Le Bernardin (dinner review)
This is one restaurant people really seem to be divided over. I finally made it to Le Bernardin last night for dinner in the lounge. Put me in the "love it" camp. The food was, for the most part, extraordinary. I was served:
1) Amuse trio of gravlax, crab napoleon, and lobster bisque.
2) The famous tuna/foie gras
3) Octopus a la plancha
4) Lobster goulash
5) The Egg ($22 supplement. ouch.)
6) Black Forest cake
7) Mignardises, including a yuzu macaron, a financier, a passion fruit-filled chocolate, and a piece of caramel on a shortbread cookie.
The bread basket, which included roughly 8 types of bread, was outstanding.
Beverages included a San Juan Viejo cocktail (excellent) and a coffee. The bill came to around $187 before tip.
The amuse trio was two perfect small bites, and a delicious, creamy lobster bisque. I definitely could have gone for more of the bisque. 9/10 for the amuses.
First course, the tuna/foie gras. Loved it. One of the best things I've eaten this year. Fish/foie gras combos are not unusual, and this one really worked. The rich, livery flavor of the foie plus the textural contrast of the baguette elevated the tuna to something really special. The best course of the meal. 10/10.
2) Octopus a la plancha. I've had a lot of octopus. This, and the one at Del Posto, are probably the best in the city. I would put Le Bernardin's octopus above Del Posto's because it was more tender. You could probably cut it with a fork. If you love octopus, this is a 9/10.
3) Lobster Goulash. The least successful dish of the evening, but still quite good. Honestly I've never had a lobster dish that really wowed me (unless it's drowned in butter or cream, like the lobster bisque), and this one was no exception. But since I was at Le Bernardin, I figured I'd try a lobster dish. The waiter recommended this one over the lobster lasagna in the barely touched section. The lobster goulash was presented as half of what I estimate to be a 3-lb lobster, including one claw and the tail cut into medallions, but arranged to appear still in-tact on the plate. It was served with a side of potato gnocci, and the goulash sauce was poured at the table onto the lobster and the gnocci. The paprika-based sauce paired really well with the (impossibly light) gnocci, but I wasn't blown away with how it paired with the lobster. I think lobster really needs a richer sauce to do it justice. But it was still pretty good. 6/10.
The Egg. When I requested this from the waiter, he (begrudgingly) said that the kitchen could whip it up for me. The price is really punitive at $22 for this tiny pre-dessert, but it was indeed spectacular. However at $22 I wouldn't order it again. 10/10.
Black Forest. A deconstructed black forest cake, and on the small side. The second weakest course of the meal, but again still very good. 7/10.
Mignardises. Very good quality here, but not as good as Daniel, and you can't take as many as you want. 7/10.
I didn't have any issues with the service. I would categorize it as warm, but efficient. They didn't try to shmooze me, but I did notice them shmooze others who I'm guessing were regulars. As I was leaving, the host asked me to come visit them again. I likely will sooner, rather than later. Definitely one of the city's great restaurants.
There was not. I don't know if they swapped one out with the egg, but I suspect not. I will say that for a 3 michelin star restaurant they didn't give a lot of extras, but what they did give was all exceptional. Maybe they give you more if you order a tasting menu, but I don't know. If given the option, I usually go a la carte or prix fixe in lieu of tasting menus.
I love everything about Le Bernardin, but I do notice rather than raising their prices, they've gotten chintzier with the freebies. I think gone are the days when a 3 course lunch would include the egg plus a pre-dessert. Last time I was there (a couple of weeks back), neither was in evidence at my table or at others, except for the table next to mine which did get a pre-dessert. Don't know what separates the exalted from the commoners, but they seemed to have ordered a wider tasting menu, so that may account for that.
But it used to be a given that both would be presented, but that's not the case anymore. Oh well.
The egg is really something reserved for regulars, VIPs, big spenders and special occasions. Of my 10+ visits to Le Bernardin since The Egg was introduced, it was given to us twice: once when we were celebrating our 25th anniversary and once when we brought our two (nearly adult) children for the first time. While it is both a visual and gustatory treat, it is, by no means, an essential part of the Le Bernardin experience. Glad you enjoyed your first visit...hope you are able to return often in the future, egg or no egg.