When you visit a famed restaurant like Le Bernardin, a restaurant with three Michelin stars and four stars from the New York Times, you expect a stellar experience. Its vaunted reputation creates high expectations. I had never been to Le Bernardin before, but I had read much about it. When I made my reservations, I hoped that it would live up to its reputation.
The restaurant was founded by Maguy La Coze and her brother Gilbert back in 1986. Both born in France, they opened a Le Bernardin in France in 1972. They got the name from an order of monks. Eventually they decided to open a second restaurant in New York City. It quickly won much fame. The current chef is Eric Ripert, also a Frenchman. He moved to New York City in 1991 and soon became the chef at Le Bernardin.
On a beautiful Saturday evening, I entered Le Bernardin and felt immersed in Old World elegance, transported back in time to a more formal world. This is a place to impress with a subtly elegant decor. Men are required to wear jackets to dinner, though ties are optional. There was an ample staff in place and everything seemed to operate like a well-oiled machine.
Their wine list is lengthy and impressive, though prices tend to be on the high side. They do have a lengthy list of Burgundy so that is where I concentrated my attention. There were several sommeliers on duty, all wearing a tastevin on a chain around their necks. A tastevin is a small cup that a sommelier uses to taste the wine. It is an old-fashioned but traditional touch that you see at few restaurants.
I contemplated a couple different Burgundies and asked for some assistance from one of the sommeliers. I asked her if she could describe the basic style of the wines, and she was immediately able to do so. One was a more modern style wine while the other was more traditional. I decided on the more traditional one, the 2004 Domaine Robert Arnoux Vosne-Romanee ($135).
We were very pleased with this wine. It was a very good example of a traditional Burgundy, especially after it breathed for a short bit. Plenty of good red fruit flavors with a touch of spice and earthiness. The tannins were smooth and the wine went well with much of our dinner. It is a wine that I would order again.
For dinner, we ordered off the regular menu as we did not have time for an extended tasting menu as we were going to the theater that evening. The regular menu is a four-course meal for $109 per person. You get to choose each course from a list of about 10-12 items. Almost everything on the menu is seafood though they have a few other entrees. I thought that many of the available selections sounded quite delicious so it was difficult to decide what to select. I also thought a number of the selections were innovative, with intriguing combinations of ingredients.
As our first course, we had Pounded Tuna with Foie Gras & Toast and Squash Blossoms filled with Peekytoe Crab and topped with Black Truffle Sauce. This tuna certainly took quite a beating as it was paper thin and covered much of the plate. Almost like a carpaccio. It was quite tasty, just melting in my mouth. The silky Foie paired well with the tuna. The crab-filled blossoms were also delicious, with plenty of sweet crab meat with a subtle sauce that only enhanced the flavor.
Next up, a Sea Urchin Risotto with Toasted Nori & Urchin-Citrus Emulsion and Bacalao with Almonds and Chorizo Oil. The Risotto was exceptional, a creamy delight that I wanted never to end. Everything in this dish worked just perfectly together and it was my favorite dish of the evening. The Bacalao was very good too. It was clear that the chef well knew how to combine flavors and ingredients to bring out a harmonious melange of tastes. Nothing ever seemed out of place on our plates.
Our entrees included a Surf & Turf of White Tuna and Kobe Beef with a lemon & brown butter emulsion and fresh kimchi as well as a Poached Halibut with marinated almonds, pistachios, green olives, and a blood orange-verjus vinaigrette. The tuna was tender and flaky and the Kobe, cooked rare, melted in my mouth. They were small pieces, which would not please some, but no one could complaint about their taste. The Halibut was a larger dish of food and had an excellent taste, with a nice blend of flavors from the nuts to the vinaigrette.
For dessert, I selected a simple one, Coconut Sorbet. I received three scoops of a quite delectable sorbet with a strong coconut flavor, very smooth and pleasing. We also had the Chocolate-Sweet Potato, a Dark Amedai chocolate ganache, with sweet potato pearls, sorbet, pistachios, palm sugar, and vanilla salt. That was also a heavenly concoction, decadent and delicious. As a bonus, they also brought out a Passion Fruit Mousse dessert to me for birthday, with a candle in it. An excellent touch and the mousse was silky smooth with very good fruit flavors.
The service was exceptional. All of the servers and assistants worked well as a team. They were all professional and made sure there were no problems. Overall, this was an exceptional dining experience, no less than what I expected. I would agree with all of the praise the restaurant has received over the years. It is well worth going to Le Bernardin, even if only for a special occasion.
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY