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Le Bernardin or Per Se

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Sometime in August i am looking to go to one of the two - I will be doing the tasting menu. The question is which restaurant (i am trying to take into account that Le Bernardin's lease is due in 2011 (i know thats a bit off from now) and Benno is leaving Per Se soon) and should i go with the wine pairing or by the bottle? thanks so much koko85

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  1. Per Se

    1. i've been to both recently and i think per se wins hands down. the decor, view and the quality of service is far superior. in both cases, i had gone for one of the later seatings (9:15 / 9:30). le bernardin made us feel rushed at the end with staff loitering around looking impatient while there were a few tables still seated. the secondary wait staff and busing service paid no attention to whether they were interrupting us mid-conversation. the wine steward was a bit snooty rude. and we didn't have a consistent head server. (i realize the description makes it sound worse than it is... but for a michelin 3-star, you expect perfection thru-out).

      Per se on the otherhand was professional, but not snobby. They were actually quite funny to go along with the mood of the group I was with. And the entire room had a more comfortable vibe.

      Both places have outstanding tasting menu's. However, there wasn't a course at Per Se that was less than spectacular, while Le Bernardin had a few courses that failed to wow. Chocoalate tray and goodie bag at the end of Per Se sealed the deal.

      As far as wine pairing's are concerned, I'd opt against in the future (did it at Le Bernardin / did not at Per Se). For one, it gives you more flexibility in terms of price and drinking at however fast or slow a pace you choose.... and I'm just not in to having another interruption in conversation per course. Both restaurants stock carefully selected wines... and knowledgeable staff that'll give you suggestions once you narrow down your tastes. In the end, I paid a little less at Per Se with about the same quantity of wine despite the more expensive tasting menu. And the wine was excellent.

      1. I have to vote for Per Se, as well, if you aren't concerned about the price of the meal and don't think you'll have a chance to eat at French Laundry, which I think is better. I have come to like Le Bernardin and appreciate that it does fish consistently very well... but it's not always the kind of food you think about days later. Per Se is in some ways overrated for the price, but it is, in the final evaluation (esp. if you don't consider the price), very good. The servers at Per Se are also less formal, which I prefer.

        Re: pairing v. bottle, it would be very hard to pick a bottle that will match all, or even many, of the courses. So unless you have enough people in your group to justify getting a new bottle every few courses, I'd go with the wine pairing. Both places have excellent sommeliers who do a great job with the pairings.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cimui

          This analysis strikes me as spot on -- well said cimui!

        2. BMW or a Bentley?

          all kidding aside those 2 restaurants don't belong in the same league. per se is better than LB in every category including seafood. if $ is not a big concern i'd go to per se EVERY time over any other french/american restaurant in ny.

          1. Per Se. No question. Le Bernardin was very, very good. But per se was one of the best meals of my life. Every course at per se is a winner - a memorable dish. Not the case at Le Bernardin.

            1. I don't think you can go wrong with either. The current incarnation of the Chef's Tasting Menu at Le Bernardin is outstanding, and Per Se is terrific as well.

              I take issue with halo's assertion that Per Se does seafood better than Le Bernardin though. Per Se can match Le Bernardin often, but I feel that Ripert's very best dishes (thinly pounded bluefin tuna with foie gras, black bass tartare, any ultra-rare scallop prep, sea urchin pasta with caviar) is a notch better than any seafood dish at either Per Se or French Laundry. Naturally, Per Se has a good deal more variety on their menu, but if you're looking for the best seafood NY has to offer, Le Bernardin is the clear choice.

              1. thank you all for such great and thought out responses. Per Se is looking like it may be my choice! one question on it though - any concerns at all with head Chef Jonathan Benno leaving or is he gone yet? obviously if he is still there i have no concerns whatsoever. (ok just looked around - he's still there and i think will be in Sept - not sure?) also Thievery - or anyone else for that matter - as far as wine pairing or not how did it end up being cheaper not doing the wine pairing at Per Se (275 alone for the food) vs. doing it at LB (325 w/ wine)? how many bottles did you go through Thievery- i will be with 4 people. also - sorry one last question - per se doesnt list the price of their wine pairings - how do they do it?

                4 Replies
                1. re: koko85

                  tip's included in the price at per se which at that price bracket is sizable. we opened with a bottle of champagne, then had a bottle of a german white and finally a sancerre. group of 5 and we stuck to the lower end of the price range, $140 - $180 (there are bottles at $80 as well). the total was $390 pp.

                  at le bernardin, thinking back, i think i added a digestif at the end which is likely why i topped $400 w. tip. regardless, you could still do per se by the glass sticking to the $20 - $30 range (all the wines i'm sure are great) and come in at the le bernardin price. wine pairing pours are smaller than a glass, and there were some misses since, well, some wines just aren't my thing regardless of how well they pair with a dish.

                  not sure how the wine pairing work / are priced at per se.

                  hope that helps! for what it's worth, i also went to jean-georges recently -- and again per se was by far better -- best high end place i've been to in town.

                  1. re: thievery

                    thanks again thievery! and too all!

                    1. re: thievery

                      another nice thing at per se is that they're happy to substitute items between menu's... no fuss no muss.

                    2. re: koko85

                      Per Se will tailor the wine pairings to your individual preferences. You can have a glass with every course, a glass with every several courses, or a few glasses and a bottle. And you can either do the pairings yourself or have the sommelier do them for you. The sommeliers are extremely flexible, nice and willing to work within a given price range -- and they REALLY know their game. The first time I went, I had a pairing with each course except dessert, which was a bit overly ambitious, considering that I'm a bit of a lightweight. The second time, I had a different pairing every two or three courses -- or about four glasses of wine in all, IIRC. The wine bill was something like $150 the first time (about three years ago) around and maybe $80ish the second time (last spring). There are a good number of interesting-looking bottles on the list for less than $100.

                    3. Well apparantly I HAVE to get to Per Se since I have not been. I can tell you that about a month ago I did the chef tasting with wine pairing at Le Bernardin and had an AMAZING meal. Everyone was great, service and food were top notch and when they knew it was for an occassion, they brought out and extra dessert on top of the 3 we were already having.

                      1. I'll cast the lone vote for Le Bernardin. I eat at Le Bernardin reasonably regularly, and should admit that I've only been to Per Se twice, once a year ago and once in May. I just don't love Per Se. The food feels to me sometimes like a caricature of what rich people eat -- not particularly creative presentations of expensive ingredients such as lobster, foie gras, caviar, kobe beef etc. The first time I ate there we had two courses that were too salty, and some other items that were just bland. The more delicious dishes seemed to be so b/c of a huge butter component (by the way, Per Se serves the most delicious butter I've ever eaten). The service was also shockingly clumsy for a restaurant of that calibre and price -- often intrusive and never personal. It seemed to be a succession of pretty young people -- where you would have expected career waitstaff. I also hate the room (feel the same way about Masa's room -- guess the Time Warner Center doesn't do it for me), which reminds me of Vegas's fine dining restaurants -- sterile, grand, and (views notwithstanding) completely un-New York in feel. For the price, I was expecting culinary fireworks, and while we saw actual fireworks over Central Park (more shades of Vegas :) ), the fireworks weren't there on the plate.

                        The second time I went there we had a private room, a menu and wines carefully thought out beforehand by a friend who is a regular there. That experience was much much better -- the service was much more continuous and personal, and a long parade of off-menu surprises added a decadent and less institutional feel. It also helped that I wasn't paying. Still though, no single dish made me go WOW.

                        At Le Bernardin on the other hand, I am often surprised and delighted by a flavor combination or cooking method that I haven't quite thought of before. There have been some misses along the way (memorably, a tomato napoleon for dessert that they graciously exchanged when we realized we weren't feeling as adventurous as we perhaps thought we were), but far more sucesses. The salt-baked red snapper is a particular favorite (must be ordered ahead of time). Recently ate a scallop in goat's butter that blew me away (surprisingly, which is what I like).

                        The old school service is not to me, snooty, but polished more what I want for that level of food (this is a matter of personal taste, I know) , and the somewhat tired room has a certain kind of midtown elegance of admittedly not entirely the modern era which probably counterintuitively pleases me. I had my first meal there in 1995 (when the restaurant was already nearly 10 years old) and while it's been redecorated, I like the feeling of history (its and mine) that I have when I go there.

                        I have had extraordinary wines at both Per Se and Le Bernardin. Whether you choose to go by the bottle or with a pairing at either place you will get thoughtful personalized advice that is sensitive to how much you want to spend. The wines were the highlight and best value of my first less good experience at Per Se.

                        Admittedly, I will almost always choose fish over meat when I can, and this may be part of my bias. Also, I think there is something of a price ceiling beyond which I tend to ask myself too much, was that worth it? Tasting menu + wine pairings is something around $220/pp at Le B; Per Se is $275 for food alone -- and we at least ended up ordering supplements, and then wine is at least another $150/pp or so. That's absolutely fine and wonderful, and I don't begrudge them it -- but (same thing at Masa and some places in Paris), I do have a different reaction to a meal when it starts creeping past $500/pp. But that's entirely personal and likely irrational.

                        Of course, you can't go wrong either way -- but Per Se's food to me has not been life changing, whereas Le Bernardin has for many years been food that I dream about when I'm not eating it.

                        1. Per Se in a landslide for me as well. Definitely go with the wine pairing, the bottles are very expensive at Per Se, and they do a great job with the wine pairings. Just tell them your budget (anywhere from 150-300 should be fantastic), your preferences in wine if you have them and go for it! On another note, Benno does not appear to be leaving anytime soon.

                          1. I would order off the half bottle list at per se. I don't know if Benno has left yet but the food we had in the lounge the other day was superb.

                            1. Thank You all - i appreciate all the info/suggestions and i will use all of it to make a wise choice! Thanks Again - Koko85

                              1. Per Se... no doubt. I have been to both more than once. Le Bernadin is not at the level of Per Se in food, decor, service.