Per Se’s Lackluster ‘New York Times’ Review

In a New York Times — Per se of Thomas Keller’s infamously decorated Per Se restaurant catalogued the restaurant’s striking fall from grace. Critic Pete Wells wrote that after dining at the restaurant on three separate occasions it became clear to him that the four-star review the restaurant garnered back in 2011 was not simply sorely out of date; it was just plain wrong. Wells explained that three separate meals had been enough to formulate a new vantage point of the once-beloved restaurant. “Enough,” he said, “also, to make the perception of Per Se as one of the country’s great restaurants, which I shared after visits in the past, appear out of date. Enough to suggest that the four-star rating it received from Sam Sifton in 2011, its most recent review in The New York Times, needs a hard look.” His reasoning continued: “With each fresh review, a restaurant has to earn its stars again,” which few can find room to argue against. A fresh review time and time again offers the reader opportunity to meet the restaurant for the first time as it is, not as it was.

But Wells spells out his feelings for the 2016 Per Se rather bluntly: “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 uses language like “ungenerous,” “hermetic,” “self-regarding,” “lame,” and “purposeless” to encapsulate the experience, all while weaving in his own suggestions for what the restaurant could — and should — do better. There’s no discrepancy amongst the restaurant community that Per Se did, in fact, deserve its two-star remarks, but the way Wells led readers to that point was paved in cheap rhetoric, mincing words to evoke the absolute disappointment of each consecutive dish. Nothing spells that out quite as plainly as when Wells writes, “Per Se is among the worst food deals in New York.”

Fact as though that may be, Wells documents that even the staff failed to earn top marks. It’s useful information, of course, but the story is strung together in such a way that you have to genuinely ask if it’s a personal vendetta against Wells and his restaurant or just the conclusion of three incredibly awful experiences. Unfortunately, most are included to feel the former. Asking whether the ballet instructor who was once hired to teach Per Se’s servers to dance between tables unnoticed was “replaced by a rugby coach,” Wells’ review reads more like a diary entry for a scorned lover than an honest take on a meal that failed to stand up to its legacy. As if it wasn’t already painfully clear, Wells ends NY Times: Per Se by asking a rhetorical question and then answering it: “Is Per Se worth the time and money? In and of itself, no.”

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