Some Things Per Se and Its Food Are Like, According to Sam Sifton

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The view atop "restaurant Olympus." Photo: RJ Mickelson/Veras for New York Magazine

Today's the day: Sam Sifton concludes his tenure as Times restaurant critic with one last expense-account hurrah his predicted review of Per Se, which he writes is the best restaurant in the city. No arguments here, but just how good is Per Se? It's way good — so good that the restaurant and its food transcend mere adjectives. In fact, here is a list of all the things Sam Sifton uses as points of comparison for Per Se, its service, or its food.

Regarding its stature among the restaurants in the Time Warner Center: "A jewel amid the zirconia."

The restaurant, in its early days, was "a marvel of pretension and clock-gobbling silliness."

The oysters and pearls dish is "a poem about creaminess."

... And the pairing of that dish poem with a glass of sémillon; wine, is "a fine argument for the metaphor of transubstantiation."

A celery-branch garnish is like Nigel Tufnel's amp, "taken to 11 on the flavor scale."

The price of a meal is "about the same as the median weekly household income in New York State."

"A simple garden salad is the functional equivalent of an aria ... particularly as sung at Per Se, with compressed figs and young red beets."

"The restaurant’s truffle-stuffed fat-chicken thigh ... might be a tenor’s great turn."

Linens are "ironed to the texture of freshly sanded pine."

The makeup of the dining room is "exactly analogous to towering sets and a thundering orchestra, to the kind of stagecraft that can lead to tears and applause."

The restaurant's version of clam chowder is "a pure distillation of autumn east of the Bourne Bridge, a Hopper painting made edible, seafood squared."

The dishes progress "as if to create a montage sequence or a kaleidoscopic dream."

The petits fours and macarons at the end of a meal are "a castle."

The restaurant is also a Greek god. It resides "up on restaurant Olympus" with the other Times four-star places, which are "Heras and Poseidons with dominions of their own."

In other words, it's really good! But that's no surprise, given the high standards of the staff. In fact, Sifton ends his review by pointing out that that Michael Minnillo, a captain at Per Se, once described his own standards in the Keller-published magazine Finesse thusly: "If I impress the fish cook and he impresses me, then the blogger at table 3 has no chance." Neither, it seems, did the now-former Times restaurant critic.

A Critic Selects a Last Meal [NYT]