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Le Bernadin: Why so many negative posts about it on this board?

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I am planning a special dinner at Le Bernadin. Looking for guidance, I searched through old chowhound posts re Le Bernadin and found a surprising number of detractors. Since for me the cost of a dinner there is not something I can take lightly, I am starting to doubt if I should follow through.

But then again, this is Le Bernadin! How could it be that bad?

Are the high number of negative posts concerning Le Bernadin on this board perhaps a function of the fact that this restaurant is held out as one of the best in the world, automatically creating almost unmeetable expectations?

Are these high number of negative posts a function of a selection bias: Diners who were especially disappointed are the ones more likely to post?

Or are there really a lot of people out there who have had uncomfortably rushed dinners featuring nothing more than impeccably executed but blaise food at the great Le Bernadin?

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  1. One important thing to know about Le Bernardin: I don't believe that there's more than one meat dish amongst the entrees, and that's under the heading of "By Special Request" or something like that. That may be a reason some people are disappointed with the restaurant. Others have complained about the prices. Granted, it is extremely expensive but, if you've done any research at all, you know that going in, so it shouldn't be a surprise.

    I have eaten at Le Bernardin for special occasions several times over the years and have enjoyed it every time. The food has never been less than excellent and the service is the same. In my opinion, it's an ideal spot for a special dinner, as long as everyone is going to be happy with a meal that is all about fish and shellfish.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Deenso

      Maybe I shouldn't even respond to this because I have never been to Le Bernardin, but let me just say that a restaurant of this caliber has enjoyed a good reputation for so many years that there must be something really good about it.
      Maybe it is too fancy for some (my husband won't wear a jacket in the summertime and therefore we cannot go there) but it's reputation precedes it and ... it's still here!
      Your guests will probably have a fine time and, frankly, I don't think you have anything to worry about.
      I hope you will report your findings after the occasion.

      1. re: idia

        Well, I've been a number of times over the years, and I think I know why there are negatives. First, while service is certainly good, the style has always been formal French - which many interpret as stuffy and humorless. You won't get beaming smiles and friendly kidding. Second, whle it's a good restaurant, of course, and you should get some memorable dishes, I'd say it's reputation is overinflated. It's frequently listed as the best restaurant in the city (or best alongside Per Se), and as the best fish restaurant in the country - and it has three Michelin stars.

        It's honestly not THAT good - and probably some expectations are disappointed.

        1. re: Wilfrid

          Actually, I had the best fish dish I've ever had there. I literally kept oohing and aahing with every bite. I don' t remember what it was nor the preparation (it was part of a surf and turf combo) but it was truly amazing. And while the service there certainly is formal and absolutely perfect, we ended up joking around with all of our servers who were really nice and fun.

          There is a vegetarian option for each course, which my veg' husband enjoyed. But he was not blown away like I was with the fish. Oh MAN was it amazing.

          Now Bouley, another French 3 star Michelin restaurant, I have generally found to be disappointing with stuffy unpleasant service.

          I think Le Bernadin is a great option. And definitely worthy of it's praise.

        2. re: idia

          You do not "need" to wear a jacket to eat there, although most diners do...just a small point but do not let that stop you from experiencing the place!

          1. re: erica

            That is an interesting comment you made about not having to wear a jacket because we actually had to cancel a reservation this summer because I called and they said jackets were required.

            I think it may even state it on their website but not sure.

            1. re: idia

              Many restaurants say they're "jacket required." Then you show up, and some guy's wearing a black leather biker vest and steel-toed boots. Which is what happened during a recent Le Benardin trip. But yes, everyone else was wearing a jacket. I asked this same question on the board, and someone suggested carrying a jacket to the restaurant and then putting it on inside (to avoid sweating to death).

              1. re: idia


                Is it that your partner refuses to wear a jacket period, or does he only object during the summer. If it's the latter, the solution is simple, i.e., dine at Le Bernardin during the months when the weather is cooler.

                As regards your comments below that more formal dress is passe, while it's true that dress trends for dining have become more casual, I still think there is something to be said for going to a restaurant where "dressing up" is required. It adds a feeling of specialness, particularly when one is celebrating an occasion. It also gives us women a chance to wear something more dressy that would otherwise make us feel overdressed when our partner is not wearing a jacket. (When my husband wears a jacket, he always wears a tie.)

                1. re: RGR

                  Oh dear! I didn't mean for this to be a jackets vs. more casual dress issue, but yes, I do confess that I have a mate (and a superbly wonderful one at that in every respect that is important) but he just doesn't happen to "prefer" wearing a jacket (and for sure not a tie) except at business meetings, etc. And yes, he does wear a jacket in colder weather, but many times it is more likely to be a leather one rather than a dressy one.
                  So our tendency is to try places that relax the jacket/tie rule, pure and simple. And lucky for us, there are plenty of those.
                  I certainly respect anyone's right to dress a bit fancier than we might like, but I promise you, when we walk into a restaurant, no one is going to look at us and throw u... er... us out. :-)

            2. re: idia

              "Maybe it is too fancy for some".

              No, Le Bernardin is not too fancy for me and my husband, and no, it is not too formal - it just is not good enough; not the food - and definitely not the service.

              We are not impressed by hype (Michelin stars, Zagat ratings, etc.), only by truly good food and service. At this price point we have every expectation that both are excellent.

              1. re: FoodWine

                We've been to Le Bernardin only once many years ago, and my reaction was just like yours. Disappointing food that did not measure up to the accolades, and service so frosty they could have turned off the a.c. Also, as I've said before, despite their attempts at camouflage, I couldn't shake the feeling that we were dining in the lobby of an office building, which is exactly where the restaurant is located.

                1. re: RGR

                  would that be the last century? time to update, perhaps.

                  1. re: steve h.

                    LOL! In fact, yes it was. And, no, I have no plans to re-visit Le B.

              2. re: idia

                I've never been to Le Bernardin, but that logic doesn't apply to NYC restaurants at all, many of which can coast on reputation for years. Look at a place like Tavern on the Green, which hounds universally agree is not just bad, but often disgusting. It's not going anywhere.

                1. re: scrittrice

                  My experience at Le Bernardin dates back to when it had been open for only a few years, so it could hardly be said that it was coasting on its reputation. In my case, the disappointment was probably a factor of *exceedingly* high expectation based on the universally glowing reviews it had received at that time.

                  Despite the fact that I'm not a fan, the reality is there is a preponderance of very positive views of Le Bernardin on this and other food forums, so there's no way it should be lumped in with the likes of Tavern on the Green, which,as you noted, gets universally panned.

                  1. re: RGR

                    I was responding to idia's post above, saying that if it's been around for as long as it has it has to be good. I just don't think that's true. As I said, I've never eaten at Le Bernardin. It's just not the sort of food or restaurant that interests me.

            3. My husband ate here a couple of years ago and was underwhelmed. Service was good, but the food pretty ho-hum. As we tend to agree on these matters, I'm not inclined to give it a go.

              1. i like le bernardin a lot. michelin guide gave them three stars. new york times awarded them four stars (highest rating). food and service is excellent. let the record show that i put on a jacket and tie for both lunch and dinner - small price to pay for such exquisite seafood.

                modest note: i like to arrive before deb so i can sip a martini at the tiny bar and snack on the nibbles (ceviche). never fails to put a smile on my face.

                1. I've only eaten there once, but had a completely wonderful meal. I couldn't decide what to have for dessert, was waffling between two choices, and the waiter ended up bringing me both (without charging me for both). Also sent me off with a box of madelines (they probably do this with everyone). I felt very well taken care of, and the meal was excellent. Not at all stuffy service.

                  1. I don't feel like there is an overall negative number of posts about it to begin with.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: doona

                      Le B. is an amazing restaurant...period. As for wearing a jacket, they'll present you one of their own to warm you while you dine in their frigid room. When you're done, you return the jacket, they clean it and present to the next guest who would prefer not to walk the streets in formal attire during hot summer afternoon/evenings. What more could be asked of an establishment.

                      1. re: pilwo

                        It would make my mate rather uncomfortable to be presented with a jacket over a stylish shirt that might look rather ridiculous with a jacket.
                        There are too many good restaurants that do not require a jacket these days.
                        That standard is kind of passe especially with the great styles of the day.
                        But for seafood, I still maintain that Le Bernardin is hard to beat.

                        Please read this post fast, I am afraid any posts about jackets at restaurants might be pulled rather quickly by the forum nanny.

                        1. re: idia

                          They are rather trigger happy on this board, aren't they? And I love Le Bernardin. I can't afford it, but love it.

                          1. re: fgf

                            i love it too.
                            give lunch a shot.

                            1. re: steve h.

                              we've only eaten there twice (we don't live in New York, come in about 4 times a year to visit, and pick one "splurge" for dinner each time) but we loved it both times. we didn't find it stuffy. we found the service attentive and it was clear to us that when we liked something and complimented it, it pleased the staff and they showed it. we aren't sophisticated and we're clearly not bigshots and i note we received a great table both times and impeccable food and service. don't go if you don't love fish because its a shame to miss what they are best at. By the way, we've eaten at three stars in France, at Per Se and at many of New York's grand restaurants over the years and in general we have found communicating our own enjoyment results in a shared delight in the experience with the staff. The only place we ever found snotty was Le Cirque and we weren't that impressed with either the food or the service. In any case, we hope we get a chance to revisit Le Bernardin and anticipate a return with pleasure.

                          2. re: idia


                            Got it and understood. Appreciate the expl. Good restaurants, yes, but there is only one restaurant in this city which prepares fish like Le B. Don't miss out on a wonderful thing. Is the policy relaxed for lunch?

                            1. re: pilwo

                              Exactly - find it hard to believe that putting on a jacket is a chore of some sort - my goodness. At Jean Georges, they have a selection of navy blue jackets in a very wide (and I mean wide) selection of sizes - it is not as if one is at some country club where they'll give you a plaid or maroon jacket to wear. I pick where I eat in Manhattan based on the quality of the food and the price I can afford, and then dress according to the parameters established by the restaurant. Any favorite dishes at Le Bernadin? Expecting to go back this fall. TIA.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                i don't know whether the menu changes, but the last time i was there i had the peeky toe crab dish and an amazing black bass dish. mmm..my husband had a calamari in a calamari consomme and it makes his face go all dreamy remembering it.

                                1. re: teezeetoo

                                  Le B prepares fish in a certain way w/o much fuss or pomp.
                                  It was novel at one time but has long been eclipsed.
                                  It, however, remains an oasis of refined civility and one of the few remaining classic,old school French restaurants in NYC.

                      2. The hubby and I had our 25th anniversary dinner there. Lovely setting, excellent service, but we were underwhelmed by the food. It was well presented and prepared,the flavors were clean but perhaps too delicate. It was late December, and maybe we were looking for something more robust than the fish and seafood offered. We had a very satisfying meal the night before at Etats Unis - duck, mushrooms, big red wine! Le Bernadin does what it does exceptionally well, but that may not be what many are looking for. (As for the stuffiness factor re:dress - I bought a great dinner suit and knock-out heels to match for the occasion. An arthritic flair up in my foot would not deter me from those shoes! We took a cab the few blocks from the hotel. Sometimes getting dressed up is half the pleasure.)

                        1. Le Bernadin is a great fish restaurant. Perhaps it was better when they first opened but it's still teh best in Manhattan.

                            1. I have been to LB once. All of the food was above average and enjoyable. I enjoy seeing well executed seafood and that is what I got. The wine that was recommended which was in our price line was great.

                              My major problem was the fact that we were seated 15 minutes late, the food was being brought out and sitting in the servers area before we took a first bite of our previous course. Also the Captain around 7:15 started to point at us and loudly say in front of our table (we need them out of here by 8:00). He did this every 10 minutes. So for me the service took a major slide.

                              If I could choose I would go back; but would probably go to EMP, Veritas, or Cru agian.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: ChrisZ

                                Hey, Chris,

                                Were you told when you made your reservation that you would need to vacate your table by 8 p.m.? I'm guessing the answer is no.

                                We've occasionally faced the situation where at the beginning of the meal, the food started coming out of the kitchen at an exceedingly fast pace, i.e., no sooner had we laid down our forks from the first course than the second course showed up, sometimes so fast that new silverware had not been laid down yet. Our response was to tell our server to instruct the kitchen to slow down the pace between courses, which is what you should have done. With no warning to you in advance about needing the table by 8, that should not have been a concern of yours, and you had every right to expect a leisurely-paced meal.

                                I do hope under the circumstances you described that you adjusted the tip -- downward!

                                1. re: RGR

                                  No, we were not told anything. In fact I made a comment to the waiter that if they were in such a rush, we should not have been offered a cocktail before the meal and allowed to enjoy it and we should not have been offered coffee afterwards. I also mentioned that "fine dining" should be just that and as a restaurant they should realize that 8:00 may not be a fair time for either party and that 8:30 seemed more reasonable. I understand that an 8:00 reservation who gets there early might be impatient, but at the same time a early res. should not be rushed out 45minute early. Regarding the tip it was adjusted, but not horribly as our waiter was good and should not be punished because his boss is an a**.

                                  Also, funny how although being in an office building the feeling of Le Bernadin is not nearly as (warm?) as EMP which is also in an office, but does not feel as such.

                                  1. re: ChrisZ

                                    Good point about Le Bernardin vs. EMP, which, as you may know, is my favorite restaurant right now in NYC. However, there is a major difference regarding the locations. Le B. is actually situated right in the lobby of Equitable Bldg., while EMP is not in the lobby of the building which houses Credit Suisse. Its location was formerly a bank and, in my view, the architects who designed EMP did a magnificent job of removing any trace of its former use. What always amazes me is how they managed to take that huge, soaring space and not only transform it into a gorgeous restaurant setting but also, as you pointed out, to imbue it with a feeling of warmth.

                                    1. re: RGR

                                      Not it it's important, but EMP is not housed in a former bank, but rather in a former office of Metropolitan Life Insurance which was headquartered there and in the building across the street. Site of my first job after college.

                                      1. re: RGR

                                        EMP is also our favorite restaurant in NY right now. Since I last mentioned it somewhere in CH, we have been back (SO delicious -and such gracious service!) -and will go back soon again.

                                        Btw, someone here wrote that LB serves the best fish in NY. That, in our opinion, is not so. Most high end restaurants (and even some not so high end restaurants) have served us better fish than what we got served at LB.

                                        My husband -who only eats fish and seafood- was in total bliss at EMP. (he was also in bliss at per se).
                                        - Not even close at LB.

                                        1. re: FoodWine

                                          i guess it takes all tastebuds! We found EMP incredibly overrated and wouldn't waste our money on a return visit.

                                          1. re: teezeetoo

                                            I guess it does. Eleven Madison Park is the only restaurant that we have ever even thought of comparing to per se; our culinary idea of 'heaven'.

                                2. howdy toum,
                                  congratulations on a very good post.
                                  i guess you got your answer. both le bernardin and esca seem to be lightning rods for passionate opinion. that's what makes a market.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: steve h.

                                    Hey thanks Steve H.

                                    Yes, I definitely got an excellent array of interesting responses -- what a great board.

                                  2. hello, we have been three times each time for lunch and in December. Each of these times my partner has had on his overcoat as it was freezing outside and wad given a jacket to wear. He put it on and once sat down promptly took if off again never to wear it again. To combat the stuffiness of the place we have always booked a table but on arrival asked to sit at the bar. It is much less formal and you get much more of an interaction with the staff esp the guy behind the bar who serves you..

                                    1. Le Bernadin is my husband's favorite restaurant and we have been there numerous times over the years. I have also done two private dinners there for corporate groups. Although I agree with some of the other posts about the formality of service, this is exactly what they are aiming for. The room is extremely beautiful and the sound level allows conversation (a rare thing these days in Manhattan where one is frequently required to scream to be heard even across a 4 top). The food is always perfectly done - fish perfectly fresh and flavors subtle.

                                      1. Over the years, we have eaten at Le Bernardin numerous times. Whereas in numerous NYC restaurants we are warmly welcomed,( such as Daniel, La Grenouille and Jean-Georges as well as neighborhood places such as Pearls Oyster Bar and Gennaro's) we always had a stiff, almost corporate greeting at Le Bernardin. But the food was excellent and we never felt that we needed to be treated like old friends in order to enjoy dining there. But the latest (and LAST) time we dined there (in the company of our two adult children (who have dined in fine restaurants all over the world and have impeccable manners), we were rushed through dinner in one hour flat. Not only that, the waiter rolled his eyes and sighed impatiently while taking our order. It was by far the worst experience we have ever had in a fine restaurant. NOTHING would induce us to return.

                                        1. I never cared for this place. Rush-rush service is probably the main problem I have with the place, also the overbearing staff hovering over you...so annoying. I think there are way too many better choices in the city then to dine here. One night, we were told to have a seat on the lounge chairs, so we did, and ordered a drink. Within less than 5 minutes the hostess said she would seat us right now, when we told her we just ordered cocktails, and wanted to enjoy them first, she got annoyed. (Rolled her eyes to be exact.)

                                          We should have just left then, but we stayed and had a mediocre meal. I have been here 3 times, hoping each would be better..not happening.