The Armory Art Show and Per Se

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , New York
Thursday, March 3, 2011

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My friend, Bill, and I got started a bit late today.  After grabbing a quick breakfast we headed over to the Armory Art Show, which is held in two piers on the Hudson River just a few blocks from our hotel.  We arrived at the show just a bit before noon.  We were thinking we were running terribly late but it turns out the show didn't open until noon so we were right on time.

When we finally got inside, it was immediately obvious that we would have to rush through the show.  We could see the length of one of the piers, and it was huge.  The Armory Show features modern and contemporary art.  Although modern and contemporary are synonymous for most uses of the words, that's not true in the art world.  Modern art is art created from around the time of the Impressionists (1880) until around the 1960's or '70's.  Contemporary art is anything created after that.  At the Armory Show modern art and contemporary art are placed in separate piers.  The huge one stretching off into the distance as we entered turned out to be the contemporary art pier.

We rushed through the contemporary art exhibition, stopping to take a closer look at anything that caught our eye, which, fortunately, from a scheduling point of view but, unfortunately, from an art appreciation point of view, happened less often than we would have expected.  I have a particular interest in art furniture but, possibly due to the difficulty of moving furniture and/or the cost of the square footage required, there were only a couple pieces at the show.  Another interest of mine is glass art and, again, there was very little on display.  Photography, which I also like, was well represented at the show and accounted for most of the contemporary pieces I found interesting.

We then went to the modern art pier.  The percentage of pieces we found interesting was much higher there.  I suspect that's because the works on display were all from the small percentage of artists that have stood the test of time and everything else has been filtered out.

We managed to get through the show by 4:30, which was when we needed to start making our way to Per Se for our 5:30 dinner reservation.  We would have preferred a later dinner reservation but when the reservation is as hard to get as it is at Per Se, we were happy to have gotten any reservation.  Restaurant Magazine placed Per Se 10th in its World's Best Restaurant List in 2010 and it is one of only five restaurants in New York to earn a Michelin 3-Star rating in 2011.  Owner and Chef Thomas Keller is the only American chef with two Michelin 3-Star restaurants, the other being an earlier restaurant, The French Laundry, in California.  Per Se is an urban interpretation of The French Laundry.

Our table was near a window looking out onto Columbus Circle and Central Park.  Our early reservation gave us a chance to appreciate the view before darkness fell.  The room was quiet, spacious and well-lit; quite a difference from the setting for last night's dinner.  Instead of eating with a fork and our fingers off of simple plates we were given a wide assortment of utensils and dishes.  In fact, they even make a conscious effort to show you as wide a variety of plates and utensils as possible.  For instance, they have at least three different butter dishes that we got to see.

I ordered the nine-course vegetarian tasting menu while Bill ordered the standard nine-course tasting menu.  They were each $295, service included.  This isn't going to be a cheap get-away.  There were a couple courses where we had to choose one of the options.  The nine courses I settled on were described on the menu as follows:

Fines Herbes and Armando Manni Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Poached Pears, Madras Curry "Nauge" and Toasted Almond Binaigrette

Hadley Orchards' Medjool Dates, Celery Branch Salad and Sicilian Pistachio Mousse

Turnip Glaze, Red Wine Braised Salsify, Watercress and "Beurre Rouge"

"Caponata," Fennel, Nicoise Olives and Crystallized Eggplant Chip

Cornichons, Hearts of Romaine, Parsley Shoots and Caper Emulsion

Grated "Gorgonzola Cremificato," Belgian Endive, Streusel, Crispy Red Onions and Mache

Whipped Champagne Mango, Thai Basil and Lime Puree

"Biscuit Cuiller", Hibiscus Jelly, White Chocolate "Bavarois" and Kendall Farms' Creme Fraiche Sherbet


The nine courses Bill ordered had similarly complex descriptions, which I won't bother to list.  As it turns out, these are the simplified descriptions.  The server would describe each course as it was brought to the table and those descriptions were always quite lengthy.  The dishes change frequently and there are lunch tasting menus as well as an a la carte menu only available in the bar area.  We were quite impressed by their recall.

Before the first course we were brought two amuse-bouche.  The first was Gruyère Gougère, a small cheese-filled pastry.  The second was Tartare of Scottish salmon, red onion, crème fraîche and black sesame tuille, which looked like a tiny ice cream cone.  We were both brought the same amuse-bouche even though I ordered the vegetarian tasting menu and the second amuse-bouche was not vegetarian.  They were both quite tasty.

In order to give detailed descriptions for each course now I would have had to have taken copious notes while we were eating, which I did not.  The best I can do is give our overall impression of the evening.  Unlike our meal last night at Momofuku Ssam Bar, we understood why the Per Se is rated so highly.  We both agreed that everything about the meal was excellent.  Each course was artfully arranged on the plate.  Every bite was an interesting combination of flavors.  The service was Impeccable.  The setting was gorgeous.  I didn't feel I was missing out or getting second-best having the vegetarian menu. 

The Parker House rolls were one of the highlights of the meal.  They're served warm so the butter liquefies as soon as it touches the roll.  They're the lightest, fluffiest rolls either of us have ever had and they practically melt in your mouth.  They raised bread to a whole new level.

There were a couple negatives.  I've already mentioned the non-vegetarian amuse-bouche I was given.  There was the slight letdown when they bring other, more ordinary bread after having experienced the Parker House rolls.  There's the frustration of only getting a few bites of each dish.  That about sums up our complaints.  Oh, and the price, of course.
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