Sunday, January 13, 2008

Le Bernadin

Rated among the very very finest restaurants in New York I found this French influenced seafood restaurant oddly disappointing. Chef and part owner Eric Rippert has worked in Tour deArgent and Jamin both 3 Michelin star restaurants and was chosen by the James Beard Foundation as Chef of the year in 2003.
The restaurant occupies a very large, carpeted, high ceiling room with tables crowded together. There are a few very large Modiglinesque style paintings around the walls and the glass wall facing the street is covered, Japanese style with an open square lattice in front of an off white opaque thin material
After checking coats (jackets obligatory) We were led to our table past a central table decorated with a floral arrangement in 6 gigantic vases
There were waiters, drink waiters, somellieurs, and section captains everywhere. This was bustling and busy - not a relaxing sophisticated arrangement.
There are a variety of menu options including a four course choice of two appetizers, a main and a dessert ($107) , the Le Bernadin tasting menu at $135 ($220 with wine pairing) and the Chef’s tasting menu $180 or $320 with paired wines
The a la carte menu is divided into Almost raw, Barely touched, Lightly cooked about 10 selections in each and a few Upon request non seafood items
We chose the Chef’s menu which began with an offering from the chef – a scallop ever so slightly cooked in a slightly sweetish light mustard foam. A wonderful start
The first course was Fluke a thin translucent rectangle which had been marinated in white soy and yuzu and decorated with seaweed and spiced rice crispies a small appetizer, barely two bites, but quite a nice combinations textures
Sauteed baby calamari filled with sweet prawns contrasted with the crisp fried tendrils served with two very small wood eared mushrooms and calamari consommé would have been very good except that the delicacy of the dish was destroyed by the heavily over seasoned consommé – much to much salt and pepper.
The barely cooked wild Alaskan salmon was exquisite. Served with a miniscule daikon and enaki salad (a couple of tiny leaves) and a baby leak-wasabi sauce which was again over seasoned and did nothing to enhance the fabulous salmon.

The next course - Spicy langoustine curry, heart of palm meuniere and mango chutney. The sweet, delicate very fresh langoustine was completely overwhelmed by the spicy curry sauce which dominated the dish. Had there been more mango it might have modified the sauce and made for a better balanced and palatable dish
Wild turbot, Shiso-Matsutaki Salad (a tiny skerick of decoration hardly worthy of being titled ‘salad', was overcooked. At least once during each course the section captain, or a waiter asked if everything was to our satisfaction or were we enjoying the meal. When I offered my opinion he said he was sorry. After this happened a few times I asked what was the point of asking and being sorry. He said it was of concern to the chef and that if we were not pleased a dish it could be replaced at any time. This time when pointed out to the section captain- Julio, a very pleasant young man, the dish was replaced by a slightly less cooked piece of turbot. Again the soy in the lemon miso broth was too salty for the delicate fish and even the second time round was too seasoned for the dish
Escolar, a large fish referred to as Hawaiian or white tuna was poached in EVOO, served with sea beans and potato crisps this time with a lovely matching light red wine Bearnaise. This was an excellent textured dish but again a tiny serve which could do with a more generous amount of crisps After the Butternut squash puree served with vanilla cream and tiny beignets (there were three but I was slow to get my camera out!)
We got two desserts one complimentary surprise dessert and one a menu change with a complimentary glass of luscious Kracher dessert wine which complimented the desserts. The first was a superb combination of layers of caramel, maple syrup, and caramel foam seasoned with sea salt and presented in a topped egg
and the second was a hazel nut and chococolate truffle with honeyed hazel nuts, caramelized slices of banana on a biscuit base. Coffee and petit fours completed the meal.
We had wine by the glass – from $15 to $35 starting with slightly sweet Moselle reisling then a dryer Tesch Nahe 2006 Remiguisberg reisling which was perfect for the fish, then a Bordeaux syle 20002 Tokay pinot gris “Schwartzberg” Jean Pierre Dirler.
All in all it was an interesting meal, rather small to tiny serves with some failures. Larger serves would allow a better appreciation of the qualities of the ingredients and the dishes. The ambience of the place is upper class café style with suits. To crowded. Service is too efficient! And somewhat in your face. However Julio did take excellent care of us and very kindly gave me a copy of the 2008 Zagat Guide a particularly generous gesture

With a 15% gratuity it cost $550 for the meal
Score: 16.5/20


Anonymous said...

Hi Elliot, Interesting review of this restaurant. My first impression was wow give me magnifying glass. The portions are quite small even for a degustation menu. Also you did point out a few times that the food was slightly over seasoned, I do wonder, when so many dishes are like that how they get such good reviews. Also how was having only fish and seafood (no meat) in the whole menu? From reading and looking at the photos I would agree that it does look disappointing. May give this one a miss next time I get the chance to visit the Big Apple. p.s I see that the prices have not changed much from years ago. Regards John

Elliot and Sandra said...

Hi John
Regretrably it just missed the mark. The absence of meat was no problem I didn't really notice it. With so many good places to go to I wouldn't rush there again but I'm not sorry I went once