Per Se, Per Calorie

Foie GrasPhoto: Courtesy of Per Se

In July, a new city law will require some restaurants to start posting calorie counts on their menu boards—but only eateries with standardized “portion size, formulation, and ingredients.” In other words, fast-food joints. The idea, the health department says, is the same as the rationale behind the trans-fat and smoking bans: to create a slimmer, healthier populace. But what about the city’s high-end dining palaces, the Per Ses and Del Postos, the Morimotos and Morandis? Aren’t their meals every bit as laden with fat and calories as, say, a Big Mac? The city says it didn’t include non-chain restaurants in the new measure because it would be too hard for them to comply, given their varying menus, portion sizes, and ingredients (though a cynic might suspect it’s politically safer for the health department to pick on fast-food conglomerates than local chefs and restaurant owners). So we decided to do a little gourmet calorie-counting of our own. On a recent afternoon, this reporter, his wife, and a friend had lunch at Per Se, ordered arguably the best meal in New York, or at least the most extravagant—Thomas Keller’s storied $250 (before add-ons), nine-course tasting menu—and shamelessly proceeded to tuck samples of each course into gallon-size Ziploc storage bags and smuggle the food out, Ocean’s Eleven style, in an oversize handbag. Then we delivered the food directly to a nutritional-testing lab in Queens (when possible, we took the whole dish; in some cases, we took half, then factored that in later; in a few cases—chocolate candies, wine, and bread and butter—we simply relied on standard nutritional values). Three days later, we had a full report. The single most caloric menu item was the foie gras, weighing in at 435.4 calories; followed by café Liégeois (basically a gourmet brownie with ice cream), with 185.8 calories. The single least caloric was the buttermilk sorbet, owing in part to its spoon-size portion (23 calories). All told, the nine courses tallied 1,230.8 calories, 59.7 grams of fat, and 101.7 grams of carbs. The total rises to 2,416.2 calories, 107.8 grams of fat, and 203.7 grams of carbs if you include the extras: a salmon amuse-bouche, wine, dinner rolls with butter, and chocolate candies. These might not seem like giant numbers, but that one lunch has 60 percent more fat than the average adult, on a 2,000-calorie regimen, should eat in a day, according to the FDA. To work off that meal, a 155-pound person would have to walk the route of the New York City Marathon, plus an additional five miles. Or he could swim round-trip from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty nearly three times, or do basic yoga for 13 hours and 42 minutes. It’s also roughly equal in calories to six slices of DiFara’s cheese pizza, ten Gray’s Papaya’s hot dogs, or, it seems appropriate to note, four and a half Big Macs.

Nine Courses (Plus Extras!) by the Numbers Dish Serving Size Calories Fat
Percentage of recommended daily total

Percentage of recommended daily total Big Mac Equivalent One Big Mac is 540 Calories Cauliflower panna cotta .5 ounces 35.1 1.5 gms./2.3% 4.1 gms./1.4%

Torchon of moulard-duck foie gras 3.7 ounces 435.4 24 gms./36.9% 43.2 gms./14.4%

Sesame-crusted kanpachi 2.2 ounces 103.7 3.7 gms./5.7% 5.7 gms./1.9%

Butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster 2.6 ounces 98.7 2 gms./3.1% 7.1 gms./2.4%

Aiguillette of Liberty Valley Pekin-duck breast 1.9 ounces 66.8 2.8 gms./4.3% 1 gms./.3%

Snake River Farm’s calotte de boeuf grillée 2.7 ounces 154.6 7.8 gms./12% 6.4 gms./2.13%

Jasper Hill’s Winnemere poached apples 1.5 ounces 127.7 8.6 gms./13.2% 6.5 gms./2.2%

Buttermilk sorbet .6 ounces 23 .3 gms./.5% 4.8 gms./1.6%

Café Liégeois 1.8 ounces 185.8 9 gms./13.9% 22.9 gms./ 7.6%

SUBTOTAL   1,230.8 59.7 GMS./ 91.8% 101.7 GMS. / 33.9%

            Extras Chef’s signature salmon cornet .48 ounces 25.4 .6 gms./.9% 3 gms./1%

Three glasses of wine Approx. 12 fl. oz. 300 0 gms./ 0% 9 gms./3%

Three rolls with three tablespoons butter NA 720 39 gms./ 60% 75 gms./25%

Two mignardises (chocolate candies) NA 140 8.5 gms./13.1% 15 gms./5%

SUBTOTAL   1,185.4 48.1 GMS./74% 102 GMS./34%   Total   2,416.2 107.8 GMS./
165.85% 203.7 GMS./ 67.9%

Per Se, Per Calorie