Thomas Keller has turned the other cheek. In response to the New York Times’ recent harsh review, the chef-owner of Per Se in Manhattan has offered an apology and a pledge to do better.
The review, by Times critic Pete Wells and published Jan. 12, knocked the Columbus Circle restaurant from four stars down to two. Wells called Keller’s $325 nine-course meal one of “the worst food deals in New York.” (The $325 excludes drinks, tip, tax and supplementary charges; an actual tab at Per Se usually exceeds $500 a person and not infrequently approaches $1,000.)
Besides balking at the establishment’s prices and occasionally indifferent service, he called out the food of chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeh. In a line that quickly went viral, Wells wrote, “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.”
Keller waited two weeks before responding. In a letter posted on his Facebook page Jan. 27 and addressed “to our guests,” he wrote, in part: “We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way. We are sorry we let you down . . . When we fall short, we work even harder. We are confident that the next time you visit Per Se or any of our other restaurants, our team will deliver a most memorable experience.”
The letter was accompanied by a photograph of Keller standing beside Kaimeh, implying the chef de cuisine’s head would not, as some had predicted, roll.
Since it was published, the Times review, titled “At Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Slips and Stumbles,” has been the subject of intense debate in the restaurant community and the fine-dining public. Was Wells gratuitously cruel? Can any meal be worth $500? Has fine dining jumped the shark? Keller’s response has been no less scrutinized. So far, the post has more than 3,000 shares and more than 1,000 comments, the overwhelming majority of which praised Keller for being “a class act.”