If you're charging $325 a head for dinner, you'd better be darn near flawless. There's no room for lame, phoned-in dishes and sloppy service at those prices. Chef Thomas Keller, who became a star thanks to his boundary-pushing, exquisite French-American cuisine at his flagship French Laundry restaurant in Napa—and at various spinoffs including the triple-Michelin-starred Per Se in New York City—may now be resting a little too comfortably on his laurels, according to the most recent review by New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells. He just yanked Per Se's Times rating down from four stars to a pitiful two.
To be clear, two-star reviews from Wells for less ambitious spots are often considered a plus: They can help raise the restaurant's profile, and are typically full of laudatory remarks as well as (often constructive) critiques.
Not so the review of Per Se, which barely gets one sentence in before it drops its first bomb, citing "the slow creep of mediocrity and missed cues." The rest of the review doesn't let up, calling the restaurant "disappointly flat-footed" and "hermetic, self-regarding, ungenerous."
The compliments, not that there are many, mostly come in the form of comparing old glories to the current state of decline. Wells mentions classic Keller signatures like "Oysters and Pearls," a deservingly famous caviar, oyster and tapioca concoction invented ages ago at French Laundry and still being served at Per Se too. "One could argue that it's a little lame that Mr. Keller is still trotting them out," writes Wells, adding that those dishes make the more recent creations look "random and purposeless."
He goes on, citing a "dismal green pulp of cooked romaine lettuce" and a mushroom bouillon that's "as murky and appealing as bong water." And he mentions waiters who shove guests in their chairs and don't bother refilling wine glasses.
The few successes include a dish involving caviar that comes with a $75 supplementary fee, and a white-truffle risotto for an additional $175.
"Is Per Se worth the time and money?" Wells asks at the end. Spoiler alert: The answer is a two-letter word.
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