23 June 2006

Refuge of Civility

I have found one of the last redoubts of those all-but-lost touches of New York civilization: service, proper attire, quietude and dignity. It's Per Se.

Normally, my response to a restaurant that imposes a prix fixe of $210 would be sputtering rage. And I probably would have never ventured near the citadel of class and privilege if I hadn't stumbled upon it by mistake, while scaling the escalators of the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle in search of a post-show drink.

There it was on the fourth floor, looking more like a secret lair than a restaurant. Blue wooden doors are perversely set beside a sliding glass wall—the real door. Once inside the sanctum, I expected discomfort and intimidation. Instead I got a smile, and the offer of a jacket. Jackets are required at Per Se, making it one of the last places in Manhattan to insist on such decorum. Reminded me of the old days at the Algonquin. The first one was too small. The second fit. A gracious, preternaturally becalmed Brian brought me the wine list. I chose a 2004 Dr. Loosen Spatlese Riesling apparently made exclusively for Per Se. Sublime. Whether he was interested in my observations about the wine, who knows? But he paid respectful attention.

After that, I expected they'd just leave the poor guy with no jacket or reservation alone. (Pest!) But no. Intoxicating black truffle popcorn arrived. (Oh. My. God. You have no idea how good.) And hot roasted nuts. Then a servant all but bowed and scraped as he offered a tuna tartar amuse bouche on special tray and silver spoon. I felt more cared for than I have in weeks, months.

$210? I'd pay them twice that if they'd just treat me that well for two solid hours.

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