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Per Se, New York

06 January 2005 by
Per Se, New York

There is still a three-month waiting list for a table at Per Se, which explains why, after a bit of shopping and NY sightseeing, my husband and I were so excited to be jumping in our cab at 5.15pm for the restaurant. Americans eat very early, so this was the latest table we could get. Thanks to the traffic, we were late.

Michel Darmon, the manager, didn't quite tell us off, but we were ushered immediately to our table in the 70-seat restaurant. Champagne arrived a second later, promptly followed by menus and the wine list. Interestingly, the water was Hildon Still and Ty Nant.

The French-influenced, modern American cuisine from Keller and head chef Jonathan Benno comes in three choices: first a five-course fixed-price menu with choices at each course ($125/£65); then a tasting menu of vegetables ($125/£65) - but we hadn't come this far for that; and finally a nine-course chef's tasting menu ($150 plus $25 for the foie gras option/£78 plus £13). No choice at all then: the chef's tasting meal all round. We were five. (It's worth noting that the whole table was not obliged to take the tasting menu.)

Before we started, Keller came out to welcome us. He is a charming, modest man, completely unaffected by his reputation. He explained that the process for developing his food was implementation, execution, and then evolution. Although there were four classic dishes from the French Laundry on our menu - oysters with a "sabayon" of pearl tapioca and Iranian oscietra caviar, for example - the evolution was evident in the new dishes and the cornucopia of extras that augmented the meal.

The meal began with two such tasters, the second being a petit cornet made with a filo-type pastry, dotted with poppy seeds, filled with crème fraïche and topped with a small parisienne of salmon tartare. The cornet was wrapped in a cocktail napkin made to look like a tuxedo. It was great presentation. Other tasters included fried haddock with a celeriac rémoulade, and custard with black and white truffle ragoût served in a bantam egg shell with a perfectly flat and transparent potato crisp - complete with a chive running through it.

Keller also sends out four salts to serve with the foie gras: an orange one, full of iron; a black, volcanic one (the first two both from Hawaii); a Jurassic one, from a Montana copper mine; and, most importantly, good old Maldon sea salt. For the foie gras we were, in fact, given three different dishes. (We later learnt that Keller had even specified who was to get which!) It was Canadian foie gras - poultry imports are banned - and it must be said, it was not in the same league as the French product.

This theme of versions of the same course continued with a dish Keller told us was inspired by Fergus Henderson at St John: veal heart with horseradish, sweetbreads and beef marrow. With this, the girls got the heart (perhaps he spotted a need) while the others got sweetbreads and tongue. After this we were back on the published menu, with a sautéd fillet of a fish called ono. Another treat was the lobster: I always love lobster's flavour, but find the meat a constant disappointment. However, this piece was fantastic - boil-in-the-bag lobster is obviously the only way to cook it.

Then Pekin duck breast served with tiny turnips the size of silverskin onions; then lamb, poached in bouillon; then goat; then cheese served with blueberry and walnut bread; and a tarte tatin. The tricks continued with a chocolate and banana langue du chat mix, which must have been the size of a 30cm bootlace but was scrunched up into a misshapen ball. It was very clever and very tasty.

Accompanying all this was a flight - or pairing - of wine for $150 (£78). You were able to choose your own wine at $75 (£39), but the wine choices from sommelier William Rhodes were excellent, especially the crisp, grapefruity St Michael-Eppan Sauvignon that went with the Hawaiian salad.

After the chocolate and banana langue du chat creation we thought that was it. Then 21 different-flavoured chocolates were brought to the table - with all manner of flavours you wouldn't normally expect, such as liquorice, elderflower and banana. The kitchen's 32 chefs, 16 of them straight from the French Laundry, had spoilt us, and it was well worth the effort - and the $450-per-head (£234) bill - to get over there.

Per Se, 10 Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center, New York 10019. Tel: 00 1 212 823 9335

(Suzie Boyd is a divisional director for Portfolio International recruitment company)

What's on the menu

Tartare of Atlantic bluefin toro, fried guinea hen egg, gaufrette potatoes and French pickle sauce

Dégustation of Eden Farm's Berkshire pork: roasted rack, braised shoulder, crispy belly and sautéd tête de cochon with caramelised salsify, king trumpet mushrooms and pickled huckleberry sauce

Petit Basque - forest mushrooms à la grecque, toasted coriander seeds and cilantro shoots

Aventinus Doppelbock wheat beer génoise, toasted Virginia peanut soup, sweet corn ice-cream, candied corn nuts and beer "nuage".

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