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NYC Eating Tour (with photos)


shengcai
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My girlfriend and I just returned from a weeklong trip to NYC, most of which was centered around sampling some of the city's finest eateries. In chronological order, here are the places I'll be reporting on in this thread:

Kum Gang San

Pearl Oyster Bar

Jacques Torres Chocolate

New Green Bo

Pommes Frites

Chickpea

Le Miu

Sripraphai

Ceci Cela

Village Mingala

Lombardi's

Rice to Riches

Per Se

Jean-Georges

Momofuku Ssam Bar

Thiru "Dosa Man" Kumar's cart at Washington Square

Mamoun's Falafel

Hummus Place

Sushi Yasuda

Cones

Chikubu

Babbo

Halal Cart at 53rd and 6th

A few months ago, Ling and Henry posted a wonderful report of their whirlwind eating tour of NYC. After seeing their beautiful photos and descriptions, I was inspired to do the same. Plus, I have an awful memory, and sharing this eating experience with fellow eGulleteers would help me to remember and savor each bite taken during this trip. More to come!

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We arrived a little after 1am on Friday. After dropping off our luggage in Queens and resting for a bit, we headed for K-town in hopes of catching Restaurant Forte Baden Baden before it closed at 3. We arrived at 2:30 but the doors were already locked. This was a pretty big disappointment, because we really wanted to try the Asian rotisserie/fried chicken that is so popular these days. So we went down the street to Kum Gang San (open 24 hours!) for some hot-spicy Korean comfort food to warm us up from the cold night.

Banchan -- dubu (tofu with scallion/soy/sesame oil) and kim chee in the background

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More banchan -- kong na-mul (lower right), some sort of pickled fish (lower left), o-deng fish cake (upper left), another type of non-fermented kim chee (upper right)

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Duk gook (rice cake soup). The soup was piping hot, beefy and flavorful, and the rice cakes were nicely al dente.

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Nak ji bok um (stir-fried octopus). It was served in a hot cast iron skillet with a side of udon-like noodles. The spice in this dish really warmed us up!

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After sleeping in on Friday, we went to the West Village for a late lunch at Pearl Oyster Bar.

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I'm a HUGE fan of oysters. I like them raw, and with the exception of a little lemon juice, horseradish, or a mignonette, I like them unadulterated. Thus, POB was a place that couldn't be missed during this trip.

Chilled oysters on the half-shell: At the time, they were the best oysters, cooked or raw, that I've had...period. But after tasting the poached 'oysters & pearls' dish at Per Se, I've since had to qualify that superlative :smile: . I slurped down each one of these briny morsels with sheer joy. I could've easily downed a few dozen, but I had to save room for all the other plates that were one their way!

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New England clam chowder with smoked bacon

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Fried oyster roll with tartar sauce and shoestring fries: Amazingly, the breading and frying of the oysters didn't obscure the freshness of the oyster in this roll. The shoestring fries were decent but I prefer thicker cut fries just for ease of eating.

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The famous Pearl lobster roll: generous hunks of sweet lobster meat surrounded by soft, buttery bread.

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After lunch, we walked about and stumbled upon Murray's Cheese Shop.

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We went in for a bit just to ogle all the cheeses.

Parmigiano Reggiano ripening in "the cave"

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I love the color of pungent bleus:

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Pecorinos and fontinas...fondue party anyone? :smile:

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Jacques Torres for dessert

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I think they're making caramel corn

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That blur walking through my photo is none other than Mr. Chocolate himself!

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So many chocolates to choose from

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Wicked hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows -- rich, thick, with a nice spicy finish

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Champagne truffles -- Not bad, but I was hoping for more champagne flavor

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We had dinner at New Green Bo. If you can't already tell from my avatar, xiao long bao is one of my favorite foods. The last time I was here a couple years ago, every dish we had was really well done, so we returned to once again satiate my craving for soup dumplings and Shanghainese fare.

We started with a cold jellyfish appetizer

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Next came the soup dumplings, straight from the steamer about 6 feet away from us

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The skins were a little thicker than I remember them to be, but the broth had a great mouthfeel and a rich, fatty flavor. Needless to say, another order was placed later on in the meal when we found out we still had room for more. The table next to us canceled their order after realizing the dumplings were made from pork :wacko: . Their dumplings were already on the steamer when they canceled, so I had to rescue them. :biggrin:

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Stir-fried snow pea shoots

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Mapo tofu: This was one of the most disappointing dishes on the trip. I know, I know...why on earth would I order a Szechuanese dish at a Shanghainese restaurant in the first place? Well, last time we were here, the mapo tofu was well seasoned, spicy, and we quickly cleared the plate. We thought we would be getting more of the same thing this time around, but this dish was terribly undersalted. I don't know if there was a mix-up when I ordered in Shanghainese, but this was not even close to mapo tofu. Even if this wasn't the right dish, it was still bland for anybody's tastes. However, I quickly found solace in round 2 of the soup dumplings. :raz:

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Crispy whole fish: I have a hard time turning down deep-fried fish any time it's on the menu. I like crunching on the crispy bits that have that aromatic, almost bacony flavor to them. We were warned by the waitress that this fish has a lot of bones and that there's less meat because it shrinks after deep-frying. We really didn't have a problem with the bones, and we loved that there was plenty of that spicy-sweet sauce to mix in with rice.

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On Saturday, we met up with some friends and headed to Pommes Frites for a snack to start our day.

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Frites with a large selection of sauces (Irish curry, curry ketchup especial with raw onion, dill lemon mayo, sweet mango chutney mayo, wasabi mayo, especial with raw onion, and vietnamese pineapple mayo) -- next time we will take their recommendation and get raw onion with every sauce.

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Later on in the day, we met up with a very hungry friend. We went to one of his favorite neighborhood places to get a quick bite to eat -- Chickpea.

falafel sandwich

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shawarma sandwich

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That night, we went to Joe's Public Theatre for a Latin dance performance to celebrate a friend's birthday. Afterward, we went to Le Miu in the East Village for some "new-age" sushi. We got word that Le Miu, opened by a cadre of itamae from Nobu 57 and Megu, specializes in avant-garde sushi. Since we were going to Sushi Yasuda later on in the week, I thought that this place would be a nice counterpoint to classic, old-school sushi.

"Le Miu" green salad with house dressing: Well-dressed, nice tartness from the grapefruit and sweetness from the raisins

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From near to far: raw scallops with peppercorn and lime, bonito tataki with crispy garlic, fennel, and microgreens, tuna carpaccio with white truffle oil, balsamic soy reduction, mizuna greens, and parmesan, raw shrimp with some sort of sweet sriracha-based sauce, snapper with jalapeno and shredded daikon (the tuna carpaccio was my favorite)

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The Le Miu sushi platter -- this was the first time I've had uni, and now I can't get enough of this buttery goo from the sea. I came across some other threads that raved about the uni at Yasuda, but I think the uni here was better than what I had at Yasuda. All of the sushi was incredibly fresh. My girlfriend really liked the mackerel, so we ordered some more mackerel for her and more uni for me.

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The next day we headed to Woodside for lunch at the highly praised Sripraphai. Apparently, the dishes here are hit-or-miss, but thanks to the discussion threads, we got a good idea of what to order (chicken soup) and what to avoid (pad thai). This place is every bit as good as everyone says it is.

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Papaya salad with crispy catfish meat -- the textures and flavors in this salad were very well balanced. I don't know how they transformed catfish into this form, but it added crunchy umami goodness to each bite.

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Drunken noodles with chicken, chili, and basil leaves

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Chicken soup with mushrooms, coconut milk, and galanga -- this easily ranks in my top 10 best-tasting dishes of the trip. The sourness brought out some really intense chicken flavors in the soup. Just delicious.

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Fried fish topped with chili and basil sauce -- I told you I can't turn down deep fried whole fish when it's on the menu!

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Excellent report with nice photos. I'm looking forward to the rest. Le Miu is a restaurant that I hadn't heard of before. Uni is my favorite as well. The catfish at Sripraphai is perhaps my favorite dish there and utterly unlike anything I've had elsewhere - talk about processed food :laugh:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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After lunch, we made our way back into Manhattan, stopping in Ceci Cela just to take a peek. I got a couple chocolate truffles to sample while strolling along Hudson River Park.

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A view from the park.

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For dinner, we met my girlfriend's cousin at Village Mingala. She spoke Burmese and we had her take command of the menu and order away.

Our first appetizer: Let-phet thoke (fermented green tea leaves with sesame seeds, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, crunchy split yellow beans, peanuts, and lemon twists) I love this salad because of all the contrasting textures and the fragrance of the tea leaves. However, I've had a better version of this dish in San Francisco's Burma Superstar.

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Pardon the terrible lighting, but we were sitting directly in front of the neon window display. Appetizer platter with potato and meat samosas, shrimp spring rolls, fried burmese yellow bean curd, and deep-fried mashed split peas, all served with a tamarind sauce.

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Mohinga (the national dish of Burma) -- rice noodles with fish, lemon grass, boiled eggs, lemon and cilantro in a fish broth

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Noodle soup with coconut milk, chicken broth, spiced chicken, crispy fried onions, hard-boiled eggs, and a squirt of lemon.

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Eggplant oi-kut -- eggplant and shrimp cooked with shrimp paste and fish sauce (bad pic, tasty dish!)

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Edit: I forgot one more dish -- crispy soft-shell crab.

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Edited by shengcai (log)
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On Monday, we met up with a friend for lunch at Lombardi's. Coming from the land of plasticky Provel cheese and the abomination that is St. Louis-style pizza, we couldn't wait to taste real NY pizza again, fired hot from a coal oven. I know that pizza can be a very personal matter for New Yorkers. Suffice it to say that we had a tough time deciding which one of the "best" pizzerias to go to. Too many places, not enough time! Future trips will definitely include visits to Grimaldi's and Di Fara.

The 3 of us shared a large 18" with the standard fresh mozz, San Marzano tomato sauce, romano, fresh basil, and we also added homemade meatballs. Check out those beautiful bubbles -- that oven was hot!

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For dessert, we walked across the street to Rice to Riches. Because we needed to save room for our 5:45 Per Se reservation, we shared this little cup of chocolate chip rice pudding. FWIW, best rice pudding I've ever had!

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Then it was more walking around to "prep" for Per Se! (***play Rocky theme song now*** :biggrin: )

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I'm really enjoying the photo-laden reports! I gave up on Mingala well over a decade ago. I wonder if you think I should give it another shot, and also whether speaking Burmese might have made a big difference. My experience is that Mingala used to be a solidly good and dependable restaurant until something around 1993 or 94 and then, with them having changed chefs (the waiter confirmed that for us), it turned into what tasted like a mediocre Chinese-American restaurant. I have to wonder whether they changed chefs again at some point, because the nature of the dishes that used to be our regular orders (Golden Triangles and some salad and noodle dishes -- can't remember which at this point [Rangoon Night Market Noodles?]) had radically changed, such that we thought they had given us the wrong order, and they had not.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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As a first-time diner at Mingala and as a neophyte to Burmese cuisine, I can't really speak to the authenticity of the dishes or the comings and goings of the chefs over the years, but the plates were certainly well-executed, i.e. deep-fried appetizers were crispy and light, seasoning was good, and seafood was cooked properly. This was not mediocre Chinese-American food. But, using my experience at Burma Superstar in San Fran as a point of reference, Village Mingala left just a little something to be desired. I think our Burmese orderer also mentioned something along the lines of the mohinga not tasting like it used to. I'll have to ask her for more details.

[edited for grammar]

Edited by shengcai (log)
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Leave it to my poor memory to totally botch what was really said! It turns out that what she said was that the mohinga at Mingala is not what SHE's used, because she has a different recipe -- not that it was bad or inferior in any way. Not surprisingly, Mohinga recipes, like many dishes that are a source of national pride (e.g. BBQ), have a great deal of regional heterogeneity.

Based on my experience there, I would give it a second chance if I were you. Some items on the menu may be hit-or-miss, but the classical Burmese dishes we ordered didn't disappoint, even if I did prefer the San Fran Burmese joint to this one.

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We sat down at our table with a beautiful view of Columbus Circle and Central Park. As Per Se was our first foray into New York City haute cuisine, we were a little bit nervous. We wondered if our palates were prepared to experience all the things that Thomas Keller wanted for us to experience. But, after thinking about this some more, I realized that this was no college exam. This was dinner, albeit the most expensive and perhaps labor-intensive dinner we've ever sat down to. And the experience we take away from this meal will be uniquely our own, taken solely in the context of our sense memory. So I relaxed a bit more and settled in for this 4-hour gastronomic adventure.

Amuse-bouche #1: Gruyere cheese gougeres -- Still warm from the oven, this light and savory puff melted away in my mouth.

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Amuse-bouche #2: Salmon cornets (tartare with sweet red onion creme fraiche) -- I know that Chef Keller is really into controlling portion size based on the law of diminishing returns, wanting us to experience flavors when our senses aren't dulled or saturated by volume. But I could have downed 5 more of these cornets and my "returns" still wouldn't have diminished. :smile:

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"Oysters and Pearls" ("Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar) -- Another of Keller's signature dishes. Two of the most pristine oysters were warmed in a rich, savory custard studded with tapioca pearls, seasoned with the help of a generous mound of caviar. Textures were popping up everywhere. Perhaps the best thing I've ever tasted. I now understand why Grantz Achatz would want this dish for his last meal.

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A selection of finishing salts for our foie gras course:

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"Terrine" of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck "Foie Gras" (White Peach-Licorice Gelee, Heirloom Radishes, Asian Pear "Batons," Balsamic Reduction and Petit Sorrel with Toasted Brioche) -- The peach gelee and asian pear matched beautifully with the foie, which softened upon spreading onto the warm brioche. I couldn't really tell the difference between the various finishing salts. And that circle on the plate is a grind of Tellicherry pepper.

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Mid-course, they replaced the brioche on our plates with freshly toasted ones.

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Crispy Skin Fillet of Barramundi ("Gnocchi Parisienne," Confit of Holland Peppers and Green Garlic with "Jus de Piment") -- It goes without saying that the crisp skin was my favorite part of this dish. The fish itself was so juicy. Because the jus de piment was poured tableside, the browned gnocchi were still crisp as well.

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Nothing like a crusty baguette to soak up the jus. Note: the butter in the background, seasoned in-house with Fleur de Sel, is from Diane St. Clair's Animal Farm in Vermont. It is just divine.

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Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster (Sweetbread "Ravioli," Oregon Morel Mushrooms, Pea Tendrils, and Black Winter Truffle Cream) -- Sadly, we were really getting full at this point. As delicious as the lobster was, we couldn't finish all of it. The staff was sensitive to this and slowed down the pace at which the plates were fired. We quickly caught our second wind.

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Cavendish Farm's "Caille en Crepinette" (Washington State Rhubarb, Tokyo Turnips, Sicilian Pistachio Butter and Tarragon-Infused Quail Sauce) -- I don't know how they did this so perfectly, but the breast meat of the quail was stuffed into the leg. The rhubarb and turnips lent a bright acidity to the dish.

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Sorry for the photo quality, but my camera doesn't handle low light well at all.

Elysian Fields Farm's "Carre d'agneau Roti Entier" ("Langue et Poitrine Braisee," Toasted Farro, Oven Roasted Roma Tomatoes, Swiss Chard Ribs and Leaves, Nicoise Olives and Lamb Sauce) -- This ties Oysters and Pearls for best thing tasted. It defies physics how a solid cut of meat could retain so much juice and flavor. The beauty and genius of this dish also lies in how the other ingredients were so important to the overall impression of the plate. The vegetables and starch weren't afterthoughts, nor did they play second fiddle. The earthy Swiss Chard, briny olives, toasty farro, and sweet tomatoes all gave clean and distinct flavor profiles. Nothing was muddled here. Nothing was accidental. If I've ever tasted a perfectly composed dish, this would be it.

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Cheese course: "Tommette du Tarn" (New Crop Potato Salad, Pickled Pearl Onions, Watercress Puree, and "Pommes Gaugrettes" with Violet Mustard) -- The cheese was a raw sheeps' milk cheese (our favorite kind) from Southwest France. The violet mustard had a familiar taste, like concentrated cranberries, that went well with the cheese. The cress puree, however, dried by the time I got to it. Most of it remained stuck on the plate.

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Bread for the cheese course: fig and port wine

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For our first dessert, the captain brought us an extra off-the-menu item that he said they wanted to "try out" on us. What ensued was the most dramatic and entertaining tableside presentation of the meal. A single, beautifully tempered, super-thin disk of Valrhona chocolate sat atop a bowl, creating the illusion of a bowl full of chocolate. The chocolate was then seasoned with a tiny bit of Fleur de Sel and hot olive oil was poured in the center, melting the disk away to reveal a beautiful quenelle of thyme ice cream at the bottom of the bowl. Just amazing!

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Jackfruit Sorbet (Persimmon Pudding, Passionfruit "Nuage" and Fresh Coconut) -- As refreshing as it sounds. No cloying sweetness, just essence of fruit.

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"Snickers Bar" (Milk Chocolate "Cremeux," Chocolate "Sacher" and Salted Caramel Glaze with Spanish Peanut "Nougatine" and Nougat Ice Cream) -- I've never had a Snickers bar like this before! The salt from the caramel really rounded everything out. I was having coffee with this, but I'm usually not a coffee drinker and I was really hankering for a tall glass of milk to go with this.

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Another extra item: "Coffee and Doughnuts" (Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts) -- I had mentioned to the captain earlier during the meal that I had the French Laundry and Bouchon cookbooks and had dabbled in a few recipes. He brought this out because he wanted us to sample another recipe from the FL cookbook. How nice of him! The contrasting temperatures between the cold semifreddo and the hot, frothy steamed milk was a pleasant surprise.

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Fuji Apple Pot de Creme -- like biting into an apple, except I was scooping it up...with a spoon...and it was creamy...OK it's nothing like biting into an apple, but it sure tasted like it!

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Creme brulee -- I got the pot de creme, and my girlfriend got the brulee. She was jealous, but we shared. Problem solved. :smile:

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And then the dinner wound down with the mignardises...

Shortbread cookies

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Chocolates (made in-house) -- lime, raspberry, and I think one was caramel

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Lemon caramels, nougats, and truffles

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Macaroons for breakfast the next day

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Though I'm less experienced than many eGers out there, FWIW, this was without question the best dining experience I've ever had. Was it worth the expense? Every penny. Was I full at the end of the meal? That's an understatement. But I sure was happy. Per Se (and I suspect the same for Keller's other establishments) is a testament to how complete, almost maniacal, quality control in every aspect of the dining experience (hospitality, farming of produce, care of livestock and game, composition of flavors, textures, etc.) can elevate something as essential and mundane as dinner to the level of art.

And finally, a note on service at Per Se. I never paid much attention to the quality of service at restaurants. I don't mind asking repeatedly to have my water filled. As long as the food is good, I'm usually content. So for me to make a remark on the service at Per Se is...well, remarkable.

I remember reading or listening in on an interview with Danny Meyer, where he makes a clear distinction between service and hospitality. Service has to do with the right thing being done (i.e. was water filled, was our reservation honored on time, etc.). Hospitality has to do with how a customer or client feels when that service was delivered. And it is how we were made to feel that really sticks with us over the long run. Not only was service executed flawlessly during our meal, but we felt so welcome. Our captain was especially warm and genuine, and he made us feel like we were dining at his home rather than a Michelin 3-star restaurant. Despite all the hype that Per Se gets in the media, it still exceeded my expectations. A near-perfect meal.

[Edited for spelling]

Edited by shengcai (log)
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raji -

i was just about to type the exact same thing. i was thinking about doing something like this with my boyfriend for his birthday. he's a chef so i know he would appreciate it. i just don't want to blow my year's salary on one meal :raz:

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