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Le Bernardin Ultimately a Disappointment

My mother took me to Le Bernardin for my birthday a few weeks ago. I've been hesitant about posting, since I've been conflicted about the experience. The meal, in terms of freshness and quality, was very good. We had the Le Bernardin tasting menu with wine pairings. The wine pairings were excellent. However, the overall experience was very blasé. First of all, the decor was underwhelming, outdated, and felt oddly like you were dining on a cruise ship that needed an upgrade. The service felt very rushed. When we first sat down, the waiter came over and I informed him that we had a harried experience getting to the restaurant, and that we needed a few minutes to unwind (we had 5:30 reservations so I was rushing from my office downtown and my mother commuted in from Long Island). The waiter came back to the table 3 times in the following 10 minutes to see if we were ready to order. He didn't even notice that we hadn't opened the menus or looked at the wine list or thought about cocktails or finished catching up. People complain about neglectful service, but at the same time there's something to be said for waitstaff that breathes down your neck. Feeling the pressure, we both just decided to order the tasting and pairings just to get the meal underway, though we would have liked to peruse the menu and the wine list more closely. As we watched bottles of champagne being delivered to other tables, we were disappointed that we didn't have a chance to order a bottle instead of the pairings.
Again, I know this place is the darling for many in terms of seafood restaurants in New York. I went in believing I would be dazzled and thrilled. Perhaps I've become too accustomed to bolder and more creative dishes, overlooking the simplicity of what was put before me. But frankly, the meal was just ok. My mother agreed. The standouts were the pounded yellowfin tuna, peekytoe crab and the pork-belly calamari, although still not mind-blowing. The courses were rushed as well, and our wines started to gather on the table before we could finish each glass with its accompanying dish. For a six course meal; plus amuse, wine pairings and aperitifs, we were in and out in about 2 hours. Fastest $500+ meal I’ve ever had.

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  1. I have had similar experiences there (plural only because it is a convenient place to go on business lunches/dinners). I have never been bowled over by the food, although it is consistently good. I agree wholeheartedly on the decor and in fact have actually used the "cruise ship" description! The last meal we had at Esca, we thought was better than Le Bernardin. You might check it out if you haven't been there.

    4 Replies
    1. re: food_for_thought

      I had a similar experience there a couple years ago. You could tell that in terms of craft and technique, the dishes might have been perfect. And of course the fish is impeccably fresh. But to be honest, I've enjoyed far more casual meals at places like Tides or long Omakases at great sushi bars. I think a lot of these very high end places are missing a sense of fun. It seems to be a combination of stuffiness and a pressure to turn tables quickly. I'm not sure. I have actually found the most relaxed high end meals to be at Babbo very late at night. I've actually been seated at around 11PM and lingered for hours (along with the rest of the packed dining room) without a hint of pressure.

      Maybe that's a good idea for another post. Of the high end restaurants, which maintain a sense of FUN?

      Thanks for your review and eat well!

      Jeremy

      1. re: JeremyEG

        I have eaten at Le Bernadin many times. I have had incredible meals there with great service, but I have also had just good meals with mediocre service.
        I have found that if you go there early, and this is certainly not right, they are too eager to turn over the table.

        1. re: JeremyEG

          I agree with you on Babbo. It's great if you can get a late reservation and just sit and enjoy. I've had earlier reservations there too, and I must say, I have never felt rushed. I find that stuffy has its place, and if it's appropriate in the setting, I don't mind, however it is never appropriate (IMHO) for diners to feel that they are pressured because an establishment is trying to turn tables, especially at these high end places. Patrons are paying a pretty penny, and it's not just about the food - it should be about the entire dining experience. We have found Bouley to be very good in this regard. Never rushed and the whole environment is a treat for the senses.

          1. re: JeremyEG

            I'm biased because I'm not such a seafood fan, but I too was turned off by the stuffiness at Le Bernadin.

        2. Sorry to hear that. I had dinner with my father in law few weeks ago -- 5:30 on a Saturday and upon being seated, we told our waiter that we wouldlike to take our time with our meal. We sat for almost 3 hours and ate and drank happily with one of the best service. My impression was that is is a simplicity that stands out at Le Bernardin -- just as you had pointed out the "crab cake" (peekytoe crab).

          Again, I am sorry to hear of the disappointment...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Hanachan

            I have come to the conclusion that at this point in time all the 3-4 start restaurants are not worth it anymore.Most everyone is is paying such high rent that basically you are paying $45 for a dish that should really cost
            about $25-28,such is the case at Le Bernadin,the food is good,well prepared,great wine list but do you really want to be paying $40 bucks for a piece of fish that cost maybe $7 at the most???

          2. I had a similar experience myself. We sat at 6:00-6:15, were offered a cocktail, ordered, and after that it was a blurr. Courses came out one after the other, was very rushed and by the time 7:30 rolled around, we were being pointed at by one of the managers every 10 minutes and overheard him saying to get them out of there to turn the table. The restaurant had a 8:00 reservation.

            I did not want the table all night, but I wanted a nice experience.....hard to have it when you are rushed.

            The food was great btw....

            But for

            1. I have never been rushed there. I/we have always taken several hours to go through the tasting menu. The wait staff has always asked if we were ready for our next course. I have always been served several extra courses each time too. I really enjoy dining there. Hope you have better luck next time.

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