If you’re going to spend $325+ on a dinner that lasts four hours, your expectations are going to be pretty damn high, and rightfully so. At the very least, you’d assume that you’ve shelled out enough dough not to be served a mushroom bouillon that tastes like “bong water”—but that’s exactly what happened to New York Times critic Pete Wells on one of his recent trips to Per Se.

The last time Thomas Keller’s NYC fine-dining temple was reviewed by the Times, it received a four-star rating from Sam Sifton. That was back in 2011. But Wells begins his two-star slam (seriously—you’ll wonder where the two stars come from) by noting, “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.” He eventually says Per Se is straight-up one of the “worst food deals in New York.”

But what about Per Se pissed off Wells, and made him use adjectives like “hermetic,” “self-regarding,” and “ungenerous” when describing the restaurant? Here’s a short list of Wells’ grievances with Per Se:

Unaccommodating front-of-house staff

Wells says: “The people who work in Per Se’s dining room can be warm and gracious. They can also be oddly unaccommodating. When one of my guests didn’t like a sample of a red being offered by the glass, the sommelier decided to argue, defending his choice instead of pouring something new. When I asked to see the truffle being shaved over somebody else’s plate, it was whisked under my eyes for a nanosecond, as if the server were afraid I was going to sneeze. I know what truffles look like; what I wanted was to smell it… Servers sometimes give you the feeling that you work for them, and your job is to feel lucky to receive whatever you get.”

The price feels like extortion

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Wells says: “Both dishes, though, came at an extra charge: $75 more for the caviar and $175 for the risotto. The supplements at Per Se can cause indignation, among other emotions. When my server asked, ‘Would you like the foie gras’— $40 more — ‘or the salad?,’ the question had an air of menace. When the salad turned out to be a pale, uncrisp fried eggplant raviolo next to droopy strips of red pepper and carrot, it felt like extortion.”

It’s lame to keep playing your greatest hits, even if you’re Thomas Keller

Wells says: “These dishes, all of which Mr. Keller made famous years ago at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, show his rare combination of American playfulness and rigorous finesse. One could argue that it’s a little lame that Mr. Keller is still trotting them out. The name Per Se, after all, was chosen to suggest that New York would not simply reflect California’s glory; this would be a landmark restaurant in and of itself.

My quarrel with these greatest hits, though, is that they 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 that Elwyn Boyles, Anna Bolz and their pastry team elegantly wove together, I couldn’t say that about many other recent dishes.”


Per Se is not the only restaurant to charge customers over $200 for a meal. Eleven Madison Park charges $225, but it earned four stars in Wells’ March 2015 review. Masa is a whopping $450 for omakase, but then again, Ruth Reichl said she’d want it to be her last-ever meal in NYC—especially if someone else was paying.

So, do you listen to Wells and cancel your Per Se reservations for this summer, or do you go and form your own opinion? Up to you, my wealthy AF friend.


[via The New York Times]