NYC: Per Se (Apr. 2013 #1): Canard à la Presse!
Author: Victor and Tad
Restaurant: Per Se
Exec Chef: Thomas Keller
Chef de Cuisine: Eli Kaimeh
Date: April 8, 2013
Dinner: Mom’s Visit Meal #4!
As some of you know, my mom and my cousin visited me last weekend, and I decided to show her some of my favorite fine dining restaurants in the city. This is stop #4 of 4: Per Se!
This was an amazing meal, and pretty much everything was impressive. My mom, cousin, and friends had a fantastic time, and it really was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. I really have to give my thanks to the staff at Per Se for making this meal possible!
P.S. We had “canard à la presse” during this meal! My life is now complete. (That is all haha.)
Make no mistake: Per Se is so highly lauded for very good reasons. In addition to the impeccable service, the food this time reached hitherto untouched heights. Victor and I have often discussed our favorite restaurant in New York; he loves the consistency and quality of Per Se, while I prefer the sometimes (literally) magical experience at Eleven Madison. Today, however, I can say with very little reservation that I have had the best entrees I’ve ever tasted in New York. We will gush more about these later; suffice to say that you owe it to yourself to experience this at least once in your life.
At the same time, there were a couple of stumbles here today that I didn’t expect from Per Se. These were small errors that may have had more to do with my personal preferences than any actual mistake by the kitchen. They were also quickly overwhelmed by the highlights so it didn’t take away too much from the overall experience. At the same time, in the interest of fairness, they must be mentioned, so you don’t think that Victor and I are actually on the TKeller payroll.
Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
Tad: If you are reading this, you are probably either familiar with Per Se, our previous meals there, or both. So we won’t bore you with our reactions to some of the classic dishes. They were all excellent.
CHILLED ENGLISH PEA “VELOUTÉ”
Hakurei Turnips and Meyer Lemon Crème Fraîche
Tad: One thing to note about this soup: it was somehow light and creamy at the same time. The little flowers were an excellent touch.
“OYSTERS AND PEARLS”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
Victor: You’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures of this already haha.
HEN EGG CUSTARD
“Ragoût” of Black Winter Truffles
Victor: The egg custard was amazing as usual, but the chip was a little chewier than usual. I didn’t quite like that because it took longer for me to get to the rest of the custard!
Tad: So this was the first misstep of the evening. Usually the chip is very brittle, and breaks crunchily with the custard. It was chewy as Victor said, and also stuck to my teeth. Flavoring was just right though.
SALAD OF HAWAIIAN HEARTS OF PEACH PALM
Sacramento Delta Green Asparagus, Pickled Heirloom Beets, Nasturtiums, and English Walnut Purée
Tad: That roll you see is creamy, flavorful, and has the texture of a well-made pudding. Quite an interesting preparation, and tastes different from the way it looks (in a good way). The only problem was that one of the hearts of palm had this weird pungency. Perhaps it’s just that I am unused to the flavor; when my home chef cooks heart of palm, it’s usually pretty mild. Anyway, I liked the rest of this dish.
ATLANTIC HALIBUT “CONFIT À LA MINUTE”
“Ragoût” of English Peas, Braised Red Radishes, “Epinard Rouge”, and Smoked Oregon Morel Mushroom Pudding
Tad: And here is where the meal starts getting ridiculous. I was still half-jokingly talking about the weird tasting bit in the previous dish when this dish arrived. The mushroom pudding was amazing, reminding me almost of foie in terms of earthy richness. The sweetness of the fish helped to balance it. Eating the vegetables with the flavors of fish and mushroom pudding still in my mouth turned the whole thing into a delicious melange flavors and textures. I don’t even usually like halibut.
BUTTER-POACHED NOVA SCOTIA LOBSTER
Greenmarket Sweet Potatoes, Compressed Suncrisp Apples, Wild Cress Blooms, and Chamomile Crème Fraîche
Tad: Creamy, buttery, sweet, tart, savory. Sometimes I lament the paucity of language to describe flavor sensations. This was one of those dishes that you knew would be good even as it came out. It was not a surprise how good this dish was, but let that not detract from the exquisite technical proficiency that made the dish possible.
CANARD Á LA PRESSE
LIBERTY FARM’S PEKIN DUCK “PRESSÉ”
Cabot Creamery’s “Clothbound Cheddar”, Fava Beans, Chickweed, and Wild Ramps
[Victor: I did a terrible MS Paint job to get my friends out of the picture hahaha.]
Canard à la presse. Pressed duck. One of the most traditional and legendary French dishes.
I’ve seen the duck press sitting in the Per Se salon for a few weeks now, and “canard à la presse” has been something that I’ve wanted to try for a while now. I decided to email them about a week before to inquire if it would be possible for them to do it, and, fortunately, they were willing to try it!
The duck press used here was made in Paris around 1909. It used to reside in the French Laundry, but it apparently was very rarely used, and Chef Keller decided to move it to Per Se.
I was really, really excited to try this dish out. Tradition calls for them to bring out a live duck and strangle it in front of you, but they didn’t do that (thankfully!).
Our waiter, Chris, carved 52 chickens (from KFC!) to practice for the carving of the duck. Apparently, Chef Keller wouldn’t let him serve this course until he perfected the carving technique! So… credit goes to Chris for his excellent carving!
This first pic is of my plate, while the second pic is of Tad’s. They decided to give me more for some reason (probably because they knew how excited I was to try this). I included a picture of Tad’s plate because it looks much prettier haha.
This was the best duck dish that I have ever had. The skin was really fatty, crispy, and flavorful, and the breast was tender and juicy. The sauce was a bit thick, almost like syrup. It had an incredible amount of flavor for the amount of sauce there was. Of course, it also complemented the duck perfectly. (It was made from the rest of the duck, after all, haha.)
At this point in the meal, I really felt that there was nowhere to go but down. How do you beat this?
I also have to include a humorous quote by Ravi: “That was definitely the best ‘entire smooshed duck’ that I’ve ever had!”
Tad: Victor already gave you a little bit of the back story behind this particular dish. We had heard rave reviews of the canard à la presse at Daniel, which sparked our initial interest. Having it at Per Se is like a dream come true: an ultimate expression of decadent French culinary tradition at the pinnacle of a decadent French restaurants in New York. This duck did not disappoint. Once again, words fail me.
The garnish was excellent in its own right. It really could have been its own dish, but no, next to the succulent, rich perfection that was the duck, all other components of that plate paled. Here is what is spectacular about the duck: the sauce. Yes, the meat was cooked perfectly. Of course, the seasoning on the duck skin was flawless. And the fat to meat ratio was just the right amount to make each bite rich but not greasy. But the sauce, dear God the sauce. Imagine a sweet, savory, thick soup that actually tastes like the essence of duck. Like you somehow created a duck in liquid form, and melted this poor fowl in butter, cognac, and whatever other tasty deliciousness came out of that kitchen.
This should, of course, come as no surprise. The presentation of this dish involved what seemed like a squad of six different waiters scrambling around table-side. After Chris expertly carved off the breast (I didn’t see whether the legs were used as well), it took two waiters to press the rest of the duck into a thick gravy that they then mixed into a ready saucepan.
After this dish, I was done. Ready to tap out and just wait out the rest of the meal as I basked in the afterglow lingering in my mouth. But…..
GRILLED MIYAZAKI JAPANESE WAGYU
Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Shallots “Tempura”, Young Carrots, Petite Cress, and “Sauce Colbert”
Just when I thought that they wouldn’t be able to impress me anymore, this BEAUTIFUL piece of Wagyu came out! You can’t really tell in this pic, but the meat was incredibly marbled—there was so, so much fat! This was soft, tender, and juicy. It completely melted in my mouth—it was like eating meat butter! This is definitely one of the best pieces of beef that I’ve ever had.
This Wagyu dish was like the uppercut-to-the-chin that follows the devastating cross (the duck!). I found myself thinking, “After you’ve reached such highs from dining, how do replicate or beat such an experience?”
Look, I was ready to throw in the towel (to continue the boxing analogy) after the last dish. But then this piece of meat arrived to many oohs and aahs. Even in the dim light photo, you can see the beautiful presentation, but the marbling really needs to be tasted to be believed. It’s like dating a model who also happens to run a humanitarian non-profit on the side.
So yes, the meat was incredibly buttery and soft. I would describe it as having the texture of fat but the flavor of meat. It’s like eating slow-roasted pork belly without an accompanying greasiness. Unctuous but not cloying. I think part of this effect was achieved with the garnishes. The light crispiness of the tempura, combined with the fresh juiciness of the shallots and carrots added a bit of balance to what would have otherwise been an overwhelmingly rich dish. And lest you think the ingredients themselves were doing the heavy lifting, the meat was cooked and seasoned PERFECTLY, with the sauce adding just the right amount of sweetness.
Andante Dairy’s “Musette”, Preserved Stone Fruit, Sunflower Sprouts, and Blis Maple Syrup
Victor: Yay, Soyoung Scanlan!
Tad: Another interesting course, with each element being very distinctive in its own right. Combining them in a dish so well balanced was impressive. But I was still mourning the wagyu.
CHAMPAGNE MANGO SORBET
Caribbean Papaya, Persian Lime, and Pineapple Espuma with Bits of Coconut. Garnished with Mint.
Tad: So light! So delightful! So fresh! Like actually taking a champagne shower.
Buttermilk Sorbet, Rhubarb Compote, and Meyer Lemon
Tad: I thought those little nibs were white chocolate. Foolish me, never so simple at Per Se. They were delightful little bites of meringue. I don’t even like meringue but it was delicious.
Bollinger “La Grande Année” 2002 Champagne Granité
Victor: I’m kind of surprised that they used such amazing champagne, especially for a palate cleanser. It’s really, really high-quality (and expensive) champagne haha. They were really going all-out. Here is some info on the wine, including notes from the winemaker, from wine.com!
Tad: I honestly thought it was a waste of a Grande Année. Nothing discernible (at least by our lowly palates) would have been lost if they had used a slightly less prestigious label, and I would have much preferred a glass of the Grande Année by itself. Like hiring a Harvard man to do phone support.
Mast Brothers’ Cocoa Nibs, “Devil’s Food”, and Whipped Fresh Cream
Tad: An excellent dish, but at this point, I was too full to really enjoy it. I will note that often there is a temptation to just throw a bunch of high quality chocolate preparations on a plate to serve to the customer. It would be a solid dessert, but not an excellent one. I am glad that Per Se maintains its exacting standards with this very well thought-out plate. There were so many different flavors going on here that, although the chocolate was still very much present, it did not feel like the sole pillar of the edifice.
-Orange Sherbet “Ice Cream Sandwich”
-24 House-Made Chocolates
-Cinnamon-Sugared Brioche Doughnuts with Cappuccino Semifreddo (“Coffee and Donuts”)
Victor: They presented our table with two boxes of 24 chocolates each, so Miles and I felt compelled to finish at least one box. We finished 9 chocolates each in less than a minute. We are such gluttons :(.
Tad: Uggh…more food???! I am being tortured with pampering.
Victor: We were very lucky and got to see a tour of the entire kitchen after the meal! We got to see the kitchen, offices, pastry rooms for ice cream and chocolates, produce storage area, and the baking area in the back!