Le Bernardin – NYC
We have had our eyes set on visiting Le Bernardin since we were introduced to Chef Eric Ripert through Anthony Bourdain. The episodes they traveled together were often our favorite ones given their unlikely, genuine, and entertaining friendship. With another year on the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, it was about time to make this fine dining seafood reservation a priority.
Reservations are released in blocks and while we did miss out on getting a “prime time” were were able to grab 5:30PM reservation on a Friday night. The confirmation call two days prior reminded us that the attire was formal – for men jackets required and ties optional and while women did not have a specific dress code, I knew it had to keep up with a men’s jacket.
We arrived promptly for our reservation time, entering into the dimly lit dining room, warmly greeted in french. Looking at our classiest self – the boys in jacket, white button down shirts and I in a dress, we were ready for this experience we had talked about for so long. Unlike some of our recent French dining experiences such as ASPIC and Le Pigeon that offered fine dining in a casual environment, this was a fancy dining establishment. The atmosphere was illuminated by candlelight and interesting light fixtures, servers constantly running routes as if on a highway network, and table settings that could have been made out of precious elements.
There are three different dining options in which the entire table must be in agreement. The first option is four courses where you can choose from two appetizers (from over twenty choices), one entree (from over ten choices), and one dessert (from over eight choices). The second option is the Le Bernardin tasting, a set menu of seven courses with optional wine pairings. And the third option is the Chef’s Tasting, a set menu of eight course with optional wine pairings.
After much discussion, we ended up doing the four course “choose your own adventure” and ordering a bottle of wine.
The first thing brought to our table were warm moist towels to freshen up our hands – perhaps from the grime of the subway but now that I think of it, I am sure we were the only ones who took the subway to get here.
Then the entire table setting in front of us disappeared preparing us to start our culinary adventure.
Our wine arrived and we decided on our current wine white favorite Kabinett Riesling from Mosel, Germany.
Kabinett is the driest form of Riesling so we always look for that word on the wine list / label when picking out a Riesling as we do not want a sweet wine. This wine should compliment our seafood heavy meal perfectly – refreshing, crisp, and a touch of melon. For those that need help deciding, there are multiple sommeliers that round the floor waiting to assist.
While unexpected, it would have been a surprise to skip out on an amuse bouche but this was definitely the most extravagant one we have had to date. Presented on a multi-level carousel, there were five amuse bouche dishes to try, each atop a silver serving vehicle.
There was a raw scallop, (what I think was a) crab salad on a cracker, sushi roll, squash cold soup, and raw fluke. I am certain I way over simplified what was in front of us but it was impossible to get all the details in real time. Each one was more delicious than the previous as we each made the same longing face at the flavor profile in such as small portion. The soup was far better than it should have been and was probably our crowd favorite.
We were then graced by the bread basket – full of at least six different types of breads to choose from – another tough decision!
Fortunately, the bread basket makes several rounds during your meal to give you the opportunity to try different types and the butter is freshen unnecessarily frequent. The boys both tried different breads while I kept it traditional with the baguette. Since we chose the four course option, we were not shy with our bread intake.
Over the next two hours, our four course dining commenced.
Langoustine – Seared Langoustine, Morels, Foie Gras Crouton with a Balsamic-Truffle Vinaigrette
Michelle and Kevin: The smell coming off of this plate was just incredible – that earthiness of the foie gras and truffle. One bite and it was instant magic. All our favorite things in one bite – the langoustine, morels, foie gras and truffle shavings. The langoustine itself was perfectly cooked with both savory and sweet characteristics that complemented the earthy elements. I would have ordered this as all my meal courses it was incredible. This is definitely one of the top dishes of my dining experiences.
Sea Trout – Ultra Rare Smoked Sea Trout, Pickled Radishes with a Wasabi-Kiffir Lime Sheep Milk Yogurt Emulsion
Michael: I was very excited to try this dish and found the described sauce intriguing. The trout had a great texture with a tasty, crispy skin and overall a delicate fish. The sauce was a good compliment and was not heavy, keeping the entire dish light.
Artichoke – Warm Artichoke Panache, Spring Vegetable Risotto with a Black Truffle Vinaigrette
Michelle: I know ordering this was probably not the best “get the most out of the price of the meal” dish but I was so into the description. The artichoke was beautifully presented fanned out around the dish with the risotto in the middle. The artichoke was tender and plentiful, the creamy risotto was well cooked, and the black truffle vinaigrette was an injection of acidity to balance out the rich risotto. Look closely at my sauce smiley face. I really enjoyed this dish but wonder what I missed out on by not ordering a second seafood dish.
Sea Trout – Ultra Rare Smoked Sea Trout, Pickled Radishes with a Wasabi-Kiffir Lime Sheep Milk Yogurt Emulsion
Kevin: The sauce was very creative and while the combination seems off putting, it worked well. I expected it to be a bit thicker given the kiffir but it was actually a watery texture. The trout was lacking flavor that I anticipated the sauce to compliment but it could have been the trout itself is difficult to infuse strong flavors.
“Bacalao” – “Lightly Salted Grilled Merluza”, Corn Mousseline with a Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
Michael: When the server described this dish, I changed my mind just at the sound of it, especially the corn mousseline with a roasted tomatillo sauce. Bacalao is Spanish salted cod so it was a flakier fish that needed the sauce and it worked very well.
Lobster- Grilled Main Lobster Tail, “Leek Cannelloni” with a Red Wine Rosemary Sauce
Michelle: Now that is a perfect plate – it screamed “under the sea” and there is nothing like a lobster tail on display! I was very satisfied with the portion size. The lobster itself was fresh, juicy, and had a wonderful sweetness that accompanied the tender meat. The cannelloni had the leek in place of pasta and was filled with more lobster – no complaints here. I was very happy to have chosen this dish.
Monkfish – Roasted Monkfish, Stuffed Morel with a Green Peppercorn-Brandy Sauce
Kevin: The morel once again steals the show! We have had more and more morels recently and I do not know what has taken so long to have stumbled upon its greatness. The sauce was not very spicy and almost resembled a gravy but this with the morel was just perfect. The monkfish was not a flaky or fishy fish but both looked and tasted more like turkey which was a bit unexpected. Overall, I enjoyed this dish very much.
Striped Bass – Baked Striped Bass, Summer Vegetable Filled Zucchini Flower with a Black Olive Red Wine Sauce
Michael: What a fish dish to end with – this bass was incredible. The bass had a hearty, tender texture – perfectly cooked. The flavor from the fish alone was great and the black olive red wine sauce only elevated and highlighted those flavors. I was slightly disappointed with the zucchini flower (probably as Michelle hyped it so much) but it was light and easy on the palette.
“S’more” – Warm Chocolate Fondant, Smoked Chocolate Peruvian Chocolate Ice Cream
Michelle: My favorite meal of the day – chocolate. Just look at all that chocolate goodness! The dish was simply incredible. The warm chocolate cake was rich and moist, and the chocolate ice cream infused a smoky flavor with every bite. It was like it was over a campfire and I loved the impact it had on the dish. There were also marshmallow sticks on top to complete the s’more picture. Absolutely loved this dish!
Coffee – Devil’s Food Ganache “Doughnut” Mocha Pot de Creme
Kevin: The most amazing thing on the planet, ever. This is not your average doughnut. The doughnut itself is made with a chocolate outer shell and inside is a layer of cake then injected with mocha chocolate sauce. I was warmed before opening the doughnut that it may splatter and after softly cracking the shell, the sauce began oozing out. The sauce inside was creamy and chocolaty, and just enough mocha to know it was there but not to over power the flavor. The dark chocolate sauce on the side was a perfect accompaniment to the dish, adding a bitterness back into the rich dish. I need to seek out a way to have this again my in life.
Hazelnut – Golden Hazelnut Sphere, Frangelico Mousse, Praline Ice Cream
The golden snitch has arrived!
Michael: Perfect score for presentation of this dish! I’m not big on sweets, so the hazelnut & mousse was a bit rich for me. It was a small portion so it knows its rich limits. The praline ice cream was an elegant pairing, complimenting the dish, and a great, sweet palette refresher.
The boys also ordered a cappuccino and espresso to round out the desert round.
Once the plates were cleared, we were brought the final desert – five small samplings of various deserts our amuse bouche desert course of sorts.
A butterscotch maracon, a pistachio cake, chocolate dome with a sour cream, a dark chocolate square filled with peppermint cream, and dark cherry gummy covered in sugar. The dark cherry gummy was a surprising hit as none of us prefer cherries and the butterscotch macron was delightful.
With that, our meal ended just after 8PM.
What a fantastic dining experience! A few comments regarding the impeccable service at Le Bernardin. The servers were constantly rounding around the dining room, attuned, even predictive of the diner’s needs. At one point I stood up to go to the restroom and it felt like every server stopped in their tracks to address why I stood up to accommodate. Disposition of the servers was excellent, enhancing the overall dining experience. Service was highly accommodative, making you feel like the only diners for the evening in a room full of tables. We also never felt rushed during the meal – they were very respectful of our time dining with plenty of time given to decide on our dishes and time in between each course. We did not feel pressured to hurry up so they could turn the table. While we did not know the use of every utensil at the table (have you every used a french sauce spoon??) and laughed at our fine dining deficiencies, the servers were wonderful in assisting and educating us.
Sommelier did everything regarding the wine from start to finish – we never touched the bottle. We were confident the bottle was taken care of and was perfect. While our wine was never empty, it also never dipped below full. You took a sip and the sommelier was over to top you off. We certainly had mixed emotions about this – it was difficult to keep track of how much you were drinking. It also felt like we were running out of wine faster, encouraging drinkers to order another bottle of wine. I don’t think this was ill intended but we also never had wine service that was this particular. We all accepted that this was par for an establishment like Le Bernardin but perhaps would come across as pushy at a lesser place. It did keep our wine nicely chilled at all times. Our sommelier was also kind enough to discuss recommendations for places to wine taste for our upcoming trip to Lyon, even so much as writing down a few places.
A very positive experience from beginning to end. This was a meal we all looked forward to for a long time and we all agreed it definitely met our hype. I would highly recommend for your next fine dining experience and we would definitely go back if the occasion permits such a celebration. Thank you for a wonderful night, Le Bernardin!