Per Se (“Through Itself”) lives on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, a shopping mall at Columbus Circle, close to Central Park. It is by reputation — which is to say gushing reviews and accolades and gasps — the best restaurant in New York City. And so I, a British restaurant critic, commissioned to review the most extravagant dishes of the age, borne across the ocean on waves of hagiography, arrive at Through Itself expecting the Ten Commandments in cheese straws.
There are three doors to Through Itself; two are real, one is fake. The fake door is tall and blue and pleasing, with a golden knocker. It is a door from a fairy tale. The real doors are tinted glass, and glide by themselves, because no customer at Through Itself can be expected to do anything as pedestrian as open a door. I’m not aware of this, so I tug at the fake door, giggling, until rescued by an employee, whom I remember only as a pair of bewildered shoulders. I am made “comfortable in the salon,” as if ill or a baby, with a nonalcoholic mojito. It is a generic luxury “salon,” for they are self-replicating: a puddle of browns and golds, lit by a fire with no warmth. There is a copy of something called Finesse magazine, which is an homage to Through Itself, and whose editorial mission, if it has one, is “canapé advertorial.”