New York, NY 10019
There's something distinctly springish in the air, now, in NYC. There is the rich smell of wet earth, of things beginning to come alive, again. I suppose you can always see crazy runners out in shorts, here, even in the dead of winter, but now, there are more of them bursting forth from the ground.
On a recent, almost-spring night, we felt like celebrating. We had no real excuses, really -- no birthdays, even presidents' birthdays, no anniversaries. But with the almost-springtime stirring in our veins, we wanted to do something crazy, something extravagant. I hope it is not a function of our advanced age that we chose to celebrate extravagantly by going to the Per Se Salon.
The Salon at Per Se is a relatively new creation, born in mid-2009 during the darker days of the economic recession. For many a year, Per Se had offered only its prix fixe menu, once available for a bargain $150 / diner. It has since edged up to a neat $295 / diner. Rumor has it that in 2009, even this iconic restaurant -- one of only seven restaurants in the United States with three Michelin stars -- was having difficulty filling its dining room and hence, the Salon was introduced. The Salon menu is a condensed, a la carte menu, serving some of the same dishes offered in the main dining room and prepared in the same kitchen. Unlike at many other restaurants (Bar Masa at Masa comes to mind), the food doesn't seem to be inferior to what's served in the main dining room, in any way.
|Salmon Tartare, Creme Fraiche, |
Black Sesame Tuile
Guests are seated on bronze-colored velvet couches, side by side, surrounded by plenty of pillows. The coffee tables (of a non-awkward height for dining) are covered with huge leather placemats. The ceilings are very high and lighting is muted, but not so dark you can't see your food. The wine rooms adjoin and you can see the shadowy figures of sommeliers and waiters through the smoky glass. One oversized window overlooks the statue of Columbus at Columbus Circle and all the horse-drawn carriages lined up on Central Park South.
The third amuse bouche was a very thick and creamy celeriac (celery root) soup topped with finely minced toasted pistachios. The soup was slightly oversalted, but it smelled incredible -- far more intense than my celeriac soups do -- and the pistachios were a very pleasant match. In other seasons, the same soup is evidently served with black truffles.
The pause gave us a moment to finish our first glasses of wine. I had a glass of 2009 Prager, Grüner Veltliner, Federspiel, "Hinter der Burg," Wachau and Justin a glass of 2002 Corison, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. We were looking ahead to our mains and probably would've been better off with a glass of sparkling wine each with the amuse, but my gruner did not clash, at least.
|Cauliflower Panna Cotta|
|Red Pepper Agnolotti|
I had a glass of 2009 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Châteauneuf-du-Pape with my main, from a region usually known for red wines. This white was dry, slightly acidic with a hint of peach or apricot on the nose. I liked, but wasn't wowed by it as an accompaniment to the fish. Since I had some left in my glass, I also tried it with dessert and noticed strong hints of grapefruit and other citrus, then. Weirdly, though it was not at all sweet, it was actually pleasant to drink with dessert.
I didn't try Justin's 1999 La Vieille Cure, Fronsac with the lamb, but the wine was stellar: lush, full bodied, ripe, and yet restrained, without going overboard on jammy fruit as some California wines do.
And of course, we were careful to save room for the mignardise, which included on the top tier: fruit jellies (peach and strawberry flavors), a soft caramel-flavored, vanilla-scented fudge filled with chocolate. The bottom tier included soft, house made caramel and two delicious dark chocolate truffles with that characteristic slight sourness of very dark chocolate. I felt piggish for eating these after such a filling meal and dessert, but they were really that good. I left one fruit jelly behind just to prove that I had some modicum of self restraint. :)
The check is not inexpensive, but given the very professional service, the decor, the very, very good food, and the of course not entirely rational mental comparison to the cost of the prix fixe dining room menu, the Salon feels like an incredible bargain. Service at this restaurant is truly excellent and wait staff are friendly and knowledgeable, not to mention extremely attractive. Our primary waiter was a Culinary Institute of America graduate and fantastically knowledgable about food and wine, generally. Our waitress looked like a Calvin Klein underwear model, though we weren't about to ask her to verify. Women and men dress in well-cut suits, with jackets, vests and slacks.
Fine dining always involves an element of theater. Thomas Keller has this production down pat.