“When you acknowledge as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear; to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about.”
Before Sam Sifton called Per Se “the best restaurant in New York City,” before the hotel was booked, tickets to the game were purchased or flights were scheduled, in my little food world, there was Shaun McCrain. Amidst the ever growing collection of unique, interesting and delicious Seattle restaurants, I have my list of loyal favorites. Book Bindery is very high on that list. It was my curiosity about and appreciation for Chef McCrain’s work and history that led me to look more closely at Per Se.
While B was willing to go along for the experience, I know he was mostly (if not entirely) motivated by my enthusiasm. Fortunately, B2 shared my excitement (though his adorable girlfriend may have been a tad more on B’s side of the fence). What’s important is that I had a partner in crime… who was also able to arrange our reservation.
You won’t find any food photos in this post (though I do encourage you to spend a few moments with the New York Times photo gallery). Aside from the fact that I’m fairly certain the restaurant wouldn’t have been thrilled with me having my camera out at the table, I made the decision very early on not to spend time or energy on that detail and to instead enjoy the company of good people and the experience we were about to share. Sometimes I have to remind myself to spend less time worrying about documenting an experience and spend more time enjoying and appreciating it. This photo of the evening’s tasting menu from outside the restaurant and the one of the blue doors are the only post-worthy images of the night.
The moment we entered through the noiseless automatic door (the blue door is a façade) was the beginning of a seamlessly beautiful experience. From the coat check that didn’t require a ticket, to the polite way they had us wait in the garden (we were quite early), to the cocktails in the salon to the fact that they came to get us at exactly 10:00PM (our exact reservation time), everything was precise. It was precise, but perhaps more notably so, it was comfortable.
My biggest concern in deciding to experience Per Se was that it would be perfect in a removed or cold fashion. I haven’t had a large number of fine dining experiences, but of those I have had, there have been instances when it felt that they were so concerned with doing things perfectly that I was embarrassed. No matter how amazing the meal was, I struggled to get past a plaguing guilt and discomfort at being served. Human interaction with our hosts is just as critical as the interaction with our dining companions. For me, the absolute best possible scenario is one in which the service level is elevated, but accessible. This is exactly what we got.
Though making a reservation at Per Se means you’re signing up for a nine course meal, you’re really committing to much, much more. From the smoked salmon coronet canapé to the elaborate post-dessert sweets course (with several more in between), we eventually lost track of where we were in the menu. In a way, losing track meant surrendering to the experience and just allowing ourselves to relax. As each course came to the table, another puzzle piece in what would become a very complete picture was snapped into place.
I agree with Sam Sifton. This is not a place for a business dinner. You have to be willing to see where the next course takes you, make ridiculous, eye-rolling faces when something is just that good, or turn to the person next to you and laugh when you have no idea how to eat what’s in front of you (though that was very rare). Some of the most memorable moments of our meals came from our own ability to simultaneously appreciate the magnitude of this meal while laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. I would not want to go to Per Se with people who take themselves too seriously. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to share any meal with people like that, but they would have ruined this one.
The sensory experience is overwhelming in the best possible way. Every bite demands a moment to stop and consider the flavors, the textures. The scents, the dinnerware, the wine… everything, even the butter, has story. If you’re willing to listen, the Per Se team will tell you.
We walked out of Per Se at nearly 1:30AM. I spent the cab ride back to the hotel trying to unravel the experience. I still don’t think I have. Thanksgiving may be the most ideal time for this post. While I could talk at much greater length about how awesome Per Se was, it’s really about something bigger than that. It’s about gratitude and appreciation for the fact that B and I are able to have experiences like this. It’s not lost on us how fortunate we are to be in a place where this is possible. It hasn’t always been this way for either of us, but in so many ways, it’s better that way. We appreciate it more. We also know how lucky we are to have good people in our lives to share these moments with. Perhaps you’re getting a little uncharacteristic holiday sappiness out of me, but you’ll just have to forgive me that.