November 28, 2013

Le Bernardin, New York

If you've come to find out whether Le Bernardin is worth the trip and money, the answer is absolutely YES! This was hands down the best meal I've had all year and quite possibly my entire existence. 

Le Bernardin offers three tasting menus during lunch. A $75 three-course option, $150 seven-course option, and $195 eight-course option. There is also a wine tasting that can be added to the meal or you can order wines by the glass. It's worth noting that the restaurant does have a strict dress code for gentleman guests. A jacket is required and I got the sense suits were preferred. So feel free to dress to the nines when you dine here. If you happen to stumble upon this gem without a jacket, there is a lounge area for more "casual" dinning. 

My first impression of the restaurant was that of snootiness and stuffiness, but that quickly changed once we placed our order and started a conversation with the staff about the food. I imagine a lot of people roll through here on an expense account and the exceptional food is just a bonus to them. The maitre d put it well when he said "it's easy to share when people enjoy the food as much as we do." The service here was on par with what one would expect at a restaurant of this calibre. The changing of the silverware was seamless, water glasses were always full, each staff member was well versed in the menu and everyone went out of their way to make our meal perfect. 

Bread basket
The wait staff stopped by shortly after we ordered with an impressive bread basket filled with eight types of bread. All the bread was made at the restaurant. The types and flavors change depending on the season. I can't even begin to remember all the options offered during our visit, but the most memorable was the raisin and walnut bread. At one point, I had to kindly ask that they stop coming by with the bread basket because I could have easily eaten a loaf the bread.

Salmon rillette
Amuse bouche
Some restaurants offer an amuse bouche simply as a way to offer a "free" item to make the diners feel like they are getting a little more "bang" for their buck. Not at Le Bernardin. The restaurant defines what an amuse bouche should be, a compliment from the kitchen that offers the diner a glimpse of the chef's approach to cooking and the meal to come. The salmon rillette comprises of three salmon preparations: smoked, fresh and poached. This combination added layers of flavors and textures unlike any salmon rillette I've had before. Luckily, Chef Ripert has shared the recipe at Avec Eric and I can't wait to test it out.

Le Bernardin Tasting

With two sweets on the tasting menu, we asked to swap out one of the desserts with a salad, which they were happy to oblige. The salad of the day was made with fresh herbs and vegetables from the market that day and dressed with a balsamic-shallot vinaigrette. A very basic salad with good ingredients.

Now, this is what put Le Bernardin on the map and is the restaurant's most well known dish. It's a thinly pounded layer of yellowfin tuna on top of even thinner toasted baguette and foie gras drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with chives. It was hard to imagine how these ingredients could work together and who would even think to combine them, but it worked brilliantly. This dish was the ultimate foodgasm: a mind blowing culinary experience that redefines what food is. You might be asking yourself "how can this football shaped tuna be so special?" It is truly hard to describe without tasting it for yourself. This dish alone was worth the price of admission.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, the barely cooked scallop arrived in the most fragrant brown butter dashi broth. The combination of brown butter and dashi released such a tantalizing smell that I nearly buried my nose in the dish. The scallop was indeed barely cooked: translucent on the inside and slightly cooked on top. Sweet, tender and meaty, just the way I like my scallop. Surprisingly, the intense broth didn't over power the scallop and instead was the perfect compliment. 

As each dish arrived, it solidified why Le Bernardin was ranked a three star Michelin restaurant. This lobster "lasagna" with celeriac and truffle butter was no exception. It took the concept of lobster and butter to another level. The rich and velvety truffle butter worked harmoniously with the thin layer of pasta draped over the delicately cooked lobster. 

Spanish Merluza
Merluza, also known as Hake, is a member of the cod and haddock family. The fish was flaky yet firm with a beautiful golden crush sitting on top of a vibrant sauce made with Experanza peppers for a little heat. It was also served with a tender piece of calamari cooked on the grill adding a wonderful charred flavor. 

Stripped bass
Stripped bass is known to be a meatier dish and a great way to end the savory courses. The juicy fish was served on top of red rice and toped with a refreshing green papaya salad and a rich ginger red wine sauce. The crisp and clean flavors of the salad balanced the fattiness of the fish and cut through the rich wine sauce.

Mango-black sesame
The sesame meringue was covered with macerated mango and topped with black sesame ice cream and sesame brittle. It was a well balanced dessert with the tanginess of fresh mangos and the sweetness from the ice cream. We enjoyed this dessert so much, the kitchen sent out two complimentary desserts on top of the complimentary birthday dessert.

Admittedly, my husband is not a big dessert person, so we usually opt out of desserts when possible, but this dish and the three that followed made him fall in love with dessert. 

We also received a complimentary birthday dessert consisting of a dark chocolate parfait, milk ice cream on cocoa nibs and caramel. The chocolate parfait was rich in chocolate flavor but light in texture. The ice cream was sweet but well balanced by the slightly bitter cocoa nibs.  

The second complimentary dessert featured chestnuts, which were in season during our visit. The light cinnamon flavored wafer was filled with a light chocolate mousse topped with chestnuts and served with a chestnut cream on the side. Being lovers of chestnut, we over indulged on this dessert.

Just when we thought we were done, our waiter brought over a pistachio dessert made with pistachio cake topped with fluffy pistachio mousse, Meyer lemon, toasted pistachios and served with a side of pistachio ice cream on top of more pistachios and drizzles of passion fruit gelee. We were in pistachio heaven! This dessert was able to highlight the versatility of pistachio and its flavor. 

By the end of this incredible seven-course meal and added dessert tasting, I could say without a doubt, this was the best meal I have ever experienced. Even better than the incredible meal that we just had at Del Posto. Our meal really showcased Chef Ripert's worldly culinary influence. If you're in New York, go experience Le Bernardin, it's worth every penny. 

Thank you to the staff at Le Bernardin for making my birthday one to remember and to my wonderful husband for over looking the price tag and sharing this unforgettable culinary experience with me. 

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st Steet
New York, NY 10019

If you like Le Bernardin, check out this quick guide on Where to Eat In New York City.

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