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Le Bernardin, the New York restaurant scene.

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  • fara May 28, 2006 02:39 AM
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Maybe the rest of you can be of some help w/this. Went to Le Bernardin tonight and now feel completely averse to ever spending money on "fine dining" again. We had the prix fixe, which at this restaurant is almost exclusively seafood. Why did the food seem like not all that? Am I doomed to forever buying expensive ingredients and cooking them in my zero-ambience apartment?

Another question...why is it standard to recommend restaurants in New York based mainly on characteristics other than food quality?(see above?) Not that there was any sort of party scene at Le Bernardin, so I'm not sure what makes it interesting other than the frequent change of silverware and the oddity of the young women's dress code (think black and ill fitting). My partner commented on how nice the older women looked, though.

Can someone recommend a great French restaurant, please??

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  1. f
    Fred and Wilma

    There are many considerations other than the food when choosing a restaurant - everything from wheelchair access to the see & be seen quotient. (You mentioned ambience and looking at the room, I know some who adore its quiet accoustics and spacious table arrangements while others despise the space and find it sterile) I think that these factors should be a different discussion given that this board is about hyper deliciousness in any setting.

    If we look at the food, it has been argued that Le Bernardin should not qualify as a 4* house because of it's narrow focus on fish. That debate could be had here considering that you asked for a 'great' French restaurant. What are the specific dishes in your experience that left you cold?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Fred and Wilma

      The meal I had there 3 years ago (perhaps there's been a decline--God, I hope not) was one of the best in my life. Not the pomp and circumstance of a Guy Savoy or Alain Ducasse, not the challenge of Jean Georges, but just one darn great peice of fish after another, with an absolutely definitive, ohmigod i'll never eat shrimp again because why bother shrimp dish to boot.

    2. I am not sure I understand your complaint. Le Bernardin does not make a secret of the fact that it is a fine dining seafood specialist - in fact that is their proffer.

      Le Bernardin is also not a scene at all. It is a rather sedate room with a lot of room between the tables. All the focus is what is on the plate and the luxury of good service. Not a see and be seen or celeb spotting environment.

      You didn't say anything about the food other than it wasn't all that. What didn't you like?

      Perhaps you might enjoy Bouley for French food that offers a non-fish-focus. Although there isn't a
      party scene" there either, it is a little livlier than Le B.

      1. I see that my first post was unclear. Let me re-phrase why I did not particularly enjoy Le Bernardin.

        The food: no flavors were outstanding enough to take notice of. Perhaps more salt was needed, which is a matter of opinion, but still I thought I might be impressed by at least one dish. The texture of the fish was also just satisfactory. For our main course, my partner had the red snapper and I had the lobster. There was nothing succulent about either, both were dry, and the lobster was tough.

        The environment: we were seated in a position that made it necessary for the servers to bump my chair every time they served the two tables behind us.

        Re: NY restaurant scene complaint: I am not looking for "scene" restaurants. I was simply being sarcastic about why someone would recommend Le Bernardin. I am looking for excellent food. I wonder why Le Bernardin was recommended as such.
        Compare to very good places like Babbo and the excellent food quality in France and you see the Michelin guide had some sort of alternative agenda.

        3 Replies
        1. re: fara

          I'm a fan of LB. Have been for some time.
          Like most folk, I'm particulary partial to the flight of fluke ceviches. The whole red snapper baked in salt is wonderful. Surprisingly, they make a killer martini. Service has always been excellent.

          1. re: steve h.

            agreed, I've had the fluke ceviche at LB, and it was quite memorable.

          2. re: fara

            I think that might have been an off night for them. I was at LB's once in 2005. Fabulous food and service. That tuna with the extra virgin olive oil-sprinkled with Foie was heavenly. I will never forget it. Yes the dining room does does look cold. I would definitely go back again. (Just so many places to dine in this town)

          3. The one comment in your report that really surprised me was, "We had the prix fixe, which at this restaurant is almost exclusively seafood." Did you not know that fish and seafood are the raison d'etre of Le Bernardin? That said...

            Our one and only meal there dates back at least ten years, and we were celebrating an anniversary. The reason we've never been back is that I was completely underwhelmed by the cuisine. And I love fish! Nothing -- and I do mean nothing! -- I had stands out in my memory. When that happens to me, particularly when it comes to fine dining in well-known restaurants, it's a signal that the cuisine did absolutely nothing for me. However, there were also other reasons that I did not enjoy that dinner. Service, as well as the reception upon arrival, was so frosty, they could have turned off the air conditioner. (It was June.) And no matter how much they tried to disguise the fact, it felt as though we were dining in the lobby of an office building, which is where the restaurant is located.

            My recommendation would be that you go to Eleven Madison Park. While the menu under previous chef Kerry Heffernan was New American, that has now changed with the arrival of Chef Daniel Humm, who is serving exquisite French cuisine. I've had dinner and lunch there recently, and both meals were sensational. The welcome upon arrival from the reception staff is always pleasant, service is perfection personified (as it has always been), and the Art Deco space is gorgeous! When it comes to cost, the 3-course prix-fixe at $68 and the 4-course tasting menus at $85 (recently increased from the opening price of $78) are the bargains of the century (!!), especially when compared to Le Bernardin's 3-course menu at $105.


            Link: http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

            4 Replies
            1. re: RGR

              I dined there a few years ago. I was underwhelmed. The food was just good, no better than that. The service was good but not welcoming. I've never gone back. I have liked Milos, Tropica, Oceana more. Especially Oceana

              1. re: rahadlakoum

                In my opinion, if you want the best meal in New York, a meal you will never go wrong with, Here it is

                Veritas

                Because all they have is the most low key chef who truly is a great chef not some flash in the pan that gets reviewed by the times, understands food and loves what he does at his restaurant. If you can't see fit on Veritas, then I would go with Bouley,Blue Hill or March. Remember High end restaurants are reinventing themselves as American-french

                1. re: caz

                  My husband and I went to Le Bernardin last year, and we thought the food was amazing. Definitely some of the best fish we've ever had. Service was a little spotty, but we really enjoyed the food.

                  We were also at Veritas and Bouley last year, and were not impressed at all with the food. But it could have been an off night for both.

              2. re: RGR

                Yes, of course I knew the menu is almost exclusively seafood,that was why I chose the restaurant -- thinking they might be able to do something interesting with it.

                Fresh seafood to me is synonymous with a delicious meal, which is why I was so shocked to have such a mediocre experience, with seafood no less!

              3. I've eaten @ Le Bernardin 3 times since 2000. And in only one of those times was Eric Ripert was for sure cooking and THAT was the only time I considered it a four star food and dining uber-experience. Otherwise, it was tres overrated.

                1. I recently had a great meal at Le Bernardin. We ordered the Chef's Tasting and supplemented in an additional course. Here's an excerpt from my my blog:

                  "Le Bernardin, a friend and I concluded, is one of those restaurants that, despite it’s acclaim and fame, one doesn’t necessarily crave or clamour for. It’s one of those restaurants that, when you are there, you wonder why you haven’t thought of it more fondly, and more often.

                  ...

                  Otherwise, Le Bernardin executes everything with a rare brand of confidence that lulls diners into trusting trance. The food isn’t rapturous; one isn’t likely to experience a revelation and see the heavens part as I have at Jean Georges. It doesn’t inspire a table-top aria either, the way the food at Babbo might. Instead, the food at Le Bernardin is the type that’s apt to cause one to close one’s eyes and reprioritize life.

                  Case in point: the black bass tartare made me consider moving to a small fishing village on the Mediterranean. More like carpaccio than tartare, thin slices of raw bass were fanned out over the bottom of a shallow bowl anointed with just enough olive oil to give it all a silky coat. Kissed with citrus, the composition was topped with a confetti of chopped Kalamata olives, shaved fennel and chiffonade of basil and coriander (i.e. cilantro).

                  Although the pieces overlapped each other, they were cut in such a way so that no matter how I slipped my fish knife under the carpet of fish, a section, fitted perfectly to the contour of the knife, lifted. It was like magic.

                  That entire dish was magic, actually. I couldn’t tell you what I loved more - the silky, but almost waxy texture of the fish, or the conversation of flavors: tangy meets grassy, salty meets floral, all ricocheting off the clean, fresh bass as a sounding board. Or, perhaps it was the warm slices of toast, rewardingly crunchy on the outside with a thin, steamy layer on the inside, that provided just the right vehicle for the cool, supple tartare.

                  It’s one of those dishes that you’ll never forget and will always want to have when you return to the restaurant.

                  But, almost every dish at Le Bernardin is that way. There were two from my first meal at Le Bernardin that were so memorable that I called in advance of my latest meal to have them prepared. Apparently, neither had been on the menu since that first meal nearly four years ago.

                  The first was the “Sea Urchin-Caviar” dish of the aforementioned *squee* delight. The second involved two ravioli stuffed with diced shrimp, foie gras, and scallions in tissue-thin pasta. They seem denuded at first, presented alone on an expanse of china. But that’s quickly remedied by a generous table-side saucing of rich foie gras and black truffle demi glace. That dish, which really is one of the most perfect combination of flavors and textures, will set you back a good ten minutes for each bite.

                  As for the rest of my latest dinner, I left it up to the chef to assemble the other courses for our tasting menu. With the exception of those two special request courses, the Kindai Maguro, which we supplemented mid-meal, and the desserts, which my friend and I chose, here is what the chef sent out:

                  Amuse Bouche

                  Black Bass
                  Sea Urchin-Caviar
                  Poached Halibut
                  Baked Lobster
                  Kindai Maguro
                  Shrimp and Foie Gras Ravioli
                  Fourme d’Ambert
                  Egg
                  Hazelnut
                  Carrot

                  Petits Fours

                  ...

                  Service was excellent this time, even better than I had remembered from my previous visit. Franck, our server was a veteren of the now-closed Alain Ducasse at the Essex House; he was both friendly and helpful. The wine service was especially pleasant. It’s rare to find a wine steward so bubbly and comfortable.

                  The dining room, itself, even seemed to strike me as more pleasant than last time. I remembered it to be somewhat impersonal, and heavily trafficked. They still need to do a better job of re-directing the herd of diners heading to the private “Les Salons” to the separate entrance; instead, they stampeded through the dining room all night. But overall, I found the dining room to be more familial and less frenetic this time.

                  While it’s not as sumptuous as Bouley or Daniel (which I find oppressively grande dame-ish), or as elegant as Jean Georges, or even as non-descriptively classy as L’Arnsbourg or per se, Le Bernardin has a simple, refined aesthetic that feels almost residential. I like it’s open airiness, even though the volume sometimes rises slightly above the norm. There a slightly Old World charm to it; maybe it’s the colour of the varnish, or the Brittany-blue schmea. Perhaps my favorite part of the decor is the ecclectic assortment of oil paintings, which range from feathery portraits (I love the portrait of Maguy and Gilbert La Coze’s grandfather which hangs in the bar) to breezy sea-side landscapes, silent still-lifes to eye-catching Fauvist-like caricatures.

                  Le Bernardin offers one of the most self-assured fine dining experiences I’ve ever had. Again, it’s not a rocket; you won’t be catapulted out of your seat. Neither is it a fist-pounding affair. What you experience at Le Bernardin simply assures you that you’ve got both feet firmly planted on solid earth and makes you thrilled to know that you are there.

                  It takes one extraordinarily confident chef to serve a succession of unadorned pieces of seafood, drizzle some sauce around them, and charge $185. But, it takes one insanely talented chef to make it a success. Chef Ripert has, with the legacy of Gilbert La Coze behind him, continued to please and impress by running the oldest of the five New York Times 4-star restaurants and one of only three Michelin 3-star restaurants in New York with tremendous grace and confidence. I hope Le Bernardin lives to see my next visit."

                  You can read the rest of my review and see the photos at the ulterior epicure. (http://ulteriorepicure.wordpress.com/...)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                    "It takes one extraordinarily confident chef to serve a succession of unadorned pieces of seafood, drizzle some sauce around them, and charge $185. But, it takes one insanely talented chef to make it a success."

                    No, IMO it just takes an awful lot of customers who don't have a clue how to buy a beautiful piece of fresh fish from Citarella, and cook it at home in a simple but interesting way. At LB's price level, I expect more creativity and effort.

                  2. I've only eaten at Le Bernardin once, but had the tastyish seafood dish I've ever had. I literally "oohed" and "aahed" with every bite.

                    The service was nice, the decor a bit too generic for my tastes. All that said, that one piece of fish was enough for me to agree that it is one of the best restaurants in the city. Blew away anything I've had at Bouley, Daniel and almost everything at Jean Georges except for their foie gras brulee.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: BW212

                      I remember my one and only meal at LB a few years ago being absolutely wonderful. The food was excellent and the service superb. I took my girlfriend there for her birthday and we got the Le Bernardin tasting with the wine pairing. I still remember the scallop ceviche and sea urchin dishes and the wines that were paired with them. Stunning!

                      It was, however, my first "high end" dining experience and as such I didn't have anything to compare it too. I've since been to the other usual suspects - Per Se, Jean-Georges, etc - as well as a few top notch restaurants in France. I can't help but wonder how well Le Bernardin compares now that I know a little bit more about what this level of dining can be like.

                      I feel another visit to Le Bernardin is warranted. Regardless, I'll always remember my first meal there quite fondly.

                    2. I think that Le B has some haters because a lot of the food is simply prepared for a lot of people's tastes. It's not that easy to prepare something simply. The more simple the preparation, the more refined your technique has to be and the more even handed with your seasoning. There's not as much room for error. And I'm sure price has something to do with it. If you're going to spend a lot of money, there are those who expect more flourishes and more complicated preparations. If a meal at Le B was $50 as opposed to over $200, people may feel about it differently. I find that some people balk at spending a lot of money for sushi because they feel sushi is merely cutting up some fresh fish and arranging it nicely on a plate. And I find that a lot of people like food that is bolder. Le Bernardin's stuff is pretty restrained.

                      Personally, I like Le Bernardin. I know this thread is pretty old, but Le B is pretty much a seafood restaurant. If you're a meat eater, you probably shouldn't go there. The atmosphere is a bit stodgy but I've always been happy with my food. One of my favorite courses there is the foie gras and tuna. While it's an incredibly simple dish, it's well executed.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Miss Needle I completely agree. Le B does things very simply but they do it exceptionally well. People do not realize that the simplest things are often the most difficult to execute, like an all white wedding cake. Every imperfection is so easily noticed, it needs to be perfect.
                        Personally my pallet is not sensitive nor sophisticated enough to truly appreciate the cuisine at Le B. I was underwhelmed with my meal for the price BUT could totally understand and appreciate what they do. Le B is not in my rotation of favorite fine dining but I often recommend it to those who would apprecite the style of cooking.

                        1. re: misnatalie

                          I agree with this sentiment. Seafood is probably the hardest thing to prepare perfectly and simply and make it stand out. I think that this is really a case of what one appreciates from a dining experience and how much they are willing to spend for it. I can certainly understand someone not thinking that $200 a person for the Le Bernardin tasting menu is is worth it, just as I can understand someone feeling that Per Se is way too expensive and not worth it.

                          I think that steakhouses like Lugers and Sparks are completely overpriced, but that is mainly because I don't appreciate the taste of a great steak as much as others. It is all about how much you are willing to pay for a specific experience. I my book, there is no seafood restaurant that comes close to being as good as Le Bernardin.

                        2. re: Miss Needle

                          That foie gras and tuna dish was on the menu on my latest dinner. I really regret not being able to fit it in. Likewise, there was a warm lobster carpaccio dish that, even now, I dream of having. I need to go back.

                          1. re: ulterior epicure

                            Yeah, that foie gras and tuna is really good. DH loved their butter poached lobster, saying that it was much better than Per Se. At one point, he was thinking of making Le Bernardin our regular "neighborhood" place (He's got this bad of habit of not looking at prices). He quickly changed his mind after seeing one of the bills. Le Bernardin is definitely more of a special occasion place (well, depending on your finances, I guess. I know somebody who literally goes to Daniel all the time). I prefer it going occasionally as opposed to all the time as it makes it even more special.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              Yeah, unfortunately my tax bracket says that Le Bernardin is definitely a special occasion dining experience.

                        3. I have been lectured one too many times by my New York friends that NOBODY in New York use restaurant websites. But, after a good long stretch of having one of the frumpiest fine dining restaurant websites, I really think that even you non-restaurant website-using New Yorkers will appreciate seeing Le Bernardin's new online digs. [http://le-bernardin.com/]

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ulterior epicure

                            Thanks for pointing that out. A major improvement over the old one.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              No kidding. Gorgeous website, I loved my lunch at Le B years ago, the most beautiful seafood ever, although I thought the room sucked. The new site made me head over to open table to reserve dinner for my upcoming trip...then i saw the jacket requirement. I can deal w/ a stuffy room, but I'm not making my husband wear a jacket on the weekend in August. I wish Le B and Daniel would give it up.

                          2. You didn't know Le Bernadin was a seafood restaurant going in? And this board is an excellent one for analyzing food quality - I don't think it recommends restaurants based on silly characteristics. That said, Le Bernadin is a grown up restaurant with great service and I for one have never had a bad meal there.