Our staff recently dined at Le Bernadin in our quest to eat at every three star Michelin in the US. We had reservations for the week after, but got a little anxious and decided we’d call the restaurants. Luckily, they had seating for two. We put on our Sunday best (actually it was our Thursday best) and happily hopped on a cab to taste Eric Ripert’s culinary creations (Click the images to enlarge them).
The decor of the restaurant most definitely has a French feel and immediately reminded me of Un Table Au Sud in Marseille. Clean with wood accents that reminded me both of Japan and Frank Lloyd Wright. While it was perfectly fine I looked for something a bit more special on decor. We were warmly greeted and promptly seated at a very large and comfortable table for two. Someone kindly brought a mini settee for me to place my handbag. Lovely detail.
If you are allergic to fish or shellfish you may think you would have a hard time at Le Bernadin. This is not the case, my dining partner has an allergy to shellfish and the restaurant made some great substitutions that kept the integrity of the dish and kept us happy.
The shellfish free amouse bouche (which was more of a complete dish was the crispy black bass. The skin was crispy, the fish was light, fluffy and delicious. This may be a good time to note that if you are concerned about conservation of the oceans, Le Bernadin is a good restaurant to visit. The restaurant does not serve fish in peril (including Chilean sea bass, shark, marlin and blue fin tuna) in support of Oceana which is a non profit that works to protect the world’s oceans.
We opted with the Prixe Fixe menu at $112 per person. It was divided into three categories: Almost Raw, Barely Touched and Lightly Cooked. A note on the wine list. Simply gorgeous. There are some certainly affordable options on the list. Chef Sommelier Aldo Sohm came over to assist us. He was gentle, knowledgeable and suggested a fairly priced unoaked chardonnay which was stunning. He was informative without being pretentious and we’d go back to the restaurant just for him. Prior to getting our bottle, he surprised us with a glass of bubbly. A lovely way to start our meal. Perfectly cooked with balanced flavors and a hint of what was to come.
From the Almost Raw menu I opted for the Kumamoto: a progressive tasting of Kumamoto oysters “en gelee”. It started off with the lightest on the left, moved onto refreshing and finished up with complex and spicy. I am normally an oyster purist, but I figured if I was going to play with my Oysters, Le Bernadin would be the spot. This was a fun and exciting tasting, but I would have liked to have one naked oyster. That being said, the Kimchi gelee was killer.
For his Almost Raw my dining companion had the Caviar-Wagyu “Surf and Turf” minus the turf. The dish was originally described as “Wagyu beef, langoustine and Osetra caviar tartare; black pepper vodka creme fraiche, pomme gaufrette”. The restaurant altered the dish for his shellfish allergy and from the small bite I took it was delicious.
For the Barely Touched course I opted for the Charred Octopus: fermented black bean, pear sauce vierge, ink – miso vinaigrette and purple basil. The octopus may have been my favorite course during the dinner. Tender, not chewy at all and incredibly tasty and the black bean simply worked quite well with the dish. The color of the basil was a lovely accent to the skin and meat of the octopus. This dish was definitely a winner.
For my dining partner’s Barely Touched course, the restaurant took the Langoustine dish (seared langoustine, mache and wild mushroom salad with a white balsamic vinaigrette) and switched things up a bit. In order to keep this dish decadent, the langoustine was replaced with foie gras. A lovely way to give someone with an allergy a way to enjoy the intellectual creations of Eric Ripert.
For my Lightly Cooked I went with the Hiramasa: seared yellowtail king fish with truffle risotto, spring vegetables and a truffle emulsion. I have to admit, by this time I was getting close to full; very close. But I am not one to turn down risotto. The fish was clean and light which worked well with the risotto which was a significantly heavier item. The emulsion was delectable.
The non-shellfish selection for our second Lightly Cooked dish was the roasted rack of lamb with spicy mustard, mint persillade, cauliflower, apricot and almond. The presentation was lovely. The persillade harkened back to the classic preparation of lamb, but this dish was in no means boring. The apricot and almond lent themselves quite well to this lovely lamb.
It was finally time for dessert. The restaurant brought out yet another surprise. Our dessert was served in an egg shell (something we have figured out how to do at home with this little jewel). Indulgence would be one way to describe this dish. Sadly I was already full and needed to leave room for second dessert.
The actual dessert I ordered was the Hazelnut: giandua cream, Oregon hazelnuts, honey, banana and brown butter ice cream. I was happy to have left a little room for this dessert. My favorite component in the dish was the banana which was ligthly caramelized. The giandua (hazelnut) cream was light. This was welcome as I had reached my end point.
To end the evening I ordered the organic Earl Grey from Sri Lanka. The gentleman that came to order the tea seemed to come out of nowhere. He was not as warm and welcoming as the rest of the staff. While his service was perfectly fine, it left something to be desired. The rest of the staff managed to make me feel as if we already knew each other. This gentleman seemed to be a random part of the evening. Perhaps it was the contrast between having someone at your table during various times in the evening and having someone just come in for one service in the evening.
Friends always ask me how it is possible to go to a restaurant where a meal costs over $100 per person. Meals such as Le Bernadin and Per Se will tell you why. It is the attention to detail, the little touches. A glass of sparkling wine to welcome you in, a surprise scallop course or a surprise black bass, a plate of lemon water to cleanse your hands, a foot stool for your handbag. Ultimately it comes to the food and the food at Le Bernadin is good.
Le Bernadin is located at 155 West 51st Street in Midtown New York. 212-554-1515