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Per Se, New York.

April 9, 2012

As part of my grand plan to end my week-long holiday in New York City with a bang, Kieron had arranged for me to amass dining experiences worth 10 Michelin stars over 48 hours, beginning with dinner at the 3 Michelin-star Per Se at Time Warner Center on 02 April 2012.  But as we had the whole evening to ourselves, we began first with a half bottle of 2009 Domaine de  Montille Beaune 1er Cru Les Sizies at the bar of A Voce, itself a stylish modern one Michelin-star establishment within the same building, already filled with the chic and the elegant in spite of it being a Monday evening. Popped and poured, the wine noticeably darker and heavier for a pinot, rather intoxicating at the first pour with notes of raspberries, blackcurrants and blueberries, somewhat dense and tight in the mid-body, and short. It opened up after some time with further coaxing, unwinding into a wine of substantial fullness and minerality that extended into the finish, nicely rounded at the edges without any sign of greeness often associated with Beaune although a hint of rusticity remained. Very nice on its own, though perhaps lacking in distinctive terroir. A promising start to the evening ahead.

Having polished that off, we went up a couple of floors to Per Se, a spacious restaurant luxuriously anointed in thick carpeting and wood paneling with soft lighting bouncing off its high ceiling, offering a lovely view of Columbus Circle and Central Park South. Whilst perusing through the menu and e-wine list, which came in the form of an iPad, we began with a glass of Jose Dhondt Brut Blanc de Blancs NV, perhaps slightly drier and less overtly complex than the R Dumont Solera Reserve Brut NV I had a few nights prior at The Lincoln Ristorante, but it was still quite lovely and open with lively citrus and understated minerality, with traces of toast and other nutty flavors, weightier towards the finish but well-balanced.

Naturally, one doesn’t expect the wine list to come cheap, but the selection of half-bottles was decent in breadth and pricing, although the majority comprised recent vintages 2007-2009. After careful consideration, we picked a couple of gems: a 2007 Jean-Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet “La Bergerie” 1er Cru and a 2004 Roagna “Paje”, each half-bottle around the USD100 price point. The white offered notes of vanilla and fresh citrus, enhanced by some crystalline minerality, well-balanced on the palate although I felt it was underwhelming on the whole. But after we’d made it past the starting courses of oysters, caviar and lobster, the wine suddenly seemed to recover with a broad expanse of creme de la creme, gaining substantial weight and depth with a hint of caramel and complexity creeping in towards the finish that belies the so-called weak vintage. I suppose it goes to show that there’s always an optimal drinking window for any wine, and I think this burgundy is approaching that soon.

The Babaresco proved to be a most astute choice, pretty stunning in power, weight and depth, offering a lovely blend of red fruits and darker berries in the background, fleshy and rounded, obviously benefiting from the outstanding vintage and significant bottle age, gelling together over time, developing deeper layers of glorious ripe fruit with a fair degree of complexity amidst an emerging earthy tone. Excellent. This is an estate to watch out for and stock up.

And what about the food so far? In spite of the privilege of having dined at many top restaurants around the world, I don’t think I have, until this very evening, encountered one where the lengthy chef’s menu is presented in such a logical manner, where not only are the flavours of each course remarkably balanced, they merged so effortlessly and seamlessly as one progressed from course to course, our fresh palates at the end of dinner a testimony to the culinary perfection, so much so that we felt compeled to finish dinner with a 2005 Heymann-Lowenstein “Uhlen Roth Lay” Erste Lage Auslese Gold Kapsule. At USD120, this superb riesling possessed an intensity and concentration of nectar, tangerine citrus, apricot and tropical exotica that were seamlessly blended and layered within the complex minerality. Powerful yet subtle, wonderfully balanced where the whole far exceeds the sum of its parts, where exactly the same may be said of the entire menu, outstanding in every way.

The entire dinner was just a shade above USD500 per head. That’s a lot of money, no doubt. However, I’m reminded that the same amount only bought me a set lunch and a half-bottle at the one-star La Tour d’Argent in Paris three years ago (see post in July 2009), whereas here one gets the full three-star works with plenty of wine, helmed by sterling service without the stuffiness. Certainly, no restaurant in Singapore can yet match up. Hence, if one looks at it this way, it’s no surprise, really, that New York is ranked a lowly #47 on the 2012 Economist International Unit’s “World’s Most Expensive Cities”, compared to #9 for Singapore and #6 for Paris. This is truly prime dining in New York at a distinct bargain. I cannot recommend it highly enough, provided you can get a seating. Is there any restaurant to match it? Watch out for my post on Eleven Madison Park.

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