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Apr 19, 2011 01:13 PM

Le Bernardin - Three Strikes, It's Out!

After seeing the recent comments surrounding Le Bernardin, especially steakrules85’s extensive review, I’ve decided to share my own recent experience at Le Bernardin. Some background: this was our third visit to Le Bernardin. On each of first two times, we ordered tasting menus with wine pairings. We both thought the food was incredible, but found the service to be quite off-putting. Nevertheless, the food was so good that, despite the subpar service, we decided it was worth returning.

We returned for lunch a couple of weeks ago for what would be our third visit. As it turns out, this was their third strike, and they’re now out—neither of us have any desire to return to Le Bernardin ever again. To sum it up: the savory courses were wonderful, dessert was mediocre, and the service was the worst I’ve ever encountered, ranging from humorously pretentious to absolutely incompetent. In fact, the service was so bad that I sometimes wondered whether I was at a 3 Michelin star restaurant or if I was at Applebee’s.

We arrived perfectly on time for our lunch reservation and were greeted by the maitre d’ with a cold, unwelcoming look that silently asked, “What are you doing here?” I must pause here and agree with some other commenters that Le Bernardin seems to hold a special disdain for younger clients. I’d also like to point out that we were on time, more than met the dress code, and—if I do say so myself—were better dressed than anyone else in the dining room. All we had going against us, as far as I could tell, was the fact that we were 20-somethings who dared enter. Despite this, we received a stone cold greeting, with the maitre d’ not even attempting to fake a smile. After giving my name, we were told it would be several minutes before we could be seated (despite the fact that the dining room was half empty), and the maitre d’ turned and walked away, leaving us standing at the podium.

After awkwardly waiting several minutes, we were shown to our table. Almost as soon as we were seated our drink order was taken and the wine menu was left. It would be 10 or 15 minutes before the captain would arrive with the menus. He welcomed us to the restaurant with a condescending, “Do you know how the menu works?” That was it, no, “Welcome,” or, “Hi,” or, “How are you?”After we answered “yes” to his question, he nodded, turned around, and walked away.

Then, despite the fact that it took him 10 to 15 minutes to bring the menus, he returned 5 minutes with, “What would you like?” Right down to business again, not asking whether we were ready, if we had any questions, or anything else. Just as when he presented the menus, he approached us as coldly, rudely, and condescendingly as possible. He certainly gave the impression that we should be honored that he was willing to take our order. Clearly.

The rest of the meal followed this pattern: interactions brimming with rudeness and pretension followed by long periods of absence or ignoring our table. There were also a few times when I wondered whether we were actually in a 3 Michelin star restaurant. When entrees arrived, my dining companion received his plate, the captain presented it, and then left. I was left with nothing and the captain said nothing to me, not even to tell me there was a delay with my food or that he’d return shortly. He simply left wordlessly. Several minutes later, he finally returned with my plate. Several minutes! Several minutes of half the table sitting with their hot entrée while the other half had nothing at all—and no word as to when it would arrive. I said in my introduction that I wondered whether I was in a 3 star restaurant or if I was at Applebee’s. But actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been to an Applebee’s (or anything on that level) that served diners so far apart. And, of course, the captain couldn’t be bothered to apologize for the delay or give any explanation. He was his usual charming self.

Unfortunately for us, this service lapse wasn’t a freak accident. Soon after ordering dessert, I left for the restroom. A few minutes later, when I returned to the table, I found that dessert and mignardises had been served in my absence. The frozen components of my dessert had already started melting and were pooling in the middle of the plate. Never did anyone come to present or describe my dessert, which, unlike the savory courses, was mediocre at best. I remember describing its flavor as being remarkably similar to the key lime pies you can get in the frozen foods section of the grocery store.

After dessert, we were eager to get far, far away from Le Bernardin and its wretched service. But, of course, finding someone who could present the check was quite the challenge. After spotting our captain when he reemerged, I made eye contact with him, gestured that I needed his assistance, and watched as he walked away, blatantly ignoring our table. Charming, once again.

In sum, I was quite frankly disgusted by the service we received at Le Bernardin. It was a charming mix of coldness, arrogance, pretension, and incompetence that I’ve never encountered anywhere else. When comparing Le Bernardin’s service to that of Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Jean Georges, or anywhere else for that matter, Le Bernardin ranks dead last. Hell, the service at Momofuku Ko is more friendly, engaging, accurate, and on-point than Le Bernardin. This meal was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The (savory) food is good—damn good—but the scale finally tipped, and no food, regardless of how incredible it may be, is worth enduring such a pitiful excuse for service.

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

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  1. I must say that I am shocked! I just had lunch with my mother there on 4/15 and it was wonderful! We were seated on time at a lovely table. The staff was welcoming and the service was warm, friendly and attentive without being hovering. The savory dishes were superb and the dessert very good (though a touch too sweet for my taste). I loved the complimentary salmon spread for the bread. In addition, they served us an extra dessert with "happy birthday" written on the plate because they overheard us discussing that it was my birthday. What a lovely gesture! I was struck by the wide variety of diners- from business men and women to young couples to friends and families. The service and style appeared to be the same for all. I do not believe Le Bernardin would have maintained its ratings or reputation if it were (consistently or even typically) as you described. Indeed, one of the aspects of dining there I particularly enjoyed was the service and I have to say I am a person who is quick to notice a slight. I am sorry you did not have the same wonderful experience I did.

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

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mangita

      I have no idea what to make of the discrepancies I often read about! But for us, this was the general theme over three different meals. The most recent was, of course, the most extreme, but the coldness, pretentious attitudes, and rudeness (sometimes fairly explicit, sometimes bordering on it) was present all three times. And I really don't think it was me misinterpreting formality as rudeness or pretension, it was just a bizarre experience.

      I really don't know what could explain all this. I tried to engage the service staff, as I do everywhere, but that went nowhere. There were some notable exceptions, all of whom were sommeliers and were quite friendly, but this never translated to the captains. I tried to like it because I loved the food, but I couldn't get past the service issues. But I'm glad you had a wonderful time!

      1. re: ryansm

        You went 3 times in less then a year and each time the service was terrible? You are more persistent then I would have been.

        1. re: ryansm

          Notable that you mention the sommeliers-they were also the only FOH staff my family and I thought were somewhat approachable and warm.

      2. I know Le Bernadin hasn't won everyone over but I have to say, I went with a friend and we're both in our late twenties. Granted we are both asian so probably looked more early to mid twenties.

        Regardless, our service was almost spotless. Our waiter was warm and pleasant as were every other staff that approached our table. Sorry to hear your trip was so awful. I'll be taking my parents there in May and I hope it goes well. My dad is a big seafood person.

        1. Perhaps some members of the staff are better than others? I wonder if peoples' experiences will start being more consistent if we can identify who is who and who is good and who is bad?

          2 Replies
          1. re: pauliface

            Or perhaps its the same people with split personalities?

            1. re: AubWah

              In my experience, the service is perfectly fine. It's just a matter of expectations. Just don''t expect super reverential Danny Meyer treatment - that's just not Maguy LeCoze's style.

              I don't think the restaurant discriminates against younger patrons at all. In fact there was a recent Chowhound post from a college kid who had never been to a high end restaurant, and went to Le Bernardin by himself because he saw Eric Ripert on TV. The kid loved the food and service and even wrote a lengthy review.

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

          2. All I have to say is that I just turned 30 and have a scragly unkempt beard. My girlfriend is in her mid-twenties and proudly broadcasted her tattoos in a sleeveless dress last Saturday. No service problems whatsoever (though the service at per se is better, i'll give you that).

            I have deleted everything else I have typed.

            5 Replies
              1. re: AubWah

                Tasting plus wine pairing is $330 a person. So $660 plus tax and tip. We tip well.

                1. re: nmprisons

                  I always tip 20%, maybe a percentage or two more or less depending on how much I like the service. We don't drink alcohol, the most I've ever spent on a dinner for two is about $100.

              2. re: nmprisons

                Also in mid-twenties and cannot recall any service problems from our dinner last winter. I'm not doubting those who have received bad service - but that's not always the case. I wouldn't say anybody was warm, friendly a la Danny Meyer restaurants, but I couldn't find faults with it either.

                1. re: uwsister

                  During a recent visit, our entire table of first-timers was wowed. The maitre d' was perfectly pleasant and offered to escort us to our table despite the fact we were early. Service was appropriate, without being overly familiar or unpleasant. The courses, save the dessert (only so-so, all around) were incroyable! The first course tuna was simply, abeitly perfectly, prepared and just melted in my mouth.

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

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