In Itself Of Itself

When my co-author Alan Weiss and I dined together at Per Se we were tickled by Thomas Keller’s choice of names for his restaurant. One of the definitions of the term ‘Per Se’ I love most, is ‘in itself of itself’. It is something quintessential. The restaurant manages elegance without stuffiness, cuisine as a high art form without a patina of pretension, genuine and highly responsive human warmth without the jarring and almost intrusive fawning familiarity that grates at so many restaurants.

My wife Leslie and I were back at Per Se last night. I had come in possession of a Petrus ’89, a truly stunning vintage from this glittering wine-maker. Per Se adapted their evening tasting menu to locate some dishes that truly flattered the wine, and which were in turn flattered by it.

Sadly our camera chose last night to malfunction, so there aren’t photos capturing some of the marvelous presentations, but I’ve highlighted some of the most memorable dishes below. Robert de Niro was seated two tables away, and looked at us twice as he passed by, made eye contact, and we were in that curious position of not wanting to intrude, but also not wanting to offend (by seeming not to recognize him).

Would it not be wonderful if we in our businesses and lives also took aim at some key things we offer that are in themselves, of themselves, and utterly wonderful in both?

There was a personal welcome note from Thomas Keller waiting on the table, and a complimentary glass of champagne. We poured a lovely crisp Chassagne-Montrachet that kept us very good company with the resplendent “Oysters and Pearls” (Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar), an evocative Grilled Mediterranean Sardine with toasted pine nuts and a saffron coulis, a gorgeously silky Terrine of Hudson Valley Duck Foie Gras with a Duck Consomme Jelly (which therefore went well with a richer white wine and didn’t necessitate a sweet pairing), decadent hand cut Tagliatelle with Shaved Winter Truffles, and then a segue to the at once exceptionally complex and yet marvelous elegant subtlety of the Petrus ’89 paired with gorgeous Squab (with Rhubarb, Squab Jus, Turnips and Roquette Leaves) and then Wagyu “Calotte De Boeuf Grille” (with Crispy Bone Marrow and Morels). We polished off the remnants of the Petrus with a lovely cheese tasting, pride of place going to the Blues — from Italy, Vermont (creamy and wonderfully rich) and Bavaria. The “Bombe au Pamplemousse” (Chocolate Bombe with Grapefruit) was luscious with a 1969 Madeira.