Usually at Per Se, chef Thomas Keller’s tony restaurant at the southwest corner of Central Park, the patrons skew a lot older. But for Keller’s new “first-time diner’s lunch” event held on a recent Sunday, attention was being heaped on high-chair epicureans.
At this lunch, children were invited—and would eat for free. But the adults who accompanied them would pay $215 for the privilege, according to The New Yorker (paywall).
There was white-sturgeon caviar and chicken consommé with dumplings, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with layers of foie gras, huckleberry jelly, and shaved peanut brittle), and even sweetcorn ravioli—all part of a decadent, seven-course French-Californian culinary experience.
It’s one of the things Keller has decided to do since The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells published a scathing review (paywall) in January 2016 of his restaurant. That was a follow-up to a review in 2011 issued by the newspaper’s then-critic Sam Sifton, which bestowed a coveted four-star rating—the highest the Times offers.
But in the years since, Wells described a “slow-creep of mediocrity” at Per Se, called it a “no-fun house,” and removed two of Keller’s four stars—the difference between “extraordinary” and “very good.” The review led the chef to post a public apology online:
We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way. We are sorry we let you down.
But the whole episode feels like a forgettable cloudy day for Keller when compared to some of the scenes that played out during during the kids’ luncheon. After all, it’s hard not to coo at the sight of young kids’ reactions to obscenely priced food.
It’s also a reminder of a similar event in 2014, when a group of kids from Brooklyn were invited to eat at posh Midtown restaurant owned by acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, also near Central Park: