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Recent Dinner at Le Bernardin

n
nmprisons Apr 17, 2011 06:27 PM

I am not much for reviews, so please excuse my clunky prose, and I am not a photographer, so there are no pictures, but I thought a few notes from my meal last night would be appreciated by the board. Unlike the last reviewer or two, we had an absolutely fabulous time and are already dreaming of a return visit.

We had 7:30 reservations for two, and arrived on time to a full dining room and a lovely table for two right in the middle of the dining room, but adjacent to a large floral display and so it remained quite private and comfortable. I was quite taken with the room. After hearing so many negative comments I planned on simply staring at my dining companion the whole night, but I found the space very warm and comfortable. The seascapes and port paintings are beautiful and the wood ceiling and flower arrangements make what might otherwise be too large an open space quite cozy. While I can't imagine the space being a turn-off (unless you want it to be), I would suggest asking for a table in a low-traffic area when making your reservation. Those sitting near the kitchen entrance appeared to be in a more frenzied atmosphere.

On to the Food.

Soon after being seated, our sommelier came by and offered us a glass of champagne (on the house) to go with our amuse, and to enjoy while we perused the menu. Sadly, I can't remember where it came from, only that it was one of the nicer, most refreshing glasses of champagne that I have had.

While awaiting the menus, and enjoying our bubbly, our amuse came. Poached lobster, perfectly cooked and sweet, with an earthy emulsion of black truffle. A very nice way to start the meal.
Our captain came by to take our orders. We are gluttons, though our stomachs usually manage to stretch as wide as our eyes. We therefore decided to go with the Chef's tasting menu and supplement it with a couple of other dishes off the a la carte menu. The server happily obliged. Never was there a hint of the troubles reported by others. We simply asked, said please, and they said of course.

FLUKE sashimi; crimspy kimchi in a chilled citrus, soy, jalapeno nage. I use to fish for a living. There have been countless nights were, when I got hungry, I simply walked to the stern of the boat, caught a fish, and ate it. This dish replicated all of the freshness of that experience with a refinement that elevated the texture and flavor of the fish. It was a truly remarkable dish. This instantly joined a monkfish dish that I had a few years ago at Alinea and an uni with lemon granita dish at Per Se as one of the three best bites of seafood that I have ever eaten in a restaurant. 10/10.

TUNA layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna; foie gras and toasted baguette shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil. We added this dish to our meal at our server’s suggestion. Simple and lovely. If you have had the signature dish at Inn at Little Washington with a tuna stake under seared foie gras you know that the flavor combination is wonderful, but often lacks much needed texture. Well the baguette solves the problem. The tuna is fatty enough to be confused with ham off a charcuterie plate, though I could have done without the olive oil, as the fish itself is fatty enough. I also saw no need for the accompanying toast, but it wasn't a distraction. 8/10.

OCTOPUS charred octopus; fermented black bean-pear sauce vierge; ink-miso vinaigrette, purple basil. Also added to the menu. This was probably the least successful dish of the evening. The octopus was beautiful and well prepared, both sauces were tasty in their own right, but the whole thing just never came together. If you ate a bit with a piece of the pear, then it worked, but otherwise, it was just ok as the black beans had a tendency to overpower and it almost felt like the octopus and the sauce were competing, rather than complimenting. 7/10

LANGOUSTINE seared langoustine; mache and wild mushroom salad, shaved foie gras; white balsamic vinaigrette. WOW. I took a bite, closed my eyes and must have sat there speechless for two or three minutes, chewing, swallowing, longing for more. I would have continued to sit there, smiling, eyes closed in amazement for god knows how long, but all of a sudden it crossed my mind that my date might try and eat the rest of mine if I didn’t come to. I quickly grabbed my fork to defend the remaining bite or two of langoustine so sweet that it tasted like candy, with a rich, but not overpowering foie gras, and a few tiny, tasty little mushrooms that brought the forest to the sea and turned the dish into pure bliss. This is a dish that I will remember for years. Had the meal ended right there, I would have been more than happy to pay whatever they asked. 10/10 (it cheapens one's rating system to have a higher numerator than denominator, but I was tempted here).

CAVIAR-URCHIN, Osetra caiar nestled in tagliolini warm sea urchin sauce. This tasted like sex. It was rich, warm, sensual. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was my dining companion’s favorite dish of the evening. 9/10.

LOBSTER baked lobster, red wine braised sunchoke and wilted fava sprout, bergamot emulsion. A solid lobster dish, on par with a recent serving at EMP, but not as good as a lobster with fig and chocolate served at per se a few years back. 8/10.

RED SNAPPER bread crusted red snapper; saffron “fideos” chorizo-smoked sweet paprika sauce. This was the highlight of the large-sized dishes. The crust was remarkably thin and added just the right amount of texture to the perfectly moist and surprisingly meaty snapper. 9/10

TURBOT poached turbo; wild mushroom-black truffle custard, spiced squab jus. The turbo was quite good. As others have noted, the custard, which is served separately, does not really become a part of the dish, but eaten separately it is a wonderful addition. As this marks the transition between savory and sweet, the custard is a wonderful introduction to the textures to follow. 8/10

My girlfriend is a pastry cook at one of the city’s better restaurants. Michael Laiskonis came out during our meal and told us he had prepared a small desert tasting menu for us. It would be unfair to review the desserts (we had six different desserts and a chocolate case) as those courses were specially prepared, while the savory courses we ate were no different than what others would experience. Suffice it to say that Chef Laiskonis demonstrated a breadth of very impressive technique and flavors that were always good and sometimes breathtaking. The lime parfait, which is on the current Chef’s tasting menu, was my personal favorite. Oh, and definitely ask for the egg.

We left close to midnight, full and giddy.

A quick note on service: We were impressed. They did both the little things and the big things right. An example should suffice. When making the reservation, I had asked for a signed copy of the evening’s menu to take home with me at the end of the meal. I didn’t mention it again. At the end of the meal an envelope appeared. Although Chef Ripert was not in the kitchen that night, the envelope contained a copy of the day’s menu with his signature. Perfect.

For credibility’s sake: It seems that other posters find it necessary to tout their bona fides. Suffice it to say that we have been to the big name places in this country (Alinea, Per Se, etc.), but not abroad. Both of us placed this meal in the top five we have ever had.

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Per Se
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

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

  1. Miss Needle Apr 17, 2011 07:54 PM

    Thank you for your well-written informative review. It was a pleasure to read. I'm assuming that the caviar-urchin was one of the a la carte dishes. May I ask how much it set you back?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle
      n
      nmprisons Apr 18, 2011 02:37 AM

      The caviar-urchin was on the regular chef's tasting menu, which was $330/pp with wine pairing (and I believe $190 without). The dish itself is no more than two bites, though I can't imagine anyone not wiping the bowl clean with a piece of bread (keep a Parker House roll handy for just this purpose as its salty richness goes perfectly with the uni sauce).

      I won't know what the total was until it pops up on my credit card as by the end of the meal I was really feeling the wine, which our sommelier poured with abandon.

      (For some reason previous posts in this thread have disappeared. While that mystery will likely go unsolved, I do want to reiterate a point made in one of those deleted posts. LB is not Moto or Alinea in that many (most, all?) of the dishes on the menu could have been served at any time during the restaurants many years in business. The preparations are remarkable in their simplicity and near flawless execution of traditional techniques. It is not a place where you often wonder, how did they do that, though you are often wondering, how did they come up with that, what a great idea. Go in expecting an ipod accompaniment to your dish a la the fat duck or an exploding volcano of soup a la alinea and you will be disappointed. Go in expecting clean, sometimes magical flavor combinations expertly prepared by a gracious host and you will be richly rewarded.)

      1. re: nmprisons
        Miss Needle Apr 18, 2011 07:23 AM

        Thanks for the info. That's great that the uni-caviar was included in the chef's menu. Completely understand the $70 a la carte charge, but that may be a wee bit too painful for me. If I Iove it on the tasting menu (which it sounds like I will), I will probably then order a larger portion next time.

        With respect to the previous posts disappearing, it seems that the mods have struck again. For the fear of this being deleted, I will say nothing more about this.

      2. re: Miss Needle
        r
        Riverman500 Apr 18, 2011 03:31 AM

        The caviar-sea urchin can be ordered a la carte and comes with a $70 supplement to the $115 prix fixe charge.

        Your experience mirrors mine, nmprisons. I've only been to Le Bernardin three times, so I'm not a regular, but have always experienced great food and service. The desserts are wonderful.

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

      3. Delucacheesemonger Apr 18, 2011 02:03 AM

        Regardless of topic, great review. Wish l could write a review such as this.

        1. huiray Apr 19, 2011 08:10 AM

          Very interesting review, thanks. Nicely put together too. Sounds like you had a great time and loved the way Le B prepares their food and their approach to fish.

          Yes, my previous posts are amongst those expressing appreciation for your review but which are no longer here.

          The langoustine (i.e. not a shrimp) dish, currently on their menu, in particular sounds quite wonderful.

          Does Michael Laiskonis know your girlfriend? It would be nice to read a summary of that dessert tasting menu, perhaps on a new thread...

          5 Replies
          1. re: huiray
            n
            nmprisons Apr 19, 2011 03:35 PM

            Saturday was the first time either of us had met him. He was incredibly gracious to come out and speak with us and ensure that we got a tour of the kitchen.

            As for a desert review, I will have to talk with my girlfriend as she will have a much better memory than I do.

            All I remember clearly (a lot of wine and beer) is that:

            (1) it started with an orb or pear that exploded in your mouth into this creamy essence of pear that re-awakened those taste buds necessary to enjoy desert and highlighted just how modern techniques, when used appropriately, can accentuate the natural flavor of ingredients and enable diners to enjoy those flavors in new ways.

            (2) somewhere in there was a lime tart that just blew me away.

            (3) the egg is a really special dish. a quick tip: dig all the way down to the bottom with each spoonful. it is a layered desert and that goes from salty to sweet to rich and warm. you want to get a bit of every layer in your mouth at the same time.

            (4) the man bakes a mean chocolate cake.

            I'll try and get some more details. Sorry, she is really the dessert fiend.

            1. re: nmprisons
              p
              peter j Apr 19, 2011 04:38 PM

              The lime tart was the Citrus dessert. I loved it too. There's a video of Laiskonis making it on the Eater website.

              Nice review, btw.

              1. re: nmprisons
                chefhound Apr 20, 2011 03:33 PM

                I'm going to be dining at Le Bernardin for the first time next month when I'm in NY.

                I must know: What is this egg dessert you are talking about? It sounds fabulous and I definitely want to try it. It's not on the menu that is currently on their website.

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

                1. re: chefhound
                  n
                  nmprisons Apr 20, 2011 03:42 PM

                  I don't believe it has been on the menu for some time. Chef Laiskonis brought it with him when he joined the restaurant some years back and it is often served as a pre-dessert. I suggest either (1) calling ahead and requesting it or (2) mentioning something to your server when placing your order. (If you have a late reservation I strongly suggest the former as they might simply run out late in the evening.)

                  Enjoy!

                  1. re: chefhound
                    Miss Needle Apr 20, 2011 04:01 PM

                    Here's Michael Laiskonis's blog post that describes the egg in greater detail (including recipe).

                    http://michaellaiskonis.typepad.com/m...

                    It's really a wonderful dessert. I hope you get to try it!

              2. j
                JeremyEG Apr 20, 2011 02:16 PM

                Thanks for your review. It sounds like a special meal. I'm dying to go back as we've only been once.
                JeremyEG
                HomeCookLocavore.com

                1. johannabanana Apr 20, 2011 04:34 PM

                  Agree thoroughly about their langoustine with foie gras. And in general, langoustine at Le Bernardin seems to be a speciality, the texture always perfect in my experience -- evidently well-sourced and carefully cooked, which isn't easy with this ingredient. Thanks for the trustworthy, unpretentious report.

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

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