Per Se, Thomas Keller’s vaunted eatery in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center, has been taken down a peg by The New York Times. Make that two pegs. The restaurant, which opened in February 2004, was downgraded on Tuesday from four stars (the Times’ highest rating) to two in a review by critic Pete Wells headlined “At Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Slips and Stumbles.”
Wells noted that when it opened, Per Se received four stars from then-critic Frank Bruni. Sam Sifton, who succeeded Bruni, also awarded it four stars in a 2011 review, kicking it off thusly: “So this is the best restaurant in New York City.”
But, Wells wrote on Tuesday, with “each fresh review, a restaurant has to earn its stars again. In its current form and at its current price, Per Se struggled and failed to do this, ranging from respectably dull at best to disappointingly flat-footed at worst."
Wells called Keller's $325 nine-course meal one of “the worst food deals in New York.” In addition to balking at the establishment’s prices, he called out the “chewy lobster” and “rubbery and flavorless” cheese in his dishes.
“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,” he wrote.
Service took a hit along with the food. “Servers sometimes give you the feeling that you work for them, and your job is to feel lucky to receive whatever you get,” Wells wrote.
Wells’ review quickly made waves and garnered more than 300 online comments on nytimes.com, and it went viral on social media, where it drew expressions of glee, schadenfreude, dissent and sympathy. Food blogs had a field day, and the phrase "Per Se" shot to the top of Twitter's trending list.
Much of the reaction centered on Keller, who is one of the country’s most admired and influential chefs. Tweeted former Los Angeles Times food columnist Russ Parsons, “I’d never argue with a critic, but my meal at @PerSeNY last spring was beyond spectacular and I’m sure @Chef_Keller will right the ship.”
Joseph Galarneau, a digital media executive with no apparent professional culinary associations, alluded to the California town that is home to Keller’s flagship restaurant with his tweet, “No joy in Yountville: epic 2 star NYT downgrade for @PerSeNY. Guessing that @Chef_Keller is on plane headed to NYC.”