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Le Bernardin: What should the meal strategy be?

My wife and I are going to Le Bernardin for the first time Friday night. We have a 5:45 reservation, although I was told that the table must be freed by 8:00 (not a fan of that type of approach, but will accept the terms…).

Any thoughts on prix fixe v. tasting menu (especially with a time constraint)? Hits or misses to be aware of?

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Le Bernardin
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

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  1. Le Bernardin is one of the few restaurants where the prix fixe is just as strong as the tasting menus, so I don't think you can go wrong with either choice. If you go the tasting menu route (and perhaps arrive early for your reservation), I'd get one of each. If you like wine, the pairings are exceptional and shouldn't be missed. Some great dishes from the prix fixe menu:

    ALMOST RAW
    TUNA layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna; foie gras, toasted baguette, shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil
    KUMAMOTO progressive tasting of kumamoto oyster "en gelée"; from light and refreshing to complex and spicy
    SEA URCHIN sea urchin roe on a bed of jalapeno - wasabi jam; seaweed salt; wakame - orange scented broth
    STRIPED BASS striped bass tartare, mint, ice plant salad; chilled lemon nage

    BARELY TOUCHED
    ESCOLAR grilled Hawaiian escolar; chilled young carrot, lime mousseline, miso sauce vierge
    SEA URCHIN sea urchin risotto; toasted nori; urchin, citrus emulsion
    LANGOUSTINE seared langoustine, mache, wild mushroom salad; white balsamic vinaigrette
    OCTOPUS charred octopus; fermented black bean - white peach sauce vierge; ink - miso vinaigrette; purple basil

    LIGHTLY COOKED
    SURF AND TURF escolar and seared Nebraska Wagyu beef; sea bean salad and eggplant fries; Mr. Kaufman's pesto and red wine sauce
    HALIBUT poached halibut; braised daikon, baby radish and turnips; sesame court bouillon
    LOBSTER baked lobster; pickled golden beet, fennel and citrus "a la nage"
    HIRAMASA seared yellowtail king fish; truffle risotto, spring vegetables, black truffle emulsion

    As for desserts, everything is scarily good. If you're interested, make sure to request Laiskonis' signature "Egg" pre-dessert.

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    Le Bernardin
    155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

    1. You will have time for the tasting menu. I had a 6:00 reservation and was out of there just in time without feeling rushed. Do ask for the egg though when ordering. I am kicking myself now for forgetting.

      1. Is it common for Le Bernardin to advise its diners that they have a limited amount of time at the table. I do remember them telling me about the timing limitation about 20 years ago, but don't recall being so advised in my last few times dining (although I haven't had dinner at Le Bernardin in a few years).

        8 Replies
        1. re: ellenost

          Probably only for the first seating of the night, which starts at 5:15 PM. That kind of policy is common in NYC.

          1. re: hcbk0702

            It's actually a very uncommon practice at the top tier restaurants (Jean-Georges, EMP, Bouley, Per Se) or any restaurant for that matter. I always dine between 6 - 7, and other than a distant recollection about Le Bernardin once (20 years ago, but not on more recent dinners) mentioning the timing restriction, I have never had a restaurant tell me that I need to be finished with dinner by a certain time. Has Le Bernardin reinstated the time limitation as a policy for their early guests?

            1. re: ellenost

              I've heard of time restrictions for the earliest tables at several restaurants, but I don't eat before 6 PM so it's never happened to me personally.

              1. re: ellenost

                I agree. I am quite unhappily surprised that a restaurant at the level of Le B would say such a thing to a patron.

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  When we last ate at Daniel, we had a 6 p.m. reservation on a Saturday evening. When we reserved, we were not told that we had to vacate the table by a certain time. However, many of the service faults we encountered were directly related to trying to get us to move things along more quickly so they could turn the table. For example, making it quite clear that they were not happy when we ordered the cheese cart. And bringing the tea before the dessert arrived when my husband specifically said he wanted it after dessert. (He, of course, sent it away.) To me, that kind of underhanded behavior is far worse than being told that you can only have the table for a specified period of time. At least if you know about the time constraints, you can make a decision as to whether or not you want to reserve.

                  That said, I think a "NY Times" 4-star/Michelin 3-star should not be limiting the time a person can have a table. The fact is, knowledgeable restaurant managers can pretty accurately gauge how long a meal will take depending on the size of the party, and that's what should be considered when mapping reservations.

                  http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

            2. re: ellenost

              I think they only do this for the first seating. I usually reserve for 8 pm and have never been given this sort of deadline.

              1. re: fm1963

                From a restaurant management point of view it makes complete sense. As a patron, though, I am not happy about having to be aware of the time and the pacing; that should not enter into a dining experience, particularly at that level and price point.

                That being said, I would rather them be up front about their expectations.

                1. re: StevieC

                  That's true, but the alternative would be having the people who arrive for their 8 PM reservation wait 30 minutes or (potentially much) longer for their table.

                  For example, that's not an issue in Michelin 3 stars in Paris, because the table is generally yours for the night, but then you can't balk at menu prices in excess of $500 per person (l'Arpège, l'Ambroisie etc.).