An insider’s look at the first two years of Per Se, Thomas Keller’s New York complement to his legendary Napa Valley restaurant, French Laundry.
“The secret to service is not servitude, but anticipating desire,” Damrosch learned. She was a novice when she scored a pre-opening interview with Chef Keller and landed a job as backserver, pouring water, serving bread, setting and clearing for each course, among other things. Soon she was on the fast track and in 2004 became Per Se’s first female captain, the person who greets diners, takes their orders, sells and serves the wine and presents the check at the end of the meal. Damrosch acknowledges that the delights she chronicles are not for the budget-conscious: Per Se’s tasting menus start at $250 per person, and at one point she mentions two brothers spending “their usual $20,000 on a few bottles.” In some justification of the steep cost, she notes that if four guests at one table each have different menus, this could mean 20 or so courses and close to 80 different dishes, and that Per Se’s menu and attention to detail have made it one of only five four-star restaurants in New York City. Mouthwatering descriptions of the exotic fare may persuade skeptics that it’s worth the money. Of the custard course, Damrosch writes, “My favorite, the deviled egg with a truffle ‘Pop-Tart,’ looked exactly like the picnic food and toaster treat except that the pastry was filled with a marmalade of Périgord truffles and drizzled with truffle frosting.” Other topics include the author’s romance with a sexy sommelier and the staff’s downtime activities: a late-night excursion to find the city’s best bone marrow, for instance, or a weekend spent at a Vermont dairy farm learning about cheese in order to better serve their customers.
Well-written and fascinating, though its appeal may be limited to the terminally food-obsessed.