The Mason Jar: Mahwah, NJ
Oceanos: Fair Lawn, NJ: first impressions

per se: New York

Per_se_menu2_1A few months ago we had the pleasure of dining at the French Laundry in Napa.  It was certainly one of the most expensive and memorable meals that i've even been a part of.  And it remained so until a few days ago, when i had by far the most expensive meal of my life (time will tell if it was "memorable"), complete with piles of shaved truffles and a piece of foie gras that, judging from its size when presented to the table, must have come from a pterodactyl.  This meal, of course, was at per se, Thomas Keller's other restaurant (the only "other" of importance i'd think).

People all over the internet wax poetic about their meals here, complete with photos of all of their courses in some cases (the food is beautiful), photos of themselves (not always necessary, but thanks), photos of the flatware, and claims of keller's genius.  So what can I say about per se that hasn't already been said by practically everyone who has been lucky enough to get a reservation (and let's face it, for some people half the story is the fact that they got the reservation).   Oh wait, i got one:  the truffle was tasteless.  There, i said it.  per se is not perfect.   

I must admit, when the servers came around with several beautiful black truffles, and proceeded to grind copious amounts onto our 3 tiny duck confit ravioli, i could barely contain my excitement. But then i tried that first bite.  The one that's supposed to transport you to some tiny chateau in france, where you're surrounded by vines and truffle hunting dogs and all of that good stuff.  But it didn't.  It tasted like really good duck confit ravioli with some black stuff on top.

Per_se_tv1_2We were lucky enough to be treated like VIPs.  Probably because we were with a couple of people who apparently were VIPS, which kind of made up for flavorless truffles.  A "special" menu was created for the table, complete with those truffles in a few courses, that foie gras (served with 9 different salts, including one that was from volcanic ash or something silly like that - you could literally develop a meal around a salt tasting), the famous "oysters and pearls," the famous "butter poached lobster," a piece of beef that was almost as good as the piece we enjoyed at the French Laundry ("almost" only because the piece at the French Laundry was the single best piece of beef i've ever eaten), wines with price tags well beyond my means (this meal was not on my tab), and fantastic service that you'd expect from a restaurant of this caliber.  I can't remember many of the 14 or so courses, but i do know that it took 4.5 hours to consume.

The final highlight was a tour of the kitchen, which seems to run very smoothly and calmly (i didn't notice, for example, even one pan being thrown by an irate chef. No cussing.  No yelling. No drama.  go figure), and is much smaller than i had imagined.  When i asked if I could take a picture with my phone camera, the chef obliged and introduced himself to our group.

Per_se_photo1_2I took a picture of the wide screen TV that they have, which links directly to the kitchen at the French Laundry, which apparently has a similar TV.  This hookup allows the kitchens to communicate as if they're all right there in the same building.  Pretty neat if you ask me.  At that point one of the staff took all of our phones and took pictures of all of us, posed like a bunch of over-excited and over-fed tourists.  Fine by me.  I thought that was very nice, especially since we were taking up most of the kitchen at that point.  The fact that he figured out how to work the 2 or 3 different phones was amazing.  You can see him and another team member sorting out those cameras in the above blurry photo, which i took while he was taking one of us.  I know, that's pretty lame.

Per_se_cookies1So yeah, it would be pointless for me to try to come up with something about per se that hasn't already been said (aside from the tasteless truffle).  All i can say is if you get a chance to go, especially if someone else is paying, drop everything and do it.