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Not Entirely Per Se-ted

With Bouchon Bakery slated to open March 6th, we thought it'd be a good time to check in on Thomas Keller's other NY venue, Per Se. It has, after all, been a while since much has been written on the four-star showpiece, and even then it was about Keller's new tip policy and not the food. So we sent one our best men in the field deep into the Mall to survey.

His report is just ahead.

This week I dined at Per Se, a restaurant considered to one of the finest in New York and, indeed, the country. The chef/owner is renowned for fanatical attention to the finest ingredients and the most meticulous techniques. I'm presented with a plate of gougeres, one of my favorite foods, a marvelously light puff of cheesy choux pastry, something I make at home every couple of months and just love. I eat it, consider it for a moment and decide: I make these better. I use the recipe from THE OWNER'S COOKBOOK, and I still make them better.

What is s wrong Per Se? For all the hype, all the renown of chef-owner, Thomas Keller, for the hyper-attentive service, I'm just completely underwhelmed by the food.

And now I've eaten there the second time and had my second mediocre meal. I've had nothing that's even close to being memorable. A beautifully seared sliver of beef that was very mildly flavored. Lobster in a chive crepe that was beautiful, but uninteresting other than a carrot ginger sauce. Even the two wines—which I didn't select – were uninteresting My previous meal there several months ago was so unremarkable that I can't recall a single dish.

I didn't even bring the bland food up, but one of my dinner dates (a cable network executive, so no restaurant slouch) echoed what I was thinking. She was unimpressed by the food.

Sharing a cab home with a colleague, she had one complaint: she was still hungry. She's tiny, 90 pounds and a size zero and she was still hungry. We stopped off at a Tasty D Lite downtown so she could have a frozen yogurt before going to bed.

Indeed, this matches up with what Gotham Gal had said in October. One does have to wonder what exactly goes on in that kitchen now that Bruni and Platt are long gone.

Of course, Keller is a master chef. If his house is not in order, he will surely get it there. Here's to hoping that the opening of Bouchon will renew Keller's focus on both of his East Coast venues.

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