For his final review as restaurant critic for The New York Times, Sam Sifton four-starred Thomas Keller's Per Se in the Time Warner Center, dubbing it "the best restaurant in New York." This wasn't the first four stars the seven-year-old "jewel" has gotten, it was also given four stars by Sifton's predecessor, Frank Bruni. According to Sifton, the $295-per-person temple to gastronomy "represents the ideal of an American high-culture luxury restaurant." And it is certainly a luxury in today's economy! But what do you know, we just so happen to have made our own trip to Keller's corner just yesterday.
Sitting at a table overlooking Columbus Circle on Columbus Day, it was hard not to think about all the events happening in Lower Manhattan, so we called our night with the 1% #OccupyPerSe. And to be clear: we weren't there on an expense account, the night out was a wedding gift from great friends (thanks, guys!). So that means we've only had one run through Keller's menu, unlike Sifton and Bruni. Still, we can certainly see why the restaurant is so well reviewed—the food is fantastic and the service might be even better (Gothamist also dug the joint back in 2005).
Items like Keller's signature "Oysters and Pearls" (sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar), the Peking Duck, and the beef that we substituted were all excellent. But there were some less spectacular items as well—the "Pave" of Grilled Pineapple didn't really do it for us.
Still, the service at Per Se is impeccable. The servers march around the dining room, presenting food with timed precision. Yet the staff is not without humor: when we proclaimed that we would be able to eat even more bread after our nine-course meal (plus canapés and mignardises), they were kind enough to bring out more bread with some salted butter (as Sifton says, "If you asked for a Coke and a Marlboro, surely these would soon appear."). Because we didn't want to waste the bread (and we're gluttons), it was finished as well, capping off a night at "the best restaurant in New York."
Sifton might not be wrong about Per Se—which offers à la carte offerings out front in addition to its prix fixe—being the best restaurant in the town (though he also lists its "competitors up on restaurant Olympus") but still... The thing is, for a man about to go off to be the paper of record's National Editor, during a time of real economic hardship, writing his final review about a restaurant where "Dinner for two can scratch at $1,000—or about the same as the median weekly household income in New York State" just leaves a bad taste in our mouth.