We ate at Per Se Saturday. Getting the reservation was not too bad. I set a rather precise and accurate timer, but I am pretty sure the line was already being dialed by many folks before myself (and they got through). I remained on hold 26 minutes, and then was able to pick on my desired day either 18:00 or 21:30. Not wanting to complete my meal on Sunday, I went with the 18:00 reservation.
Given the extended duration of a tasting menu, starting early has some advantages. We were into our main courses by a normal dining hour, and were out the door just before 22:00.
In addition to the normal choices of chef or vegetable tasting menus, there was a third option: The Fall Game Menu. The game menu came with somewhat heartier and richer selections, and no choices. The chef’s menu had several options, generally involving an additional charge. Uni with caviar was a $75 additional fee; risotto with white truffles an additional $150. The vegetable tasting looked good, but we ended up with three game menus and one chef’s menu.
I have little to say about the food. It was all good to great. There was not a single disappointing course. There was not a single course that stood out. There is something to be said for this: Each bite is enjoyable with nothing shocking or overwhelming. Achieving this level of consistency of quality is not trivial, and Per Se perfected it.
So, we enjoyed the food, but I think for the money, a foodie may find more interesting/exceptional food, per se.
Per Se excels at dining. It is the best dining experience I have had at a restaurant. Good food is a foundation for their success, but transcendent service and impeccable attention to detail seals the deal.
Let me start with the only service mistake the entire evening: Our head waitress (you will forgive I don’t know the technical term for this, but they were clearly the person in charge of our table) did not notice one of the party’s handbags, and thus it briefly was on the floor instead of on a purse chair. Yes, there are chairs for hand bags.
The staff are the some of the best I have seen, and they work together as a team with incredible subtlety, precision, and expertise. Just watching the way they interact via gentle touches to signal where they are or what they are doing when in close proximity is a joy.
A small amount of sediment was apparent in the first pour of our Barbaresco. As we approached the end of our first glasses, the sommelier provided three additional fresh stems for the next pour.
The glassware used for the evening was all from the Riedel Sommeliers collection or from the Zalto Denk Art. Each piece had not so much as a water stain or a spec of dust on them.
The Sommelier was excellent. I had no interest in spending a lot of time with the iPad app representing the 145-page wine list. My assumption was the staff better knew the food that was coming and were familiar with the wine they had on hand. I requested a white, a red, and something for dessert and set a budget. I confirmed the choice of a 2010 Montrachet, a 2003 Barbaresco, and a 6 puttonyos 2000 Tokaji. All three were brilliant examples and paired well with the food. I confirmed that I would like the red decanted. The wine was opened elsewhere, sparing the awkward occasion of the sommelier standing next to the table working on the bottle while nobody is quite sure whether to make small talk, ignore him, or be silent.
Our water never lacked for filling. Sparkling preferences were remembered without prompting, despite water being served by half a dozen different staff at various points in the evening.
Awareness of dietary restrictions and concerns were remembered after being clarified at the beginning of the meal with no further effort or concern.
Our head waitress in large part left us alone except for when we needed something. She never skipped a beat, but was never in the way or distracting. I saw another table where a couple was struggling for conversation or comfort. There she frequently stopped by to converse and brighten the mood. The deftness and adaptability was incredible.
By the third time somebody got up to head to the restroom, the game was clear. None of us could make it more than a few steps from the table before being asked if we would like to be shown the way to the restroom. Since I was watching for it this particular time, I noticed the maneuver necessary to achieve this. As soon as the chair pushed back in preparation to stand, a staff member dashed to the center service island to examine the supply of waters. The movement was swift and certain, but I had not noticed it before. Without watching for it, it is invisible. My friend made it no more than three steps before said person examining the water just happened to turn to face him and offer to show him the way to the restroom. When any of us who had been to the bathroom already stood, nobody offered assistance and the entire path was clear of staff.
It all may sound somewhat silly, but this this is finest example of the art of service I have witnessed. It may sound mechanical or awkward but in truth it was effortless and comforting. No need to say “excuse me, where is the restroom.” I also have the sense that if I stood and already knew where the restroom was, I would not have been offered guidance. The instincts of the staff seemed to border on telepathy.
When we needed some time to catch our breath or when conversation was energetic, the service of courses adjusted to fit. A conversation was never interrupted by service. Plates never showed up when one of us was missing, plates were never cleared until we were all done, and service items never lingered beyond the appropriate time.
The white wine ran out at precisely the correct time and the red wine ran out precisely before dessert service. This is not as easy as it sounds, and is not really a function of the diners. It takes a lot of skill in pouring, timing, and estimation to pull this off. Nobody’s glass ever looked especially different in fill despite wildly different rates of consumption.
For the member of our party not drinking, a quite nice sparkling cider from France was offered. This selection stuck, but staff was more than willing to explore other options for novel pairings or beverages that did not involve alcohol.
When I wasn’t sure what was in a dish, or when I asked another person at the table what something on their plate was, somehow the staff materialized out of the ether. They answered my precise question and then disappeared without me realizing their departure. When I write this, it sounds obnoxious and disconcerting, but in truth it was incredibly elegant and helpful. I have no doubt if the person consuming the piece had the answer to my question the staff member would not have materialized. This was all the more amazing as I never noticed staff watching us, and I never noticed staff hovering.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Sufficiently advanced dining service indistinguishable from magic. Recommended.