"As murky and appealing as bong water": The 7 biggest burns in the New York Times' devastating Per Se review

The legendary New York restaurant just got downgraded to 2 stars by the newspaper's dining critic

By Brendan Gauthier
Published January 12, 2016 9:12PM (EST)

New York Times food critic Pete Wells visited Per Se, chef Thomas Keller's swanky, Michelin-starred restaurant at Columbus Circle, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Though the review was meant to detail his two star-worthy experience at the otherwise well-renowned joint, it also does double duty establishing Wells as bougiest playground bully. Among the sickest burns:

“Such is Per Se’s mystique that I briefly wondered if the failure to bring her a new napkin could have been intentional.”

According to Wells, a member of his dinner party “hurled” her napkin to the floor “in a fit of disillusionment.” Moments later, a waiter glided past, scooping up the napkin and disappearing. 

“I don’t know what could have saved limp, dispiriting yam dumplings, but it definitely wasn’t a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water.”

OK, so this really only makes the list because it’s probably the lone relatable descriptor in the review. Wells might as well be quoting a French textbook, as I can only identify every third word. But I’m not too far removed from college to know I don’t want to drink bong water.   

“The first time, it was served with a sugary Meyer lemon marmalade and a grainy chestnut purée that tasted like peanut butter to which something terrible had been done.”

The only thing terrible I've ever heard done with peanut butter involved a lonely man and a dog, but we'll take his word for it.

“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.”

The salad in question was the complimentary option next to the foie gras—a $40 upcharge. To be fair, the foie gras would’ve raised Wells’ table’s total to $3,040, tough to explain to the Times’ accounting department.

“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.”

Like a true gonzo journalist, I asked the guy at the halal truck if I could smell the lamb he was shaving into my gyro. Let’s just say Wells is lucky his server didn’t spit in his face.

“Has the dance teacher been replaced by a rugby coach?”

According to Wells, Per Se at one point brought in a ballet dancer to “help servers slip around the tables with poise.” Wells asked the above after a member of his dinner party returned “from a trip to the restroom” only to have his chair “pushed back into place with a hard shove.” What’s maybe most fascinating to the average diner is that the servers are expected to push your chair in for you — delicately, of course. This is some Paula Deen-caliber antiquity.

“Per Se ★★”

The ultimate chirp from the guy who had a really good time at Señor Frog’s in Times Square.

Brendan Gauthier

Brendan Gauthier is a freelance writer.

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New York Times Per Se Pete Wells Senor Frog's