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Excellent Food at Le Bernardin (review)

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As usual, full review with photos on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

Atmosphere: The renovation has made Le Bernardin feel more like a restaurant than the old "office lobby" feel it used to have. The dining room feels more spacious and modern, and even the bar area feels less stuffy than before. While there were clearly people there on dates, I did not find the space romantic at all. The lighting was fairly bright (which I actually like personally), and to compare, it lacked the view of Per Se, the serenity of Eleven Madison Park, and the warmth of Daniel.

Service: The bartender and servers seemed friendlier, especially compared to my last visit, during which I would classify them as downright snooty. The service is efficiently run, and you don't get the sense that there are too many servers which often results in "hovering". One interesting result is that while dishes arrive at the same time, they do not always get placed at your table simultaneously by multiple servers as they would at some other places.

Food: I find that the key at these more traditional restaurants is to order a la carte or prix fixe, and avoid the tasting menu. I found this to be true at Daniel, Marea, and now Le Bernardin. The food is excellent, but do not expect some grand tasting menu of elaborately composed and plated small bites.

I arrived early and sat at the bar for a bit. They offer bar snacks in the form of walnuts, rice crackers, and yuzu popcorn.

SMOKED SALMON, CRAB SALAD, WATERMELON SOUP
The amuse was brought to the table before we even got our menus. The crab salad stood out with its freshness.

The bread selection was quite good, with my favorites being sourdough and brioche.

CAVIAR TARTARE ($45 SUPPLEMENT) - LEAPING WATERS BEEF, LANGOUSTINE AND OSETRA CAVIAR TARTARE BLACK PEPPER-VODKA CREME FRAICHE, POMME GAUFRETTE
Unlike a traditional tartare flavored with condiments, this was extremely clean tasting and allowed the freshness of the ingredients to shine through. The addition of the raw langoustine provided brilliant sweetness, though I would have preferred the caviar to have been slightly saltier than it was to balance it out.

MESCLUN SALAD - SALAD OF THE DAY'S MARKET HERBS AND VEGETABLES WITH BALSAMIC-SHALLOT DRESSING
For a restaurant that specializes in seafood, they do a fine job of catering to other tastes. For example, this salad is far superior to the one at Marea where the salad looked like they had just "put something together".

LANGOUSTINE - SAUTEED LANGOUSTINE; SUMMER TRUFFLE AND CHANTERELLE AGED BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
This was one of most extraordinary langoustine preparations I've ever had. This was just perfect. While cooked langoustine can easily be overdone and raw langoustine often has a bit of chewiness/stringiness that I don't like, this langoustine was perfect with a warm, soft texture. The sweetness was balanced well with the earthy truffle and mushrooms and enhanced by the vinaigrette. This is probably my favorite composed langoustine dish, although I still love the simplicity of the langoustine en papillote at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

BLACK BASS - CRISPY BLACK BASS; PICKLED CUCUMBERS BLACK GARLIC-PERSIAN LEMON SAUCE
One of Le Bernardin's signature dishes, the skin was indeed crispy and the sauce was simple yet had a complex flavor with the black garlic. Although I can certainly understand if people feel that this dish is too straightforward.

SKATE - BAKED SKATE "EN PAPILLOTE"; PICKLED CHANTERELLES, BABY TURNIPS "GREEN MARNIERE"
I did not see them opening up the papillote so I'll have to take their word for it. In between the the two pieces of beautifully cooked skate were more vegetables and turnips, which really made the dish with crunchiness and flavors that complemented the delicate skate beautifully.

DOVER SOLE - SAUTEED SOLE; BROWN-BUTTER TAMARIND VINAIGRETTE
This dish, to me, stole the show among the main courses. The fish was perfectly cooked with delicate flaky flesh and a slight browning on the outside. While I often find dover sole sauces to be too rich, this one felt just right and beautifully balanced.

"ALMOND-PISTACHIO-BARBERRY" GOLDEN BASMATI
This came with the Dover Sole, but I didn't feel it was necessary.

PASTA - BLACK TRUFFLE-BUFFALO MOZZARELLA STUFFED RAVIOLI "SUMMER VEGETABLES", PARMESAN SAUCE
This sounded great on the menu so we ordered one for the table. While all the components were tasty, I didn't feel that the dish really came together as a whole. It could be because we focused on our fish courses first, but the pasta felt limp. I don't have a problem with that myself, but if you equate pasta with al dente, this wouldn't work for you.

ASSORTMENT OF ICE CREAM - VANILLA, COFFEE, CINNAMON, CHOCOLATE
Honestly I don't really remember the flavors exactly. I asked for the egg, but they told me that it's not available at all now that Laiskonis is gone. Having already ordered the chocolate peanut, nothing else on the menu jumped out at me.

The food is excellent, with some of the best composed seafood preparations I've ever had. Although I say composed, many dishes end up being a piece of fish and a sauce, so don't be thrown by that. The overall meal itself, however, seemed to me to lack a grandeur that one now expects from a 3 Michelin Star "destination" restaurant. But if the only thing that matters is food, and you're not saving up to be wowed by a whole night out extravaganza with delicately composed plates, then it truly is some of the best.

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  1. Thanks for this. I also loved my recent lunch there last week. It's refreshing that Ripert hasn't deviated from his zen style.

    1. Had another recent visit to Le Bernardin.
      As usual, full review with photos on the blog:
      http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

      The last time I went to Le Bernardin, I wrote that it lacked the grandeur that one might expect from a 3 Michelin Star "destination" restaurant even though it served some of the best composed seafood preparations I've ever had. With that in mind, I wondered whether I would enjoy it more going in with a different set of expectations.

      Diners generally pick one choice each from the "almost raw", "barely touched", and "lightly cooked" sections, but both my friend and I chose two from the "barely touched" instead of the "almost raw", and they had no problems with that.

      The evening started with three amuses presented together. I can't seem to find my notes, but from memory there was a tuna tartare, a crab salad with curry flavor, and a sea urchin custard. The sea urchin custard had a texture that was the closest to Chinese steamed eggs that I've had in a Western restaurant. For my friend who couldn't have shellfish, replacement amuses featured salmon rillettes and a maitake mushroom broth.

      SALMON RILLETTES
      Having overheard us discuss the rillettes and the Le Bernardin menu over the years, our server brought us a gift of a large plate of the salmon rillettes. I assume the term rillettes is used here to refer to the final appearance rather than the traditional preparation, as this did not feel in any way like it was heavily salted or cooked slowly in fat. Instead, it had a great clean fish flavor in addition to mild notes of creaminess and richness that was just delectable when spread onto crisps of toast. The rillettes are actually offered on the Le Bernardin lounge menu, and I thought they were even better than the ones at the NoMad hotel restaurant.

      BREAD BASKET
      The bread basket had over 7 different types, with my favorite being the herby tomato bread. There were some hiccups with the bread service, though. First, there was a parmesan mustard roll that sounded very appealing that my friend took the last one of. The last one? How do you run out of bread before 6pm? Second, only when I asked for more bread later in the meal did we learn they had a poppyseed roll. My friend loves poppyseeds and almost missed out!

      LOBSTER
      Lobster “Lasagna”; Celeriac, Truffle Butter
      The lobster lasagna came with two thin slices of black truffle on top, and a view from the side revealed two layers of lobster meat mixture in between three sheets of pasta. The lasagna was topped with a truffle butter poured tableside. The pasta was delicate but toothsome, and provided a good wrapping for the flavorful lobster meat inside. The truffle butter works well here, the earthy richness helping to give the dish an identity as something warm and comforting.

      SCALLOP
      Flash Marinated Nantucket Bay Scallops, Lemon Grass-Finger Lime Nage
      The lemongrass and lime imparted fragrance and brightness that highlighted the natural sweetness of the bay scallops. A true appetizer, this both tasted good and opened up your appetite for more.

      LANGOUSTINE
      Sautéed Langoustine; Summer Truffle and Chanterelle, Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette
      My second course was the exact same dish I had on my last visit 9 months ago (see OP). Nothing else on the menu looked interesting enough to me to replace it. While this was still an amazingly executed composed dish, cooked beautifully and with perfect balance, a little bit of the wow factor did wear off compared to the first time I had it.

      VEGETABLES
      Warm Green Lentil Salad; Seasonal Vegetables, Truffle Vinaigrette
      It has been said that the non-seafood dishes at Le Bernardin tend to be noticeably inferior to their seafood dishes. But this salad featuring a wide variety of vegetables, cooked differently to result in a range of flavors and textures, showed that a lot of thought still goes into the non-seafood dishes.

      SURF and TURF
      Roasted Bone Marrow; Sea Urchin, Bacon Crisp
      While others have raved about this dish, my friend PG thought that it was good, but nothing too impressive. With such strongly flavored ingredients, my guess is that the dish might have been missing some finesse and subtlety.

      SALMON
      Barely Cooked Wild Salmon; “Black Truffle Pot-au-Feu”
      This was the version of the salmon dish on the tasting menu. The original version on the prix fixe featured Sweet and Sour Hon Shimeji Mushrooms and Lotus Root; Maitake Broth. I was originally deciding between the salmon and the red snapper. Our captain thought that my first two courses (lobster and langoustine) were on the light side, so suggested this for me. Strangely enough, that made it three courses with truffles. I wonder if "The Fish is the Star of the Plate" should be changed to "The Truffle is the Star of the Plate". The dish was good. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by a salmon preparation, and it didn't.

      PRESERVED LEMON MASHED POTATOES
      This was one of the accompaniments to the red snapper dish. We asked to have a side of it for each of us and they had no problems with that. It was dense yet not full of cream or butter. There was just a hint of the fragrant lemon flavor. I don't think I'd specifically recommend it, but if you're a big mashed potato person then by all means; you'll enjoy it.

      ICE CREAM
      Accompanied by shortbread cookies, the ice cream was originally a selection of four: Coffee, Tahitian Vanilla, Salted Milk Chocolate, and Pecan. We chose to just have four scoops of pecan. Good nutty flavor, with some texture from the nuts without being too gritty.

      The food at Le Bernardin continues to be excellent. It just wouldn't be a place that I would save up money to go to. I would sooner return to the lounge to have the excellent salmon rillettes more frequently. Even the langoustine dish, which was still awesome, lost a little bit of the wow factor nine months later. Then again, in the last six months, I've been to Atera http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/879430 , Brooklyn Fare http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884450 , Daniel http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/891059 , and Eleven Madison Park http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/879430 . I feel like the push and ambition of these restaurants has raised the bar while Le Bernardin hasn't really stepped up their game. I just find that the original definition of 2 Michelin Stars, "Excellent cooking and worth a detour. First class cuisine of its type." describes Le Bernardin better than the 3 Star definition, "Exceptional cuisine and worth a special journey."