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The roller coaster that was Le Bernardin- A mini novel

OK, so here it goes. I’ve always had an appreciation for great food from the time I was a little kid. It was just engrained in me like many Italian kids, who have had the privilege of eating grandma’s wonderful cooking, then my mother’s great cooking. Gathering with the family every Sunday and feasting nonstop for 7 hours like it was Christmas every week. However, it was not until three years ago that my obsession for restaurants and passion for fine dining really began. As a young kid out of college I got my first real job, getting paid pretty decently enough to afford such expensive meals. And where? In New York, one of the best fine dining meccas in all the world. I bought my first Zagat, and the rest way history. The first thing I did of course was look at which restaurants got the highest food ratings. The list of usual suspects (who I had no clue about back then) appeared- Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Gotham Bar and Grill, etc, Garnering grades of 29,28,28,28 across the board. Right away these places went straight top the top my “list”.

I joke with a good friend of mine that over the past three years that “list” has grown so large that I keep an excel spreadsheet with all of them. The ironic and real funny thing is it isn’t a joke. It’s actually true. And three years ago is when Le Bernardin went onto the list. My family even teases me that I missed my real calling of being a food critic. How come I’ve waited so long to go? I don’t know honestly. It just never happened. When I started my list I was still somewhat of a novice in the food genre. My idea of a great meal revolved primarily around steakhouses (still among my favorite culinary destinations). As time went on, I have really grown fond of seafood of all kinds and have developed a real love for fish and crustaceans. I've had the privilege to dine in some really wonderful restaurants since the creation of that list. Le Bernardin was not one of them just because for whatever reason the time wasn’t right. So it just so happened that today, three years later the time was finally right. Everyone knows these dinners usually turn into 3+ plus hour events. Add in the fact that I have another 1 hour commute home and it turns into a very long day. But, on this night I was working in the area and Le Bernardin would be having me for dinner.

As I am making my way to what I hope to be “my next great culinary expedition” I always think to myself “How is this dinner going to plan out”? Will it be as good as I hope? Will it be a disappointment? Is it going to be a meal for the ages that I remember for the rest of my life? Or just another day of my life that has no particular special meaning at all? It is at this time that I start to get butterflies like a child who is running down the stairs on Christmas morning rushing to the tree to rip their gifts to shreds. And there I was at the entrance of LB. Finally, I’ve made it. Another place on the excel spreadsheet to cross off the list.

I will preface this by saying I have written many reviews about my culinary adventures on this board. Most of them extremely long and full of immense detail. This one is no different. Yet for better or worse, it is the longest review I have ever written to date.

I won't speak much about the ambience as I have a lot of material to cover. All I will say is that I agree with many that the atmosphere is outdated, passé, and in serious need of a major overhaul.

I arrived promptly for my reservation and was seated right away. Here is the first negative already right off the bat. A good 7-10 minutes into my experience, I have no come into contact with a human being. No water, no hello how are you, and certainly no menu. I was in by no means in a rush, however I thought this was noteworthy. I experienced the same kind of treatment at the Bar Room at the Modern almost 2 years ago and ripped them for it. So..sorry LB you get the same treatment. Finally, my waiter comes to the table and gets me acquainted with the way the menu works. Of course, doing my research and studiously reviewing the menu ahead of time like I always do, I knew the format. I had my mind made up already about the Le Bernardin Tasting. Much to my chagrin, the menu had unfortunately changed! Three courses had been swapped out from the menu shown online. I had asked my waiter when they changed the menu and he said… um, I think sometime last week. Last week? One week and you couldn’t take 30 minutes out of you day to update the menu? This was the second strike against LB. I find this to be another unwelcoming trend with numerous restaurants these days. They rarely update their menus when they change. To me it is inexplicable. It’s false advertising actually. You have a wait staff of at least 30-40 people and 3-4 managers running around like chickens with their heads cut off, however you cannot take a few minutes to change your online menu for those who actually are taking the time out of their life to read it? No excuse. Ok, I’m done fuming about that but needed to get it off my chest.

Luckily, the dishes that were removed from the tasting were still on the ala carte menu. Having told the waiter I had my heart set on some dishes on the online tasting menu, he assured me that I could substitute them for others if I wanted to. Fine, all was now forgiven. I proceeded to tell the waiter I wanted to swap the lobster carpaccio (online tasting) for the octopus as I am not a fan. No problem. The new third course was some kind of shrimp. I didn’t come to LB for shrimp. One of the courses that really caught my eye as soon as I came across it on the online menu and started my research was the poached turbot with truffle broth and squab jus. Everything in that description sounds amazing. Sign me up. So I asked to sub that. I received a look from the waiter as if he’d seen a ghost. He bit his lip as if he was holding back a fart and made a face like someone was stepping on his toe. He then said “Hmmm, I don't know..well I guess we COULD sub it”.. the shrimp is more like an appetizer and that’s a main course. So? Sub it god damn it. This is LB. I’ve been all over the city, other areas of the country. Some of the finest in Manhattan, New Orleans, and Dallas over the past 3 years. Never, have I been shunned on what I deem to be a reasonable request. I've also had the extreme pleasure of having some rather unreasonable requests granted, which this was not. Restaurants bending over backwards to accommodate. The customer is always right, within reason of course. He did oblige after resisting at first but still I felt uncomfortable and annoyed by his remark and initial hesitation. I left the next 2 courses alone for fear that he would start having convulsions if I decided to ask for more subs. The next 2 were monkfish and crispy black bass (one of the fish on the online menu that I planned on keeping). Fine. Still, the one dish I HAD to have was the Hiramasa. So this was added as my final savory. In lieu of the tasting desserts, I also chose to order them ala carte.

I’ve heard the stories of the “cold” service at LB. Waiters having no personality, rather robotic creatures merely acting the part for that Zagat rating. As the meal unfolded I saw this first hand, up close and personal. I don't need or like when people are falling over you or kissing your rear end for 3 hours. But a little genuine personality or a smile wouldn't kill you. Act like it isn't an effort for you to be a normal human being instead of a rehearsed and rigid pretentious fool.

After the order was squared away, out came the bread. Five different varieties- Potato flavored parker house rolls, raisin bread, w7 grain, whole wheat, sourdough, and olive baguette. Very nice assortment. I opted for Parker house (I love brioche), raisin bread, and olive. I must say they were all extremely good, and the Parker house was especially outstanding. I appreciate when a restaurant has great bread; however I try as hard as I can to not eat too much because I'd rather save the stomach space for the real food. But I couldn't help slathering them with liberal amounts of salted butter and demolishing the whole Parker House roll and my raisin bread. In fact, the bread guy must have come back to my table 4-5 times throughout the meal which was nice. In this manner, the service throughout the meal was flawless when it came to refilling water, clearing plates, cleaning the table, etc. It is more like service by committee as you will no doubt encounter 7-8 different people waiting on you during your meal. However, as you will see later there were other issues regarding shoddy service. Onto the real food now.

So here is my in depth opinion of each dish::

1st course- TUNA-Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Toasted Baguette; Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil- This is highly regarded as on of LB signature dishes. No question, there is a lot of skill and beauty involved in the plating and preparation of this dish. How they pound the tuna that thin must be very time consuming. As for the taste? It really didn't blow me away. I found it… serviceable. The tuna tasted very fresh; however I didn't think the foie gras or baguette really added anything to the overall taste. I found myself enjoying the tuna on its own and detaching it from the foie and baguette. For a signature dish I was honestly not impressed.

2nd course- LOBSTER- Warm Lobster Carpaccio; Hearts of Palm, Orange Vinaigrette (supplement for the Octopus from the Chef's tasting) - This was originally the third course on the online tasting menu (which is outdated as I pointed out earlier). I was planning on doing the bay scallops here as my second but they were also removed. So I subbed this as my second course. This course fared much much better than the tuna. The lobster was exquisite and the orange vinaigrette was delicious. Buttery, yet balance from the acid of the orange and vinegar. The lobster was perfectly cooked and sliced thin, but had thick enough to have enough toothsome bite to it. The heart of palm provided a very nice crunch and textural contrast. Maybe it is because I love lobster so much? But I do have to give them credit here. Overall, I really loved this dish and it was a nice light plate to have as an introductory course in the tasting. High marks here.

3rd course- Turbot- Poached Turbot; Wild Mushroom – Black Truffle Custard,

Spiced Squab Jus (supplement for the shrimp plate currently on the tasting)- This was one of the courses I decided beforehand was a must try for me. What doesn't sound outrageously delicious in that dish? Turbot is a fish I've loved the few times I've eaten it. The waiter described the texture and flavor to that of Dover sole. Black truffle custard? Spiced Squad jus? Yes and yes sign me up for that! This was the dish that my snotty, arrogant waiter had given me a face when asked if I could supplement it. Maybe that was an omen for things to come? Because when I tell you this dish was an abomination of epic proportions I am putting it lightly. This is when things really started taking a turn for the worst. After thoroughly enjoying the lobster in my previous course and really being excited for this one, I felt as if I was at the top of a cliff and had just been pushed off, and crashed into the ground. As the plate was presently in front of me, I immediately knew it would be a disappointment due to the portion size, however little did I know I would be even more let down by the taste. First off, the piece of turbot was about the size of a Lego- and no this is not an exaggeration for literary purposes. I understand it is a "tasting" but I don't want a thimble full piece of fish. For a third course, the portion size was totally unacceptable. If I say it was an ounce of fish, I may be lying. Just like the dish before (and every subsequent dish thereafter), the waiting bows, artfully explains every ingredient in detail and pours over the "sauce" in whimsical fashion. Along side comes the black truffle custard, which the waiter says "the chef recommends you take a bit of this between bites to cleanse the palate". Really? To cleanse the palate? Um, yes I agree! Because after tasting the turbot I definitely needed something to rid the off-putting aftertaste from my mouth. The squab jus looked like dirty bath water and unfortunately the taste of it wasn't much better. Think broth made from chicken bouillon cube. Yes, that is what it tasted like. Chicken bouillon cube broth. I don't know what squab was implemented here, but I didn't taste anything remotely resembling the delicious little bird. On first bite of this miniscule portion, the only flavor I got was… salty nasty broth. The fish was seriously overcooked (probably due to its size), under seasoned, just plain bland. I for one am not a big complainer when it comes to food. As a matter of fact I’ve never had to send a plate back at a restaurant of this caliber. I'm usually somewhat easy to please, especially when it comes to fish. It doesn't have to be that complicated. I understand that LB wants the fish, not the sauce to be the star. They do not want to overpower them with sauces. But that doesn’t mean they could not create a sauce to enhance the flavor and create a plate of perfect harmony. At LB I was expecting a little something special. Something with pop? Something exotic? Something I couldn't get anywhere else? Or at the rate we were going how about something that was just decent? This was just plain awful. I decided to take another little bite because hey maybe it would be better upon the next taste. Nope. Same thing. The black truffle custard "meant to cleanse the palate" was the only good thing about this. After two bites, I was left with a tiny triangle of bland, unseasoned turbot. For this I just doused it with the black truffle custard because I needed something to help me get it down. Three little bites and the fish was gone. At this point I contemplated whether to say anything to the waiter. Should I complain? After all this was probably one of the biggest letdowns I had experienced to date in a restaurant of this quality. How could a dish that I was so looking forward to fall flat on its face? Alas, looking down at an empty plate I found it wrong to say anything about the horridness of this dish. So… I let it slip. After all I had many more courses coming and they had time to try to win me over. But I was almost an hour and half into my tasting and very underwhelmed. Just as a side note it certainly wasn’t La Grenouille’s Dover sole. Recently, I had a wonderful Turbot at Gotham Bar and Grill’s tasting. A week earlier, Ai Fiori’s Dover sole put this rendition to shame. None of these places hang their hat on seafood as their namesake. Was this Le Bernardin? More like Le Disappointment or for my French friends Le Decepcion.

4th course- MONKFISH- Roasted monkfish, sweet pea, garlic something jus (new addition to the tasting menu. Not printed on site so I am not even sure if the description is 100 percent correct). Here is another fish I enjoy. The texture and taste has been labeled as "poor man's lobster. Therefore, I was actually receptive to this dish being on the new tasting menu and didn't mind leaving it. After the last dish, I admit my heart had sunken deep into my stomach and I was feeling very disheartened. So, next up the monkfish. Again, another portion for an elf. Better than the monkfish, but still tiny. At this point I felt the fear really creeping into my head. Then gathered myself and shoved the first forkful into my mouth. And that's when it happened…. De ja vu all over again. The fish was cooked fine but again there was no seasoning! Had someone stolen the salt and pepper shaker from the chef? Was somebody playing a prank on me? The sauce again was just a watery brothy mess. Completely flavorless, unimaginative garbage. Where was the robust flavor that I was expecting in the great Chef Ripert's "seafood palace"? Unfortunately, it was non existent. There seemed to be a familiar theme here… tasteless. At this point, I found it warranted to say something to the waiter. I had contemplated it the plate before but held back. But fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me! I called the waiter over to explain the last two disasters that were placed before me. He asked.. "What's wrong"? My response was to be honest, the last dish was an abomination and this dish is also just plain bad. Waiter: In what way? What were you expecting? Me: The "sauces" were basically just water, the fish was bland. In a word tasteless. He gave me a look like I had personally offended him, like he was annoyed. If he was annoyed how should I feel? I was the one shelling out my hard earned money on seriously sub-par food. I could have eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at home and been more satisfied. I have had better fish dishes at chain restaurants like Bonefish Grill, and McCormick and Schmick's (which by the way updates the menu DAILY). Oh and the service at those places doesn't make you feel like you are the one in violation when reporting the food is poor. After all of that, the maître came over and offered me something else. I had originally considered ordering the halibut instead of the turbot (God only knows I wish I did). Halibut is one of my favorite fish, so I asked to try that. He left, came back two seconds later and said "The chef says that if you didn't like the previous two dishes you won't like the Halibut either". Speechless, struggling to think of what to say, all I could do was stutter…. And then the waiter said the chef suggests the Red Snapper. I just nodded and he walked away. Really? The chef didn’t have enough confidence that he could turn out a good enough Halibut? That lack of confidence said a lot to me. Now 2 hours into the tasting and with a 1 hour commute home ahead of me all this would do is make the night longer for me. Hopefully, it wouldn't mean prolonged anguish.

Now I really want to make it clear that I for one am not a huge complainer when it comes to food. Generally, I'm fairly easy to please. And for anyone who has read my previous reviews will see that 95 percent of them are raves rather than negative reviews. And I can understand that not everyone is perfect. We're all human, we make mistakes, shit happens- even at Le Bernardin. Everything isn't always going to be the best thing I ever ate. But this was just ridiculous.

No apology. No "We're sorry how can we make it up to you"? Were they too full of themselves to admit that they possibly made a mistake? Or was it impossible that LB could send out a bad dish..let alone 2 right after one another. I don't need a place to kiss my butt, but an apology would have at least gone a long way in making me feel better. Maybe they just didn't care. Eh, why should they apologize to me? I was just some stupid young kid whose opinion didn't matter. The place was jam packed on a Monday night, which I sure it always it. Celebrities flock here regularly. Steve Martin and Regis Philbin happened to walk right by me to their private room in the back. If they lost me as a customer, what did they care? That was the impression I got from them.

Side note- Then the next travesty proceeded to unfold here. As if I wasn't mad enough, I could see the maître clearly go over to my waiter and start whispering into his ear. Sweet nothings you ask? Highly unlikely. I couldn't make out exactly what he said but I'm 100 percent sure it was regarding yours truly. I definitely heard the words "complain" and "tasteless" and could read his lips as well. Add on the fact that I could see him looking at me out of the corner of his eye to see if I was monitoring him and my suspicions were confirmed. Go ahead LB- dig your grave a little deeper. Excuse my language but- not only did the food suck at this point but now the service was approaching shitty as well. At this time, I felt so upset and so alone that I couldn't share my rage with anyone that I ended up emailing a good friend of mine to tell her that so far my meal at LB was very disappointing. But it wasn't just failing to meet my expectations. At this point it was laughable. Well, not in a funny haha kinda way. Laughable in the joke's on me kinda way. The last two dishes were just plain awful with a capital A. I was trying to think of an adjective to describe the way I was feeling but was at a loss for words. It was a collapse of epic proportions. I was in total disbelief and feared that there LB had dug itself in too deep a hole to salvage the rest of the meal to get itself into my good graces. And to top it all off the waiter's snotty attitude and the chef's comment about the halibut was the topping on the sundae. Half way through my tasting and the only thing filling me up was the parker house rolls and raisin bread. Great, I'm coming to one of the premier seafood restaurants in America, some say the world, and the thing that I am filling up on is… bread?? Ugh. Just thinking about this was making me furious, and trying to keep my composure was very difficult.

Le Bernardin? No. Le Decepcion? No. Now it was Le Debacle (which I find most fitting since this word has French origins). Just an utter embarrassment. It was like going to Ferrari dealership and they sell you a Ford.

5th course- RED SNAPPER- Bread Crusted Red Snapper, Saffron Fideos Sweet Paprika Sauce (replacement to my Monkfish debacle)- This was another dish that had immense appeal to me when scanning the menu options. I love red snapper and I love fish with a crispy skin .. or at least a crispy aspect to it which this had. When this dish came out, the portion size was much larger than the previous two dishes. More like an entrée size actually. I suspect this was because they were trying to make up for the lackluster performance up to this point. Immediately, I could smell the aroma of the smoked paprika sauce and knew this dish would at least have some kind of flavor. The snapper was delicious. The bread crust really delivered a serious crunch and the flesh of the red snapper had enough meatiness but was fork-tender as I cut through it. It seems the chef somehow found the salt, pepper, and maybe even the butter to baste the fish because this was seasoned very nicely. What a novel idea! The smoked paprika sauce delivered the goods. It was smoky, spicy, and had a hint of pork flavor. This was the punch I was looking for. Finally, something somewhat impressive. The saffron fideos were like little spaghetti, a very tasty garnish to complete the fish. I was delighted that LB was able to rebound here and the kitchen delivered a really good dish. Too bad for them I didn't select this instead of the Turbot originally because maybe then my overall experience wouldn't have been so jaded.

After the snapper, the maître returned to ask how the make up course was. I told him that it was great and these were the flavor profiles I was expecting from LB. He smiled and then asked me a question that I've been getting more and more lately. And to be honest it annoys the crap out of me. "Are you in the "business"? Having heard this on my last three visits when I dined solo, I merely said "No, just a fan of fine dining". His reply was "excellent". Yes, that's right excellent, unlike the overall experience to this point. Why did he ask me that? Why was it relevant? Would I have received better food if I was in the "business"? Maybe he wouldn't have blatantly talked about me to one of the other servers after I finally spoke up. I guess it was just impossible for him to fathom that I was just a food enthusiast looking to indulge and enjoy what has been touted as one of Michelin's best. No need to fear for I wasn't some young up and coming undercover food critic about to write the ultimate expose detailing the chinks in the armor of the great Le Bernardin. And no I wasn't Steve Martin or Regis Philbin or Paul from Letterman. But that didn't mean I wasn't going to still get the word out through Chowhound.

6th course- KING FISH- Seared Yellowtail King Fish; Truffle Risotto, Baby Vegetables, Black Truffle- Like I stated earlier this was THE DISH I have had my eye on from the start. There was no way I was leaving without trying this. Again, the description contained all ingredients that I love. But after the bad turbot I was wary since that dish had also had black truffle in it and turned out to be nowhere to be found. Finally coming off a very good dish in what at this point was a total lackluster experience, came the kingfish. Again, I was overwhelmed with a wonderful scent from the sauce in this dish as the waiter meticulously poured it around my plate. It smelled so intoxicating, I told the waiter to leave the boat of sauce on the table in the event I wanted more. He obliged. What can I say about this dish? Simply fantastic! Now this is what I was expecting out of Le Bernardin. THIS was an incredible plate of food. The only negative thing I can say is that it wasn't four times larger. I wish I could have erased the bad turbot and monkfish and had this supplemented two more times. That's how great it was. Dare I say maybe, quite possibly the best fish dish I have encountered. I had never had Hiramasa before, and it was succulent. Cooked similarly to tuna, perfectly medium rare and pink on the inside. Again, it seemed as if the chef found his seasonings and of course my favorite ingredient BUTTAH. I think this fish is naturally buttery, however there was definitely some added help here. The other star of the dish was the sauce. It was the epitome of French cuisine in every way. Butter, cream, truffles- unfreakinbelievable. I found myself going back for more and more out of the sauce boat I ordered my waiter to leave on the table. After I finished the plate, I took some bread to sop up every last bit. And then when all of the sauce was gone from my plate, I found myself spooning whatever was left from the boat and just slurping it like soup. Amazing. The truffle risotto was really incredible as well and the perfect accompaniment. Overall, this was undoubtedly the best dish at LB and one of the best fish plates I have ever eaten in my life. I bashed them big time, so I find it only fair to give them due praise when they deserve it. Ahhhh- somewhat of a reprieve at last…somewhat.

At this point, I was more confused than ever. How could 2 dishes be so unbelievably flavorless? Two sauces be so watery and off-putting? And then the kitchen turns out a delicious Snapper and an unbelievable Hiramasa with delectable seasoning and impeccable saucing. This was the ultimate case of Jekyll and Hyde. It goes without saying that the inconsistency was rather noteworthy. The kitchen just seemed to have it backwards. They were paring the more delicate tasting fish with “milder” sauces, while the meatier more robust fish were receiving these ultra rich sauces. You’d think it’d be the other way around. Very very unusual.

7th course-BLACK BASS- Crispy Black Bass; Lup Cheong and Beansprout “Risotto”

Mini Steamed Buns, Hoisin-Plum- Another classic LB dish, or so I've read. At this point my review is becoming another one of my mini epics so I will spare the details. All I will say is this was another very good dish. The crispy skin was textbook; the fish was buttery, juicy, and delicious. To be honest, the sauce wasn't my cup of tea in this one- basically tasted like something you could get at your local Chinese restaurant. The little dumpling that came with it was just there to take up space on the plate. But the main star, the fish, shined through appropriately.

How about now? We went from Le Disappointment to Le Debacle. Is it now finally Le Bernardin? I can't for the life of me say that but at least it was getting closer to what I expected.

So at this point my savories were done. What a mixed bag it was. My advice? Steer clear of any fish that says "Poached" and any sauce that says"Jus" or sounds like it is broth based. These are just camouflage and code word for bland and tasteless. Stick with the French style dishes. Butter, cream, thick sauces. I only tried one Spanish influenced one (Snapper) and that was a success as well. It turned out to be 7 courses in total. 1 so-so (Tuna), 2 morbidly embarrassing (Turbot and Monkfish), 3 delicious (Lobster Carpaccio, Snapper and Black Bass), and 1 that was darn near perfection as far as I am concerned (Hiramasa). Even though the final 3 dishes of the tasting at least gave me a little sense of why LB has gotten the raves for over a decade, I still will never ever ever get over the disappointment of the dishes early on. LB definitely has some weaknesses and the chinks in their armor were definitely present, visible, and were exposed.

Onto the desserts. I had requested the Egg when I made the reservation, and they delivered it to me as my pre-dessert. I had also requested when I initially ordered that I would like to supplement the tasting desserts for desserts on the ala carte menu. I was set on getting the Tres Leches, however … you guessed it gone from the revamped menu. Bummer. So here is how it all turned out.

Pre- dessert- Egg- Wonderful little bite. I definitely think they should consider tripling the size and making it a mainstay on their dessert menu.

1st dessert- BLACK SESAME-CHERRY Black Sesame Panna Cotta and Pain de Genes, Sour Cherry Sphere, Shiso, Mandarin Sorbet ( supplement from tasting dessert)- A new creation from the pastry chef. I was feeling adventurous so I decided to try it. No complaints here. I was worried about the black sesame because I am more of a sweet, rather than savory dessert person (I joke my sweet tooth is the size of the Grand Canyon). But it was sweet enough, and the sour cherry spheres and sorbet were very refreshing.

2nd dessert- Coffee- Spiced Coffee Cream, Dark Chocolate Sponge, Whipped Mascarpone, Coffee Ice Cream (comped dessert for all my trouble so far)- Another very tasty dessert. This was the richer of the too obviously as you look at the ingredients. They described it as a deconstructed Tiramisu, however I wouldn't quite agree as there was no alcohol involved here. The dessert contained coffee mouse sandwiched between chocolate sponge, complimented with some great coffee ice cream. Mocha flavors were ever present, so I'd say more like a Mocha chino than a Tiramisu. Very good sweet treat to end off the meal. Overall, I liked the desserts and can't complain. Nothing revolutionary, but I enjoyed them and they served their purpose as a sweet treat.

So that was it. The tasting was complete. It was a very very weird experience honestly. It was a total crapshoot. Had I forgone the tasting and did a la carte and selected the really noteworthy dishes, then maybe this whole review would have been different. Maybe I'd be singing their praises and hawking LB as another favorite. But I did the tasting to get a taste of as many dishes as possible because how often do you go to LB? I wanted to give the kitchen a chance to wow me as many different flavors, textures, and techniques to as possible. Let them bowl me over with their full array. Hit me with their best shot. Unfortunately, they ultimately fell short because they didn’t nail every dish.

The tasting after awhile seemed to just keep dragging and amounted to be a 3 and a half hour ordeal. Filled with both lows and some incredible high points, this meal, this whole night was a total roller coaster. Up, down, up down. Some points I felt disgusted and nauseous, other times I felt elation from that pleasure rush. Hills and valleys. Twists and turns. Much like a roller coaster. At the end of it I felt almost exhausted. Like I had just run a marathon, and then someone beat me up repeatedly. It was just a big blur. I don't think the strong ending made up for the other weaknesses in both food and service throughout. The lack of an apology and their poor attitude also didn't help their cause. Well, they did comp me a dessert. Wow, thanks! They lost $8 on me, but I'm sure the thousands of dollars that Steve Martin and Regis Philbin were throwing down in the private room more than made up for it.

I think I have gone into enough detail already about the food. I have briefly touched upon the service throughout this mini novel. And here is a bit more.

For sure, LB showed glimpses of why it gets so much clout. But I have eaten in some of the finest restaurants in NYC and in other parts of the country with similar accolades. And I did not have the same unexplainable inconsistency from one dish to another and certainly not the inexcusable snotty and rude service snafus. I'd bet my life that Chef Ripert was not in the kitchen last night. Well I hope he wasn't anyway, because there is no way he should have allowed those two horrible dishes to exit his kitchen doors. And if he was in the kitchen then shame on him. I don't think LB believes in the idiom "the customer is always right". Because apparently when I finally felt the need to voice my disdain for what was happening here, they tried to pawn it off on me as it was my fault. As if I was bothering them. And when I spend $200, I don't want to be treated that way. Heck, I don't want to be treated that way when I go through the drive-thru at McDonald's. Leaving LB, I cannot say that it was money well spent. I felt ripped off honestly. This meal was certainly not worth the price tag. I had been to Tocqueville weeks earlier and spent nearly half more a tasting menu that totally blew this one out of the water. Was I glad I went after all of that? Yeah…I’m glad I went. I tried it. I can say “I’ve been”. But I instead of it being remembered for the good things, unfortunately my run in with LB will forever be tarnished because of the bad.

As I was making my 1 hour commute on the way home I was seriously weighing whether or not to write such a long review. Did I want to waste my time and effort doing this? Usually, I do not mind doing so for a review that is a complete success. For those who have read some of my other reviews, I'd say 99 percent of them are positive. I do not like posting negative ones. But here I felt like my voice had to be heard. I just couldn’t stay silent with this one. And when I started typing, as usual my fingers and brain just started to take over resulting in the longest review of a restaurant I have ever written.

So I'll try to think of a clever way to end this. Keep it short and simple for a change. There were periods where this fine dining behemoth was Le Disappointment, then Le Debacle, then showed glimpses of what Le Bernardin could be. I guess the best way to describe it all was organized chaos. Or maybe Le Montagnes Russes. If you don’t speak French, look like up like I did.

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

Gotham Bar and Grill
12 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003

La Grenouille
3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

Ai Fiori
400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

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  1. Sounds similar in some ways to my one and only visit.

    I ate at the bar, and they required a jacket at the bar which I wasn't expecting. I found the service to be snooty. I ordered the tasting menu with the kobe beef supplement and thought the meal was up and down also. I immediately felt afterward that I should have ordered a la carte.

    It was so uneventful (not spectacular, but not spectacularly bad) that I didn't even write a post on my blog back then.

    1. Great review Steak! Read it during my so far (I'm half way through) exquisite dinner at Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas. I'm one of the people who has never "gotten" Le Bernardin. Your review reminds me why. I've read most of your reviews on this board, and you are always so positive in your reviews. I have no doubt that this was a true "roller coaster ride" for you. It's a shame that it didn't live up to all of other favorable reviews about the restaurant on this board. Guess I won't be rushing back any time soon.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ellenost

        Thanks a lot Ellen! You are correct and I hope that I stressed I am usually extremely positive in my reviews. They are usually glowing reviews, actually almost always. And I have ever gotten heat from others on the board because they always are so good.

        I don't like wasting my time writing bad things. But I just felt like I had to give my fair opinion of the overall experience at Le Bernardin. And I don't regret anything I said. I gave them a fair assessment. I pounded them for their shortcomings but I also praised them for turning out some great dishes as well. If I hadn't said anything I would have felt like someone who witnessed a crime but just kept it to themselves.

        All that aside- Ai Fiori was wonderful. I think it is definitely one of the top Italian in the city. A great new Chef Michael White addition after losing Convivio and Alto. He continues to impress me. Between RGR, M, and uhockey we sampled probably 12-14 different dishes including dessert. Three of us got the tasting and one the ala carte and we each added a course. So technically, we constructed our own menus. Was this a problem for them? Not at all. As I said that night "there wasn't a weak dish to be had". Everything was seriously delicious.

        I don't think I will write a formal review on it, but you get the gist. I really loved it.

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

        Ai Fiori
        400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

        1. re: steakrules85

          Ai Fiori's service was mediocre at best, and that is considering two members in our group knew one of the persons in the house quite well. The food was quite good, however. I'd still peg it below Scarpetta, Babbo, and Alto however - though the setting is better.

          The whole Michael White empire NEEDS to attend a service class. It isn't intentionally offputting like the Momo-universe, but even compared to the "lesser" Daniel spots (Not Daniel), "lesser" Meyer spots (Not EMP), and places like Aldea, Rouge Tomate, Lincoln (just to name recent ones) it is far below par.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          -----
          Babbo
          110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

          Scarpetta
          355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

          Rouge Tomate
          10 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10022

          Aldea
          31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

          Ai Fiori
          400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

          1. re: uhockey

            I didn't think the service was mediocre. Sure, it wasn't flawless but I thought it was fine. They had a couple of hiccups, sure. They tried clearing my plate before I was fully done with the lamb chops and I know they disappeared for a good 15 minutes at the end when you were looking for more coffee. But at least they were friendly and accomodating with our menu selections. They weren't stiff at all. It seemed like they would cater to any request that the diner had.

            As for comparing the service at Ai Fiori with some of those lesser spots, I'd have to disagree. The service I received at the Bar Room at the Modern left a lot to be desired. However, I know you really loved it. I guess a lot has to do with personal experience also. It's tough to generalize service at a place when you have only gone once, but obviously that's all we have to go by.

            I will say the bread guy came over about 10 times. Probably more than any restaurant I have ever been in.

            -----
            Ai Fiori
            400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

            1. re: steakrules85

              I agree with the service at Bar Room. Your phrase describes it perfectly - "left a lot to be desired". It's not awful service, but certainly not exemplary.

              1. re: j.jessica.lee

                Hi jjl! :)

                Well, then, I guess we've been lucky the two times we've eaten in the Bar Room because both times, we received stellar service.

                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                1. re: RGR

                  I've eaten at the Bar Room at least two dozen times and have found the service a little inconsistent. They've been good at things like showing up unobtrusively to fold your napkin when you go to the bathroom or to refill you water glass, but not always prompt with getting you a menu or the bill.

                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                    Agreed. My exact experience also.

        2. re: ellenost

          With you Ellenost, found seasoning too light, almost non-existant, on too many dishes. Went with foodies on three occasions, two lunches and one dinner. While l do not say anything bad about the restaurant, l suspect they do not have my 'mouth' as it did not work for any of the people any of the times l went. Feel Fooder's comment of uneventful describes my experiences perfectly. Thanks Steakrules85 for another excellent review. No comments on the changes one way or the other, not my issue, but seems they tried to accommodate you, but it was the food you had issue with more than the service.

        3. Highly entertaining. My favorite parts:

          >> "He then said “Hmmm, I don't know..well I guess we COULD sub it”.. the shrimp is more like an appetizer and that’s a main course. So? Sub it god damn it."
          Y'know, replacing a small starter course with one of the most expensive main courses (which isn't suited for appetizer-sized portions anyway) could be an issue. It completely messes up the tasting progression as well.

          >> "So? Sub it god damn it."
          Sorry, just for emphasis.

          >> "Act like it isn't an effort for you to be a normal human being instead of a rehearsed and rigid pretentious fool."
          You might be projecting there a bit.

          >> "For this I just doused it with the black truffle custard because I needed something to help me get it down."
          That's how the French do it nowadays. Pierre Gagnaire especially likes it when you dump components from eight separate plates into one pile.

          >> "Really? The chef didn’t have enough confidence that he could turn out a good enough Halibut? That lack of confidence said a lot to me."
          I'm pretty sure that wasn't it.

          >> "They were paring the more delicate tasting fish with “milder” sauces, while the meatier more robust fish were receiving these ultra rich sauces. You’d think it’d be the other way around. Very very unusual."
          I see. (PS: You wouldn't have liked Le Bernardin's halibut).

          >> "Stick with the French style dishes. Butter, cream, thick sauces."
          Been to France lately?

          PROTIP: On a set tasting menu of seven courses, asking for six substitutions/additions will confuse your waiter.

          15 Replies
          1. re: hcbk0702

            I did not substitue 6 or 7 courses. I substituted 2 courses. And if their online menu was accurate it would have only been 1 course. And it isn't like I was requesting for them to make me custom dishes. Both of these dishes were printed on the ala carte menu, and I am sure the chef has made them thousands of times. So, if by substituting two courses resulted in subpar food then shame on the kitchen. Perhaps the chef did not give his best effort because he was ticked off that I asked for subsitutions? Of course I am being sarcastic, but that if the way it seemed. And it was not my waiter that was confused... they didn't bring out the incorrect plates of food. It was that the kitchen underperformed on these two dishes.

            The reason why I study an online menu before going to a place is to avoid all this nonsense beforehand. Have my decisions ready.

            Still, I cannot for the life of me give them a free pass for turning out 2 consecutive bad dishes because I made a few substituions. I have done this at other restaurants and there was no problem. It was seamless.

            1. re: steakrules85

              You substituted the octopus app for the lobster app, which I advised against doing in another thread, but is easy enough for the kitchen. You substituted a shrimp app for a turbot main, which is unreasonable given the restaurant's cost structure and the menu progression. You supplemented another main course, asked for an additional pre-dessert, and changed BOTH of the tasting menu desserts. Not even including the red snapper recommendation from the maître d, that's six things you wanted altered on a set tasting menu of seven courses..."all this nonsense" is just right.

              Order from the prix fixe if you want to choose everything.

              1. re: hcbk0702

                I completely agree. The fact that they were willling to allow you to do all that and still call it the tasting menu and price it accordingly is a testament to the professionalism and consideration to the customer.

                And your somehow faulting the restaurant for offering a menu that differed slightly from what was on the internet is really not to blame for your experience.

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  i agree

                  1. re: gutsofsteel

                    Plus three or is that four?

                  2. re: hcbk0702

                    Ah yes. I forgot that LB's equivalent of "a la carte" is their prix fixe as structured.

                    1. re: hcbk0702

                      I'm glad that I substitued the lobster for the octopus. It turned out to be one of the better courses I had.

                      Regardless of whether I subsituted the Turbot course is place of an appetizer. Why should that result in an extremely sub-par dish?

                      The snapper course was not originally chosen. It was a "make-up" course for the poor monkfish dish. Therefore, this was not a substitution.

                      The hiramasa was an addition, not a substitution. And the waiter had encouraged me to add a course to the tasting if I wanted to, which I did.

                      What was wrong with asking for the egg? Seems like this is a common practice and this request was made days in advance.

                      The pastry chef and the kitchen are two different entities. I do not think they coincide with each other.

                      I wanted to do the tasting to try as much as possible. At $140, I had the opportunity to try 6-7 different courses. Prix fixe is $115 for three. If I wound up adding 3 more courses ala carte the bill would have been astronomical.

                      I knew writing this review there would be discension among the board. Some would view me as difficult. Some would shoot down everything I said. There are many people on this board who are huge fans of Le Bernardin. All of that is understandable. To each his own. That's fine. I stick to my guns.

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

                      1. re: steakrules85

                        "I wanted to do the tasting to try as much as possible. At $140, I had the opportunity to try 6-7 different courses. Prix fixe is $115 for three. If I wound up adding 3 more courses ala carte the bill would have been astronomical."

                        The reasoning behind tasting menus is that they can provide you with tastes for a certain price. Perhaps one of the reasons the dishes you wanted would have been astronomical is that they would have cost the restaurant a lot more and that is why they were not on the tasting menu. Too expect to be able to substitute at will is a bit presumptuous. There is a reason foie gras supplements on most tasting menus require an additional chrage.

                        Regarding the Turbot specifically. From reading Anthony Bourdain's book Medium raw it looks like their fish prep guy Justin cuts each fish into specific cuts based on what the restaurant is to be serving that day. So for example if the turbot was to be featured in the tasting menu it might be a filet that weighed 5 oz. If it was to be in the prix fixe it might weight 8 oz (these are just numbers as an example). the fish is butchered well before the dinner service. So since the turbot was on the prix fixe menu the day you went they would have 8 oz filets available. In order to accomodate your request, they would need to cut the 8oz filet down and basically lose 3 oz of fish to scraps as it could not be used in another dish. Alternatively they could have given you the full 8oz and charged you a supplemental fee. It seems to me they went out of their way to acquiesce to your demand.

                      2. re: hcbk0702

                        The point of a tasting menu is to immerse yourself in the Chef's stream of consciousness. I understand asking for a sub if something entirely doesn't fit your palate (I don't want a beef based main 95% of the time, I prefer other meats) or if you have an allergy. This many augmentations clearly argues against that concept.

                        I've eaten with steakrules and didn't find him to be the "diner from hell" - I actually thought he was too easily pleased in many cases - but Le Bernardin really did seem to go out of their way in this instance and regardless of the reason, something didn't line up between diner and restaurant that evening (I'd say it was more on the diner in this case, but I wasn't there to see the exchanges)

                        In the end I imagine Steakrules will never go back to Le Bernardin and at the same time his commentary won't hurt them at all.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

                        1. re: uhockey

                          Uhockey of course you are entitled to your opinion.

                          As for my commentary not hurting them, I agree that my review will do nothing to hurt their credibility. People will still flock there. My objective was never to detract business from them. It was merely just my account of my experience there.

                          Like I said, some of it was bad. Some of it was great. It was a meal that touched completely opposite sides of the spectrum.

                          As for whether or not I will go back? I'm all for second chances. However, with so many other great restaurants in NYC I probably not for a number of years.

                          1. re: uhockey

                            Let me echo uhockey's comment that steakrules is definitely not one of those diners who likes to give restaurant service staffs a hard time.

                            I can very much sympathize with his disappointments because my first experience at Le Bernardin didn't leave me itching to go back. That was many years ago, so some of my less than enthusiastic feelings about the food were probably due to my own shortcomings with regard to that style. However, over time, my experiences and knowledge of cuisines grew, so that when I finally agreed to go back 10+ years later, I was more able to appreciate the subtleties of Ripert's style and, therefore, enjoyed the food much more.

                            However, with regard to the other two areas that turned me off the first time, service and ambiance, my opinion wasn't changed by our second experience. While I don't need to be fawned over, I do like at least a small degree of warmth from a restaurant's personnel. Unfortunately, the demeanor of Le Bernardin's service staff remains too remote for my taste. And the people at the reception desk are downright cold and unwelcoming. As for the decor, one can hope that when they refurbish, it will no longer feel as though one is dining in an office building lobby.

                            It seems obvious to me that when it comes to fish and seafood, steakrules prefers bolder flavors. Thus, it's easy to understand why he raved about Oceana while finding some of the dishes at Le Bernardin wanting.

                            steakrules is, imo, a very fair person, and I'm sure at some point in the future, he will give Le Bernardin a second chance. After all, it took me more than a decade to do so.

                            http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

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

                            Oceana
                            120 W 49th St, New York, NY 10020

                            1. re: RGR

                              Thanks R. I am very fair- and after thinking about what uhockey said earlier, sometimes I may even be "too easily please".

                              I am all for giving Le Bernardin a second chance to atone for their sins. Some of the dishes were absolutely delicious which I detailed as much as the shortcomings. You really cannot give a place a fair shake on just one singular experience... but like I said earlier I won't exactly be rushing back anytime soon. Like you, I think a well deserved break is in order.

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

                              1. re: steakrules85

                                steak,

                                If and when you do decide to go back, we'd be happy to go with you. Of course, we'd still have be alive... lol

                                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                1. re: steakrules85

                                  Sorry you didn't have a good experience. You don't need to return - there's seems to be a huge disconnect between your expectations and the type of food and service that Le Bernardin offers.

                                  Your review speaks volumes about your own tastes and also the staff's professionalism.

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

                                2. re: RGR

                                  It's funny. I was struck while reading the OP with the thought, "I wonder what he would think if he saved this and read it in ten years."

                        2. Not saying this is right or wrong, but you summarized what Le Bernardin probably thinks of you quite eloquently: "I was just some stupid young kid whose opinion didn't matter." The rest of your review means nothing to them.

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

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Uncle Yabai

                            Terrific. I'm glad that you believe my assumption to be true. However, I really hope it is not. But if it is, LB should be ashamed of themselves.

                            It shouldn't matter whether you are young or old, male or female, in the "business", not in the business. A diner should be trated equally regardless. A customer is a customer is a customer. Demographics should not play a part in it. We're all paying customers. Is my money not green like everyone else?

                          2. couple of points regarding your "review"-

                            not taking anything away from you not feeling special in a 3 michelin star restaurant, which you absolutely should, but sometimes there are reasons behind having to decline certain requests

                            for example, you mentioned the captain was initially reluctant about substituting the turbot, this could have been more to do with what the kitchen would allow rather than the captain wishing to deny you of anything. kitchens watch their costs closely, and tasting menus are plotted out in a certain way (and portion size) to keep these costs in line. this could also be why the turbot was so small when you received that dish. as it wouldnt have been any more difficult for the captain to ring this in, I'd assume this is what caused his initial reluctance.

                            you also mentioned how off put you were when the chef recommended the snapper dish, "the next travesty" as you said, instead of halibut. playing devils advocate, taking the chefs advice ended up benefiting you no you ended up enjoying the snapper. sometimes letting a restaurant of this caliber guide you can be beneficial.

                            ive noticed this from several diners, and sometimes there is something to be said for sitting back and letting a high-end do what it does best. changing and moving stuff around can sometimes make a smooth machine run choppy and some points.

                            in regards to the maitre d' and the captain talking about you, I would probably assume they were trying to find the best approach to turn the negative point of your meals around, as thats what they're there for. not to say they werent discussing the situation, but maybe it wasnt as malicious as your may have thought.

                            not everything goes as planned (courses changing), and that what makes dining so fun! as into food as you seem to be I hope this CRUCIAL point isnt missed! 'foodies' are given a bad name due to some of the aspects I noticed in your review, I think sometimes when the guest and host work together...things work best!

                            just my two cents

                            -j

                            1. It sounds like you do not like fish. If you pair a "delicate tasting"fish with a "robust" sauce, you end up tasting the sauce. You might as well order the sauce stand alone. One of the best dishes I have ever had was at Guy Savoy which was essentially a lightly poached piece of cod.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Viking10

                                Sea Bass with DELICATE spices is one of his signatures, as well - just sayin' - I totally agree. :-)

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: Viking10

                                  Well, you are wrong. I LOVE fish. And while the sauces were "robust" in the snapper and hiramasa, I was still able to taste the fish through the sauce. The sauce was merely just a compliment to accentuate the flavors.

                                  And if you read my reviews I have had fish at countless other restaurants, and never experienced any mishaps, let alone tasteless plates.

                                2. Dear steakrules85-in no way are you a difficult diner-i couldn't agree with you more on your review!!!!!!! And I am no difficult diner either.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: UES Mayor

                                    Thanks a lot UES Mayor. I know that I am not a difficult diner!

                                  2. Steak, sorry to hear about your experience, I hope I didn't contribute to your expectations being dashed. Your disappointment reminds me of my initial visit to Le Bernardin.

                                    However, a couple of thoughts. First, the substitutions. I understand your frustration regarding the menu being different from what was posted online but when I asked to supplement an additional course I remember my server telling me that I would be allowed to add an additional appetizer, not entree. Regarding the Halibut, I feel you were advised against it, given the fact that you informed them several dishes lacked flavor. I would guess...that knowing the Halibut's preparation, he thought you would enjoy something bolder which is why he suggested the Snapper.

                                    Regarding your comments about a few of the dishes lacking much flavor, Chef Ripert has mentioned many times the approach he takes with each dish. Many of the sauces are light and subtle as to not overwhelm the often delicate flavors of the seafood. In fact, his mantra is that the fish should always be the star of the plate, which could explain your displeasure. I will say that during my second visit, which was extremely favorable, we expected more subtle flavor profiles but were pleased.

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

                                    1. I had a very disappointing experience with LB about a year or so ago, but prior to that, I had an amazing experience, maybe 5 years ago. On both occasions I found the service to be impeccable actually. But...

                                      The first time, the heavenly time, we did the 3 course menu, and did not go crazy with the wine--enough for a nice accompaniment with the food. I can say that it was one of the nicest dining experiences that I've had in NYC. Each dish was delicate, and a bit creative--perfect really.

                                      The second time, because I was so excited by this earlier experience, my husband and I went all out with the tasting menu, complete with wine. I should preface this by saying that I am not a hardcore drinker, so perhaps this explains my experience--but...while the food and wine were lovely, the amount of food that came out with each wine glass was minimal--i know, this is what a tasting menu is all about--small plates of hopefully exquisite food, but the wine glasses were of course full, and the small amount of fish to go with each wine glass was not enough to offset the alcohol.

                                      I mean, each course was MINIMAL. I was reaching for the bread basket like crazy in order to not get hammered, and I actually changed strategies and just stopped finishing my wine, causing our table to fill up with mostly full wine glasses.

                                      I realize that some people would be fine with this--they might have a higher tolerance. But my husband was totally wasted by the end of the night as well, which was not a good sign. Obviously this is very subjective--maybe some people just have higher tolerance, but I tend to be ok when I've done this kind of thing elsewhere (granted, not seafood focused restaurants).

                                      and again, I thought the food was still exquisite---just wondering if anyone else had this experience.

                                      1. "I don't need or like when people are falling over you or kissing your rear end for 3 hours. But a little genuine personality or a smile wouldn't kill you. Act like it isn't an effort for you to be a normal human being instead of a rehearsed and rigid pretentious fool."

                                        This is exactly how I felt dining at Le Bernardin last spring. You summed up my thoughts on the service perfectly.

                                        I do agree with others that excessive substitutions in tasting menus can really throw off the kitchen. It kind of defeats the point of a tasting menu in the first place, and perhaps ordering a la carte would have suited you better. I also found the signature tuna dish underwhelming, but everything else we ate was absolutely wonderful. The desserts were some of the most spectacular I have ever had.

                                        We experienced major service gaffs as well, some that I found to be absolutely amateurish (they served me a dirty cup and saucer for the coffee service-full of milk on the bottom), and servers continually placed empty wine glasses in front of my father even though he never once ordered wine (I had to remind them, as they were starting to make him feel uncomfortable).

                                        To me, the mark of true class in the service industry (and in life), is making a person feel comfortable regardless of the perceived socioeconomic status. No one in my family was made to feel comfortable at Le Bernardin (from the cold, indifferent greeting from the hostess to the multiple servers), and I left with the sensation that I'd been suckered out of $600 for lunch. Never, ever again would I set foot there.

                                        I also find it hilarious when people take reviews like this personally. I read the Manhattan board often (and travel multiple times yearly to NYC), and as such have familiarized myself with a lot of the contributors on this board. Thanks for the review Steakrules85. It solidified my own experience.

                                        SWS

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                          Thank you.

                                          1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                            "To me, the mark of true class in the service industry (and in life), is making a person feel comfortable regardless of the perceived socioeconomic status."
                                            Having had the best single service experience of my life so far at Taillevent under M. Vrinat as absolutely complete unknown, I concur wholeheartedly with that sentence. What a joy that lunch was, from the welcome to the farewell.
                                            We had one dinner at Le B and while I remember the food as being reasonably good we also got the "who the hell are you to presume to enter our private club" style service. There are better places to spend that kind of money.

                                          2. Thanks steak.

                                            I read your report with great interest because I tried LB three times, all many years ago, before giving up on it, based entirely on the food, as I do not recall any service issues. As I've said before in other posts (and got blasted by the usual suspects), I felt that the dishes lacked creativity and flavor. I completely disagree with the notion that delicate fish needs delicate sauces and strong-flavored fish needs strong sauces. To me, it's the other way around. Full-flavored sauces can bring out the flavor of a mild fish, like halibut for instance, rather than disguising it, while a stong fish like salmon paired with a strong sauce can result in a clash of flavors. I still remember a wonderful dish I had at Picholine some years back, of halibut topped with seared foie gras and sitting on a pea puree. The flavors complemented each other beautifully. Finding the appropriate balance is the key.

                                            Also, though I happen to love sushi, I fail to see what liking it or not liking it has to do with one's taste in cooked fish. The digressions in this thread trying to undermine your credibility because you do not care for sushi are absurd. Also, the personal attacks by some posters are completely uncalled for. We are all entitled to our opinions, and should respect those of others.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: steakrules85

                                              Your review was honest, straightforward and represented your tastes: all good things. I feel I let you down a bit by not saying up front that the fish takes center stage at LB. That means that sauces are subtle, tastes are subdued. There is no "wow" factor, just fresh fish relatively unadorned. I go for this but it's not everyone's idea of an expensive meal.

                                              I hope you'll give LB another shot sometime down the road.

                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                Thanks again Steve h. U did not mislead me at all. Lb has been on my list for three years now. I knew what it was all about before going. Some dishes were wonderful and obviously some were not. Its unfortunate but that's life. Im mature and reasonable enough to realize you are not always going to have the meal of your liife every time you dine out. It wasn't the first time a toprated restaurant was a letdown and it certainly wont be the last. But if you don't give them a shot you'll never know. Therefore, although i expected more for that reason I do not regret the decision to go in theleast.

                                                1. re: steakrules85

                                                  Very cool. Looking forward to your next food adventure.

                                              2. re: steakrules85

                                                Don't let the bastards get you down, Steak. I appreciate your review ( as I do all of your reviews) as a perspective on your experience at LB on that particular night, and not meant to be the final word on the restaurant overall.

                                                I look forward to your next review. Why not write up Ai Fiori?

                                                -----
                                                Ai Fiori
                                                400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

                                                1. re: ml77

                                                  Thanks ml much appreciated. I honestly never let others words get me down don't you worry. I'm still contemplating writing something on ai Fiori. Not sure if I will. But im sure my pal uhockey will definitely have a write up.

                                              3. All of this brings back the memory of my only meal there. Way, way back in the 80s. I was pretty young, but my dining companions were in their 50s and the service was frankly snotty. My friend, a native Upper East Sider, who had grown up with every bit of silverware you think you could imagine, asked what a particular implement was. The Maitre 'D (Captain? Waiter?) drew himself up, looked down his nose and said "It is a sauce spoon,.....Madame".

                                                For years, we laughed about how unpleasant he had been. But at the time, it intimidated me enough that when I was served a sea urchin with sand in it, I did not send it back.

                                                I realize it is 25 years later, and I still have no desire to return.

                                                1. ok, i'll chime in too :)

                                                  -- this is an *opinion* forum...if someone loves or hates a place, it's their opinion...sure, castigate and spit and growl...it's all good...that's part of the fun here...have fun...but at the end of the day, calm the &%*# down...

                                                  -- i've been to LB two times?...or maybe 3 and the second was so mundane that it morphed into the first?...the first/second was very very yummy...i waxed poetic about the fluke, and my gf and i had a pleasurable splurge night on the town...though even then, the lobby-as-converted-restaurant-set and the ice-cold/formal service wasn't to our taste...

                                                  -- the second/third time, service/vibe and starters were as before, but my grouper was shockingly bad: tough, poorly cooked...bleh...that night we were dining on the late side...so i didn't send it back...but i probably should have...i've never returned since...

                                                  i think steakrules review is a useful thing regardless of whether one is an LB fan or not...for me, it reminded me of all the things i disliked about the place when i went there before, and it sort of confirmed my opinion that i won't rush back...i think restaurants, even ones as lauded as LB need to pay more attention to the effect a single patron's experience can have...personally, i'm much more influenced by the reviews of veteran Chowhounds like steakrules, RGR, kathryn, Silverjay, Lau, gutsofsteel, and many many others than i am by Sam Sifton, etc...

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Simon

                                                    Wow Simon I am truly honored by the kind words. It is for fellow howhounders like yourself that I take the time to sit down and try to put together as thorough and detailed a review as possible. I couldn't agree more with your overall assessment about what this board is and should be used for. Well put in every way. It looked like early on everyone was vehemently against what I was saying. However it is encouraging to see that a good number of people can relate due to similar experience.

                                                  2. This does speak volumes about the patience and professionalism of the staff at LB..

                                                    1. This turbot is terrible! And such small portions!

                                                      I have only had dinner there once, about 12 years ago. Two things kept me from going back on my own, although I did have a private event lunch there where I thought the food was exquisite. One, they didn't mention the jacket policy when I made the reservation; maybe you're supposed to know, but even at NY's best, that's a minority. The other was that they served us a terribly corked bottle and insisted it was fine. I don't remember the interaction exactly, but I had the feeling that they just figured we didn't know anything, when in fact all of us had been collecting and tasting seriously for years. And even if we *didn't* know anything, it was an inexpensive bottle and a more gracious restaurant might have offered to replace or substitute it anyway.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: craig_g

                                                        I love how my earlier comment was censored. I guess people didn't like my suggesting steakrules85 was a tough customer. I can understand how, when eating at somewhere as expensive as Le Bernardin, you imagine everything should be perfect but I still don't think steakrules85 was very measured in his expectations and his report read like he got carried away.

                                                        From personal experience, we had the chef's tasting menu about a month ago, and didn't think the red snapper or turbot were that outstanding. However, we left completely satisfied because the first 4 courses were all incredible. The nantucket bay scallops with keffir lime, and the langoustine with foie gras in particular, both flawless and ethereal. Those 4 small courses alone made the meal worth it, although desserts were very good too. Wasn't madly in love with the service but liked our sommelier.

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

                                                        1. re: johannabanana

                                                          I've been reading reviews by steakrules for a few years, and have always found his reviews to be well balanced. Simply because he didn't like Le Bernardin should not subject him to ridicule. I'm not a fan of Le Bernardin either. He did praise a number of his dishes; he didn't like a few of them. Looks well balanced to me.

                                                      2. If you like bread, the brioche at Toqueville is better.

                                                        -----
                                                        Tocqueville
                                                        1 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: Pookipichu

                                                          Yep it is outstanding I totally agree.

                                                          1. re: Pookipichu

                                                            Agree with the two of you that the brioche roll at Tocqueville is seriously delicious!

                                                            Brioche photo can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                                                            http://thewizardofrozwordpress.com

                                                          2. I don't see enough evidence to distinguish whether this was a case of a haute cuisine restaurant unable to please everyone, versus a true culinary failure. From the OP's essay it's pretty clear that his preference lies towards bold flavors. But I'd say > 50% of all known fish repertoire is completely the opposite—subtle flavors and delicate textures (and sometimes texture being more important than any fish "flavor" whatsoever). Granted, fried hake fillet or grilled ahi tuna are pretty awesome foods, but I think anyone who particularly favors bombastic preparations over, say, the freshest rock cod steamed Hong-Kong style, drizzled with some soy sauce and scallions (with a side of piping hot rice), then that is their loss.

                                                            So, specific to this discussion, were the first two mains with fish truly verified to be tasteless, or was what was going on just too subtle for the reviewer's preferences to fully appreciate?

                                                            In fact I recall an article in the nytimes from several years ago (I don't remember the attribution but it was possibly Ripert, or else one of the other famous chefs) discussing experimenting and transitioning from oil-based sauces to water-based sauces. A sensitive critic would try to stay abreast of such developments, and keep an open mind when approaching new kinds of cooking.

                                                            From another angle, I think the comparison with sushi is completely relevant. Most foodies are well aware that the great Western-tradition chefs have expressed keen interest in how food is prepared around the world. This includes the extreme ends of the spectrum, and thus I for one think it is a completely obvious and natural thing for a high-end fish/seafood restaurant to incorporate sushi and sushi-like aspects into their techniques. Consequently, it would not be an enlightening frame of mind to draw simplistic dichotomies such as sushi versus non-sushi.

                                                            I was at Aburiya Kinnosuke a few months ago, and the fact that they served "white soy sauce" as accompaniment for a particular piece of fish was eye-opening to me. To a westernized palate, its immediate taste was of salt water. Did that automatically mean it's a negative? Of course not.

                                                            Just a few points people might want to consider when eating out.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: calf

                                                              <A sensitive critic would try to stay abreast of such developments, and keep an open mind when approaching new kinds of cooking.>

                                                              If the result is tasteless food, it doesn't matter what the chef was trying to do. It certainly does not imply an unsophisticated palate, and from steak's description of the dishes he found tasteless, I don't see how one's taste for sushi would have any relevance.

                                                              This is why a forum like CH is so useful. Even among "foodies" there is a lot of room for disagreement. Le Bernardin is not for everyone, but to imply that anyone who does not like it or disagrees with the chef's philosophy is ignorant or unsophisticated is ridiculous.

                                                              1. re: rrems

                                                                I think his/her point was that subtle flavor is not the same as tasteless, and that somebody who strongly prefers bold flavors might not value subtle flavor. Perfectly reasonable assertion.

                                                                1. re: gutsofsteel

                                                                  As I have tried to state several times in my defense, I understand you don't need overpowering sauces and seasonings to make a wonderful fish dish. I have had fish prepsrstions where the sauves killed the dish and were too overpowering. I can appreciate subtle flavors and in fact some of the best fish dishes I have had were simply prepared. The key is to find that perfect balance... its definitely a fine line and its why being a chef garners so much respect. But the fact of the matter is these were just two awful dishes that had no reason to be delivered from the kitchen. Plain and simple. Its unfortunate I was dining alone and don't have anyone else to share my opinions. However, I seriously door bt if anyone here who claims that my palate is "unsophisticated" truly would have enjoyedeither of those. It was a "you had to be there" situation to really identify with me.

                                                                  1. re: steakrules85

                                                                    Sorry for the typos I hate typing on this stupid droid. I meant to say doubt not door bt.

                                                            2. Wow. LB was going to be the highlight of an upcoming trip to NYC, now I think it's off the list. I'll accept spotty, inconsistent service if the food is perfect, and I won't tolerate less than superb food for $100+.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: lmcsherr

                                                                I suggest you read more opinions that what are on this thread.

                                                                1. re: lmcsherr

                                                                  If you were to cross a place off your list every time you read a bad review, you would literally starve.

                                                                  1. re: nmprisons

                                                                    I don't cross them off. I was paying attention to a well-thought out and explicit review, that had a number of supporters agreeing with exactly the same negative points (poor service and spectacularly bland dishes) from a poster who has a body of work I can check and verify. Moreover steakrules85 is not usually a negative reviewer. That carries a lot of weight.
                                                                    Besides, its not like NYC doesn't have 15 other fantabulous restaurants that I could try instead, ones that do not have a spectacularly poor review.

                                                                    1. re: lmcsherr

                                                                      Name a restaraunt without a "spectacularly poor review" and I will buy your meal there.

                                                                2. >The kitchen just seemed to have it backwards. They were paring the more delicate tasting fish with “milder” sauces, while the meatier more robust fish were receiving these ultra rich sauces. You’d think it’d be the other way around. Very very unusual.

                                                                  I won't comment on substitutions, etc. as it's been discussed to death - but I have to say this statement I found to be most peculiar.

                                                                  I think it would be a mistake to cross off Le B based solely on this review if you are a fan of seafood and clean, delicate flavors.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: uwsister

                                                                    I think your reply is spot on. I only want light sauces with mild flavored fish. But I really like the taste of fish so want that to be the 'main event.' OMMV (others mileage may vary)

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      how many times have you heard ripert say, "at le bernardin, the fish is the star of the plate"? it seems wholly unsurprising that he wouldn't overwhelm a mild fish with a robust sauce.

                                                                      1. re: nmprisons

                                                                        I totally agree he doesn't have to overwhelm a mild fish. Agreed it should be the star of the plate. But a little simple seasoning wouldn't kill him. And when the "sauce" is absolutely tasteless and drags the entire dish down, what's the excuse then?

                                                                        One of my favorite fish preparations is a Branzino simple grilled or roasted and drizzled with a nice lemon butter sauce. You can't get much more simple than that.

                                                                        One funny thing that just dawned on me was that I remember seeing Ripert on Top Chef. He was one of the harshest critics. He never liked anything and almost always had something negative to say when they prepared fish dishes. Thought it was quite ironic.

                                                                        We've been beating this topic to death but that was just my last final comment on the whole thing.

                                                                  2. Well, I am on my way out the door. Gonna brave the rain and and enjoy some seafood. Will let you all know how my experience compares with steakrules. Hopefully if will be equally memorable, but more enjoyable.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: nmprisons

                                                                      full report coming tomorrow, but WOW, that was a wonderful meal.

                                                                      1. re: nmprisons

                                                                        Here you go: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/779315

                                                                    2. Another perspective on LB, from an out-of-towner who has dined at seven Michelin 3* and six of the Forbes/Mobil 5* restaurants the past year …

                                                                      I had read Chef Eric’s book on LB and since I love seafood LB was the first NYC restaurant on our must-do list.

                                                                      Regarding service, when we called to re-confirm I asked if I could get either the 8 or 7 course tasting menu while my wife got the standard 4 courses. “This is not possible”. OK (some excellent restaurants allow this, about half won’t … no problem).

                                                                      “How about if she gets the 7 course tasting and I get the 8 course tasting?” “Probably not but let me check” … brief delay, then “probably not but check with your server when you arrive”. OK.

                                                                      So when we were seated I asked the server and he finally, almost reluctantly (after conferring backstage) said we could do 8 and 7 (but not a tasting with a 4 course) “BUT I need to have this table cleared in 2 ½ hours for the next serving.” OK, you bring it that fast and we’ll eat it that fast …

                                                                      Other than this the service was briskly efficient (finished in 2:20 so I guess he was happy) but I wondered if this was typical NYC service … since then we’ve dined at Eleven Madison Park, Per Se and Jean Georges (with Daniel and Masa on the list for next trip) and service at all three was much more relaxed and friendly than at LB. The Per Se waiter gave us several tips for getting French Laundry reservations and a tour of the kitchen, and the EMP staff treated us to a kitchen tour where they created a molecular gastronomy version of the Ramos Gin Fizz for us as a palate cleanser, a personal touch we enjoyed. Totally different than the almost up-tight atmosphere at Le Bernardin.

                                                                      Regarding the cuisine, everything was quite nicely done but there were few ‘Wow!’ dishes (maybe one of my wife’s with baby octopus), certainly not what I was expecting from a Michelin 3*. When I come across an exceptional seafood dish at another restaurant now I always think “this is what LB *should* have cooked if it’s the best seafood restaurant in the US”.

                                                                      Examples include a langoustine at Meadowood that was wrapped with scallop carpaccio and tapioca rice paper and steamed – far better flavor and texture than the langoustine served at LB. Or at Alinea where a lobster knuckle breaded with yuzu and served embedded on a vanilla bean was terrific. Or Guy Savoy where the ‘crispy sea bass’ cooked with the scales on was better than the comparable fish dishes at LB. Or especially Joel Robuchon (Vegas), where the amuse-bouche of fennel cream under king crab under caviar (served in a caviar tin) was inspired, as were the smoked eel with tofu or the sea urchin with lobster served over carmelized rice.

                                                                      Actually what I remember most vividly about the LB meal was the final wine pairing, which was a 23 year old Guatemalan rum served with chocolate. Now THAT was inspired.

                                                                      Not saying there was anything wrong with the LB dishes or the meal overall, just that they were too subtle, lacking in imagination, and the meal wasn’t all we had hoped for. If they were downgraded to Michelin 2* I would certainly understand it.

                                                                      -----
                                                                      Per Se
                                                                      10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                                                                      Eleven Madison Park
                                                                      11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

                                                                      Jean Georges
                                                                      1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

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

                                                                      Masa
                                                                      10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                                                      1. Thank you for your review. I will be dining at LB myself on Sat. so I was happy for the read. I'm definately with you on disliking the disconnect between an online menu and the one given when dining. I deliberately waited to the very end to see who the writer was and was delighted it was you. I've read many of your reviews and have always thought they were spot on. Sorry they didn't acknowledge you when you sat but at least you didn't have to wait for the check (my own pet peeve).