Per Se Can You See? The Times Does

Even more than most Americans, New Yorkers tend to define themselves by reference to cultural touchstones: bands we’ve heard, books we’ve read, films we’ve seen.

One such New Yorker is the New York Times, which apparently defines itself by references — lots of them — to Per Se, a restaurant so expensive and so exclusive that in the paper’s own review of the place it felt compelled to warn readers of the $150-a-head price tag and the near-impossibility of scoring a reservation.

Today, the Times printed a feature noting that Per Se and its chef Thomas Keller are phasing out tipping in favor of a flat service charge added to patrons’ checks. On Sunday, an article in the New York Times Magazine about “Cryovacking” food such as watermelon opened with the line, “A few weeks ago at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s four-star restaurant in New York City …” Another Sunday article, about a reality TV cooking show, featured yet another reference to Keller and Per Se. And two articles on August 10 — an op-ed on the forthcoming tipping policy, and a story about restaurants benefiting from summer tourism — also name-checked the famous eatery.

Admittedly, Per Se is a big deal even for a town where opulent restaurants open up every other week. But five references inside of seven days? (A Nexis search shows 25 Times references to Keller and/or Per Se so far this year; in the same time period, Jessica Simpson and Humphrey Bogart have both rated 38 mentions, so you get the idea.)

Are Times writers so weary of sidewalk hotdogs and Orange Crush that they can’t keep fantasies of Per Se out of their minds? Or perhaps they’re just buttering up chef Keller against the day that they try to score a reservation at the exclusive restaurant? Or are they, in their indirect way, angling for free eats?

Only the Cryovacked watermelon knows for sure.

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.