Le Bernardin

16. October 2006 American, Midtown 4

155 West 51st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
about $300 for two, with matching drinks, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥

After dining at Le Bernardin for the Dr.’s birthday, I realized that it shouldn’t be categorized as French. The name may be French but the menu definitely screams New American. There were a lot of Asian ingredients like lemongrass, soy and wasabi. The South American influence was also present with ceviche waving the Peruvian–or Ecuadorian, if you prefer–flag. I was surprised to see spicy chorizo, too, but I got over it as soon as the Dr. picked his meals: Peking duck and green papaya salad with black bass, langoustine with chayote and pears, kampachi with ginger-coriander emulsion. (One of his wines was a “Naiades” Verdejo from Rueda, Spain, the same wine I had at Alinea. Funny that.)

A $100 prix fixe lets you pick one dish from the three sections of almost raw, barely touched and lightly cooked selections; the fourth course is dessert. I started with the four ways of fluke, from simple to complex combinations. Ceviche is easy to make but it’s even easier to mess up. With Le Bernardin’s take, I just wanted to slurp the sauce and soup from each bowl. A 2003 Slovakian Riesling from Chateau Bela was crisp and a good match. I couldn’t pass up the warm uni custard with julienned sisho leaves because I’ve just never had sea urchin prepared like it before. The two fresh unis on top reminded me of that ocean flavor I always crave. It was barely detectable from the custard–the right amount of uni-ness. For my main course, I went for the pan-roasted monkfish with confit peppers, patatas bravas and chorizo emulsion. I didn’t really understand why it was called a tribute to Gaudí except for its Catalan ingredients. Perhaps it was the striped garnish, the simple lines. A glass of Pessac-léognan from Château Smith Haut Lafitte was, for lack of a less pretentious word, exquisite. My dessert consisted of warm peaches topped with strawberries and drizzled with honey.

We had a very early table and we dined with the demographic we’ve gotten used to seeing around us–we seem to travel to destinations and reserve restaurants “adults” frequent–so we were mostly treated by the staff as if we’ve been dining there for years. The service was neither short nor exceptional. What surprised me, however, was how old-fashioned Le Bernardin was. The entire room buzzed as it approached the more popular dinner time but it could use a little oomph in decor and lighting to match Chef Eric Ripert’s eclectic menu.

4 thoughts on “Le Bernardin”

  • 1
    famdoc on October 17, 2006

    I’ve photographed meals at less ritzy joints than Le Bernardin, but couldn’t imagine doing so there. Bravo for your chutzpah!

    We visit Le B every year for our anniversary and hold it in highest esteem. There isn’t another joint in NY that tops Le Bernardin for inventive seafood and quality service.

    I would recommend the lesser-priced tasting menu (all diners at a table must order it).
    I believe it is only $25 more than the prix-fixe and gives you tastes of a variety of Chef Ripert’s creations. Used to be the disparity in price between the prix-fixe and the tasting menu was alot more. Also, the wine-paired tasting menu is a great deal.

    Are those stemless wine glasses? I’ve seen them in stores but never drank from them.

  • 2
    cia on October 17, 2006

    Stemless wine glasses indeed. Even the serviceware matched the nouveau menu but the interior design.

  • 3
    famdoc on October 18, 2006

    Oh, and the artwork. Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, the founders of Le Bernardin, scoured the best galleries and auctions in France to create a wonderful ambience. Scan the paintings and imagine yourself enjoying an assiette des fruits de mer in a seaside brasserie in Brittany. That jolly, rotund fisherman in his orange/red sweater…the nautical view of St. Malo. Even the mens’ room has incredible art. Le Bernardin is to be savored by all the senses.

  • 4
    G. on October 18, 2006

    went to le bernardin a few years back when zagat was big and we would try the top five restaurants on their list – obviously le bernardin was one of them that year.

    i absolutely loved my meal there but the most memorable thing for me was the service. it was great – too great in fact that i started avoiding eye contact with the servers just coz as soon as one of them thought we needed something, five of them appeared by our table. we were treated like kings (and queens).

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