NY Times: Per Se down from ★★★★ to ★★

… in three meals this fall and winter, enough other things have gone awry
in the kitchen and dining room to make that theory seem unlikely.
Enough, also, to make the perception of Per Se as one of the country’s
great restaurants, which I shared after visits in the past, appear out
of date. …

Dinner or lunch at this grand, hermetic, self-regarding, ungenerous
restaurant brings a protracted march of many dishes. …

The kitchen could improve the bacon-wrapped cylinder of quail simply by
not placing it on top of a dismal green pulp of cooked romaine lettuce,
crunchy and mushy at once. Draining off the gluey, oily liquid would
have helped a mushroom potpie from turning into a swampy mess. I don’t
know what could have saved limp, dispiriting yam dumplings, but it
definitely wasn’t a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and
appealing as bong water.

Now if only the SFChron had the cojones to call out The French Laundry in a similar fashion.

TFL has been “out of date” for at least a decade now.


I’m hoping this is the beginning of the end for the whole protracted march of canapés fad Keller started at TFL ~20 years ago.


According to the rating system: What the Stars Mean Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

So he’s saying Per Se is “very good,” yet I don’t see anything in the review that would lead me to conclude it was so (between the food and the service). I’d think zero to one would be more apt (mind you, this is simply based on what he wrote).

Wow, about as scathing as it comes… yikes downgraded to 2*s.

Yeah had been consistently hearing TFL was dated and no longer stellar from bay area residents.

I guess he ranks Per Se a couple of notches up from Señor Frog’s? He thought some of the food was great.

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Wow. Major downhill alert. My last meal there 3+ years ago was quite good.

Keller didn’t start the flight of amuse bouche. The 3* in Paris did.

The hipster restaurant revolution put an end to amuses a while ago. They now charge $9 it and call it “snacks”.

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I had a pretty remarkable meal at TFL in 2012, under Hollingsworth’s watch. On the other hand, I had a really forgettable lunch at Per Se the same year. The experiences almost seemed to contradict each other: warm/cold, delicious/tasteless, friendly/distant, accommodating/alienating, etc. The one thing that Per Se has to its advantage is that remarkable view (which can almost as easily be enjoyed at the Bouchon Bakery in the same building for a fraction of the price.)

He was the first to drop the main course and other larger courses and serve a protracted march of one- to three-bite tastes.

Funny, I had the exact opposite experience.

I went to TFL in 07. Even then I thought the food was already boring and Manresa was much more to my liking. The oysters and pearls that night were warm and fishy. They forgot my poached lobster dish, and we weren’t offered any “coffee and donuts”. These are all Keller classics.

It wasn’t until my meal at Per Se a few years later where I actually got to try these dishes. And while the food wasn’t anything exciting it was pretty good and the view as you mentioned was spectacular. 2 other visits to Per Se were consistent. Last visit May 2015.

The service at TFL I thought was creepy hovering while the service at Per Se was for me ideal: there when you want them and not when you don’t.

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Not sure if I agree with that. The poached lobster tail is a whole tail and the meat course is also more than 1-3 bites. Even a glutton like myself would have a hard time finishing the lobster tail in 3 bites. Even the oysters and pearls are more than 3 bites.

OK, some of the courses are more than three bites, but not much more.

“Keller. … believes in what he calls ‘the law of diminishing returns.’ He wants each dish, whether it’s three, four or five bites, to leave diners longing for one more taste. He explains that during the first few bites, flavors are heightened before flavor saturation and palate fatigue sets in.” In other words, he dropped the entrée and plat from the traditional French menu dégustation and replaced them with more hors-d’oeuvres.


I go to Per Se probably on average 1-2 times a year.

Last visit was in Oct of this year.

The food (and service) at Per Se has not changed.

The times, and people’s attitude towards fine dining, have, however.

Not that that justifies Per Se (or Wells’ point of view) but it does suggest that for a restaurant to remain relevant it cannot be tone deaf to changing attitudes.


His “respectably dull at best” could reflect changing tastes, but some of the specific details, such as the chewy lobster, refrigerator-cold cheese, and the sommelier arguing about the wine, are things that should never happen at that kind of restaurant.

No matter how gristly the lobster, or cold the cheese, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Wells still gave Per Se two stars.

FYI, I’m available for adoption


For such an expensive restaurant, is that really much better than zero? You’re supposed to be paying for consistent perfection.

No, because the stars take into account the price.

And, for what it’s worth, two stars (per Wells) means “very good”.

If you read the review in its entirety, the tenor of his complaint was really with the service, and the formality of these restaurants cum Broadway theater productions. (See EMP review).

Maybe it was two stars instead of less because one of his three visits passed “without a single unpleasant incident apart from the presentation of the check”?

I thought his most damning criticism was of the chef de cuisine’s original dishes. “[Keller’s] greatest hits … make Per Se’s new material look random and purposeless. The classics would suffer if you changed one element. With the notable exception of some desserts … I couldn’t say that about many other recent dishes.”