Times Restaurant Critic Downgrades Per Se, And New Yorkers Panic

They can always go to Señor Frog’s instead

Thomas Keller's Per Se was downgraded to two stars by the New York Times. (Photo: Google Commons)

Thomas Keller’s Per Se was downgraded to two stars by the New York Times. (Photo: Google Commons)

The quality of New York’s luxury restaurants is slipping, and the Times is on it.

New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells raised a lot of highbrow eyebrows this morning when his savage review of Thomas Keller’s restaurant Per Se was posted online. The eatery, which received four stars from Sam Sifton and Frank Bruni, Mr. Wells’ predecessors, has now been downgraded to two stars.

Mr. Wells’ pan touches on every aspect of the Per Se experience, beginning with the service. While Mr. Keller was once renowned for bringing in ballet dancers to help his waiters with movement, now the staff is much more forceful. “Sitting down after a trip to the restroom, one of my guests had his chair pushed back into place with a hard shove,” Mr. Wells recounts. “Has the dance teacher been replaced by a rugby coach?”

The restaurant also loses points for exorbitant surcharges—$75 for caviar and $175 for risotto. “Per Se is among the worst food deals in New York,” Mr. Wells writes.

The meat of the piece, however, is Mr. Wells’ verbose vitriol about the food itself. Here are a few choice zingers:

  • “A dismal green pulp of cooked romaine lettuce, crunchy and mushy at once”
  • “A lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water”
  • “The lobster was intransigently chewy: gristle of the sea”
  • “A pale, uncrisp fried eggplant raviolo next to droopy strips of red pepper and carrot”

“Is Per Se worth the time and money? In and of itself, no,” Mr. Wells concludes.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Wells’ toxic take set tongues wagging, especially on Twitter, the modern sounding board for the rich and famous. In fact, Per Se was among the top trends in New York Tuesday afternoon, as shocked city dwellers shared the news:

Those last two tweets refer to Mr. Wells’ comparatively positive review of Señor Frog’s in Times Square, published last month. In that episodic masterwork, which name checked both The Lion King and the Zapruder film, Mr. Wells declared “I had more fun at Señor Frog’s than at almost any other restaurant that has opened in the last few years.”

Have no fear if you prefer caviar to chicken wings, however: several luxe restaurants have gotten positive Times reviews in recent weeks. And anyone who thinks Mr. Wells is too kind to Times Square watering holes should reread his 2012 takedown of Guy Fieri’s restaurant for a different take.