff.

Now I wish I still had my "Eric Ripert Voice Clone" at work. One guy in France... sounded exactly like him... sigh... (sadly, looks were not close!)

Vince said...

Wow, that's so awesome that you got in!! I'm heading to TFL this coming sunday and i'm getting butterflies in my stomach after reading your post! Thanks for sharing.

Erin said...

Holy CRAP, Carol! What an experience! It is my goal to get there someday and I feel like I got a wee glimpse of it through you. Thank you! Keep up the good eating, and enjoy your Per Se bag!

Elizabeth said...

Can you tell us what an "Aiguilette" is? Looking it up, it's referred to as a braid, like what's sewn on uniforms. I'm guessing there's another, culinary meaning.

Diner Girl said...

Elizabeth, the culinary term "aiguillette" refers to a long, thin slice of poultry breast (or another meat, I suppose). In this case, the duck breast was about 6" long, a little more than an inch wide and maybe a quarter-inch deep.

claudia said...


JennB said...

I am so drooling now... I want, I want!

- Why didn't you tell them that you're cooking the entire French Laundry ouvre?
- May I ask approximately how many Benjamins this feast required? I want to go... but I think I need to save for a while first.

Awesome. What a great experience.

Anonymous said...

That blog elicited one long Homer Simpson drool all over my desk that I'm now obliged to clean up before anyone notices and asks embarassing questions.

Um...and if you come across any more bottles of anything Turley, feel free to fling them towards Northern Virginia, or at least include a pic and description.

Kevin Kossowan said...

I, for one, am very jealous of your fantastic time.

ann said...

1. I am so happy you went out and bought a bag, I totally would have done the same thing.
2. Eyeliner is huge and Per Se is totally eyeliner worthy.
3. Everytime there's a huge blizzard I look over at the Boy and say, "we should totally call and see if we can get into Per Se tonight." Maybe now I'll actually act on that instinct!

I'm so happy they took you back of house to see how it all works, that's amazing! Next stop, Yountville, Carol!

Buda Baby said...

I don't even have to eat now, I am so satisfied from reading your description of your night at Per Se. I'm just smiling a smile of satisfaction and saying "mmmm." Thanks for letting us live and taste it vicariously!

glambake said...

When a friend I visited the French Laundry this summer we felt nervous and giddy. My friend told me to relax; I felt like I was in my Holy Temple of Food and needed to show the proper respect. The waitstaff were formal-casual, and joked with us, which made me feel more comfortable. We took pictures of the food (no flash), and were not at all looked at distainfully! Even photographed the bill ($804 - gah! that still produces a knot of anxiety). Loved the descriptions. Congratulations on your score of a reservation!

Tariq said...

My significant other and I went to Per Se for our anniversary this year but we went at LUNCH. This was an excellent idea because it gives you all afternoon to let your food coma subside, plus you get to see a lovely daytime view out the windows. That said, we are now cooking our way through the FL cookbook and having a grand time. Thanks, Carol, for putting together such a fun and informative blog.

Cindy said...

That is so exciting that you got to visit Per Se and taste the food that you have been cooking! Did you mention to them that you've been recreating the recipes?

How absolutely wonderful for you. I'll be interested to see your comparison of TFL if you ever get out to Yountville.

Alice Q. said...

Aaaaagh! I was there the week after you - I thought about calling to get on the list, but didn't, partly since I had so much else going on foodwise with the Gourmet thing. I wrote about it here
- and I saw Eric Ripert at the event! He is so sexy. Tony Bourdain too - much better looking and more vibrant than you'd think. I haven't eaten at the French Laundry or Per Se, but hope to soon. Something to look forward to!

Aaron B. said...

I've eaten at both the French Laundry and Per Se, and I have to say I liked Per Se much better. I have to say, I felt a bit egodystonic.