NYCReview

photo credit: Bryan Kim

A thick yellow sauce with a few submerged oysters and a big lump of caviar.
6.7

Per Se

AmericanFrench

Midtown

$$$$Perfect For:Special Occasions
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In the wake of its 20th anniversary, Per Se remains all business. The carpets are plush, the service is adequate, and the food, served in an 18-table room teetering over Columbus Circle, is just engaging enough to keep your heart rate steady. It won’t take you on a magic carpet ride, but there aren't many glaring defects. Per Se’s greatest flaw is that, despite the odd tourist vaping in the deserted lounge by the entrance, it thinks it’s still Per Se.

It isn’t Per Se’s fault that countless casual restaurants and wine bars now serve the type of food that used to be reserved for white-tablecloth spots. And there isn’t much they can do about the fact that caviar has become as common as table salt. But you’d think that this place, which is still one of the city’s highest-profile fine dining options, would make some moves to stay relevant. Instead, the French Laundry sibling sleepwalks its way through a $390 prix fixe that’s only exciting if you consider it in a vacuum.

A tiny cone wrapped in a neatly folded napkin and topped with some sort of fish tartare.

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Without any add-ons, your meal will consist of nine courses, delivered with whispered promises of soubise, sabayon, and velouté. Will you enjoy your crisp filet of sea bass in a pool of sweet carrot butter? Or your teaser-sized portion of rare, chewy lamb served with exactly two malfatti? Probably, in a polite sort of way. But we’ll bet you one chicory salad with butternut squash that you’ll immediately forget almost everything you eat.

As if they’re afraid of being outdone, the wines by the glass are similarly luxe and boring (look, a white Burgundy), and the cocktail selection, with its cosmo and brandy crusta, appears to have just finished watching the finale of Lost. In a room that could seamlessly merge with a Marriott conference center, a muzak playlist only reinforces a groundbreaking absence of vibes, and servers perform their duties with an impersonal style that suggests that a $1,000 check is no big deal in this part of town. Masa is next door, so technically they aren’t wrong.

A spread of fancy desserts on a big table covered in a crisp white tablecloth.

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Part of the issue is location. If Per Se hadn’t sequestered itself atop a high-end mall, it would feel at least 20% more lovable. Price is another problem. Several hundred dollars is a wild amount of money for a meal that’s easily overshadowed by more accessible spots, many of them run by Per Se vets. But that brings us to the subject of time. This restaurant doesn’t seem to know or care about what’s been going on around it. Twenty years is a century in New York City, and the words “Per Se” don’t mean what they used to.

Food Rundown

Tasting Menu

Per Se serves a nine-course tasting menu for $390, with a vegetarian option that costs the same. The menu changes daily, so we can't say for certain what you'll encounter, but you'll find a few examples below.
A very meager salad consisting of a few mixed greens with a smear o butternut squash puree.

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Salad Of Butternut Squash

One of the courses of your nearly $400 meal may consist of a few leaves of lettuce with a smear of butternut squash puree. A cry for help, if we've ever seen one.
A thick yellow sauce with a few submerged oysters and a big lump of caviar.

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Oysters And Pearls

Per Se's signature dish is, in fact, delicious. Oysters and pasta-like balls of tapioca arrive submerged in a warm, thick sabayon topped with a heap of caviar. It's creamy, salty, and—to put it inelegantly—similar in spirt to a fancy mac and cheese. That is not a bad thing.
A small piece of fish on a very large plate with a few dots of sauce and some microgreens on top.

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Mediterranean Lubina

You will, mostly likely, get a piece of fish at some point, probably in the middle of your meal. That fish will be well-cooked, with crispy skin and maybe even a few dots of sauce that aren't necessary but do look nice. If that doesn't sound super stimulating, that's because it isn't.
A small portion of lamb with some vegetables and a few pieces of pasta on the side.

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb

Yet another item that falls into the category of "food you'd be pleasantly surprised by at a wedding." The fresh and doughy malfatti on the side are fantastic, although there are only two of them.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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