Thomas Keller’s fine diner, Per Se, has earned itself a scathing review in the New York Times, with reviewer Pete Wells describing his recent dining experiences as “respectably dull at best.”
Opening in 2004, Per Se is Keller’s second three Michelin-starred property, alongside The French Laundry in the Napa Valley. It’s long been considered one of the world’s most esteemed restaurants and is a member of organisations including the Relais & Chateaux, Relais Gourmands and Traditions & Qualité.
However, its reputation has suffered a serious blow, with Wells claiming his three latest visits to Per Se have been lacklustre at best.
Wells gave the restaurant a two star rating, arguing that the four stars it was presented with in its last review (2011) needed “a hard look”.
“With each fresh review, a restaurant has to earn its stars again. In its current form and at its current price, Per Se struggled and failed to do this, ranging from respectably dull at best to disappointingly flat-footed at worst,” Wells wrote.
He has plenty of examples of dishes left lacking, including a mushroom pot pie which resembled a “swampy mess” thanks to “gluey, oily liquid” that hadn’t been drained off; “rubbery and flavourless” washed rind cow’s milk cheese which should have been served warm, not cold; and perhaps Wells’ most scathing criticism – “limp, dispiriting yam dumplings” served with “a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water.”
Considering these disappointing dishes and service that wasn’t much better, Wells writes that the cost of dining at Per Se is hard to justify.
“Per Se is among the worst food deals in New York,” he said.
Despite his criticisms, a number of Keller’s most renowned dishes reminded Wells of the restaurant’s heyday.
“Along this gravel road, there were some smooth stretches. Lubina, the European sea bass, was sheathed in handsome golden scales of potato and bewitchingly sauced with a reduction of red wine and port swirled with butter. Bulging agnolotti filled with butternut squash and mascarpone were fat envelopes of pure pleasure. The flavors and colors of roasted sunchokes, vinegared beets, peeled Concord grapes and puréed pistachios came together in vivid harmony,” he wrote.
And while Wells ties up his review with a couple of warm references to Per Se’s location and ambience, the take-home message of his review is clear: “Is Per Se worth the time and money? In and of itself, no.”