Sunday, January 6, 2008

Per Se

A friend went to Per Se for lunch recently and had an amazing, overwhelming experience. Per Se is run by Thomas Keller, the same chef who runs the French Laundry in the Napa Valley in California, and lunch reservations can take three months to make. According to the website, the philosophy is based on the Law of Diminishing Returns: "Each day we create two unique nine-course tasting menus... each a series of smaller, focused dishes that all feature distinct ingredients. What we want you to experience is that sense of surprise when you taste something so new, so exciting, so comforting, so delicious, you think "Wow!" - and then it's gone." Each taste should be fresh and exciting because the taste buds get tired of a food after 3-4 bites and pleasure dimishes (according to recent studies, anyway - I don't always agree, and think that for some dishes, the pleasure only increases as I eat). But how much fun can taste buds take?

My friend's report:

There are two tasting menus; I chose the Vegetable one and my boyfriend chose the other, and we shared everything. It was 9 courses (12 if you count the not-on-the-menu 3 extra dessert courses they spring on you, when you are so full that you can't even appreciate them). When I try to recall how beautiful and delicious all the food was, what mostly stands out is how bloated and nauseated I felt after 12 courses, 2 half bottles of wine, 2 glasses of champagne, and a cup of tea. I realize, of course, that I made a few amateur mistakes in what I chose to ingest....the courses were small, but not as small as they should have been, and of course, I tried to eat and drink everything that was offered or put in front of me! Lunch took 4.5 hours, not including the private tour of the kitchen, which was pretty cool. I didn't eat again for almost 18 hours. Whew.

Oh, and the plates and glasses and silverware were fantastic. The whole production was absolutely amazing. Each table had its own private staff, silently but effeciently hovering over us at all times: head server, wine steward, minor servers/food announcers, and a bevy of plate clearers, drink pourers, crumb sweepers, napkin folders when you went to the bathroom, not to mention the 4-5 other important looking people who kept coming over to check up on us and on our staff. One thing that did stand out for both of us was how friendly the staff was. We asked our head waiter guy about the staff turnover, which is apparently extremely low. He told us that when you work at Per Se, that is your career; the waiters aren't the usual students/actors working part time to pay the bills. Because they pay so well, it can be your full-time job focus, and no one wants to leave. So, I guess that is also part of the crazy price...you get very friendly wait staff in a city that is known for its crabby waiters!

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