my week in NYC: le Bernardin

I would like to say I’ve saved the best for last, but this is my last NYC post only because I didn’t know how exactly I was going to write it.

This was the restaurant visit I was most looking forward to — for months before the trip. I had elicited some friends to join in on what I had told them would be an experience of a lifetime, to dine at Eric Ripert’s 3-star Michelin Le Bernardin.

Unfortunately, the UN Summit was happening and I had no idea it would be such a tragedy to get into a taxi. My taxi driver was unhappy to be traveling at such slow speed and was griping about how he should’ve taken the week off blah blah. I, on the other hand, was panicked I’d be late for our noon reservations.

As luck would have it, I WAS late — 15 minutes — but my friends had already arrived and when I got there, we were immediately seated and offered a complimentary glass of champagne to start. My heart was racing just sitting in the understated dining room.

A basket of bread arrives and we decide to try one of each to share between us. The foccacia was pretty good.

As was the multi-grain and the one with walnuts.

An amuse bouche of poached and smoked salmon spread was brought out. Upon trying, one of my friends said “I liked the one from Russ and Daughters better”. She was right! My palate didn’t do a double take. It was average. But it was an amuse bouche. Surely, the meal had to be better?

The three of us made it a point to choose different things to get a varied taste of what the menu had to offer.

Appetizers came in either a cold or warm variety. Cobia, better known as ling, was described on the menu as curry crusted. It was so subtle I hardly noticed it. The dish is finished table side with the roasted pepper vinaigrette spooned over the cobia — which was a tad chewy — and the coconut lime broth drizzled around the plate. The coconut lime broth again was mild, but unlike the curry,  I detected both the ingredients listed and the strips of young coconut helped it along.

Fluke was served as sashimi topped with micro watercress, avocado, slices of cherry tomatoes and chives. A jalapeno lime broth is drizzled table side. It was a nice dish but not mouth-popping by any means although refreshing on the palate.

Our favorite was Tuna — layers of thinly pounded Yellowfin tuna over foie gras and a very thinly sliced toasted baguette. Topped with finely chopped chives and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, this was one of those dishes I expected to find in a fine dining establishment. Neither the tuna nor the foie overpowered one another. Each mouthful was an equal balance of the two giving a sensational finish which didn’t leave us feeling like we couldn’t taste the other.

The entrees were also a hit and miss. We decided to try the Duck as an alternative option to the hugely seafood-centric menu.  Roasted duck magret slices were cooked medium rare but on the tough side. The accompanying red-wine grape mostarda sauce was lovely. 

A side of turnip (daikon) gratin was served alongside in a little cast iron pot. The lack of starchiness in the turnip was a strange combination with the heavy cheese.

Black Bass — crispy black bass with roasted shishito peppers, acorn squash ceviche bathed in a Peruvian chicha (traditionally, a fermented maize) sauce. The fish was perfectly executed, but slightly underseasoned. 

Our favorite was the Arctic Char just gently cooked so it was still ultra rare melting in our mouths. Truffled peas and favas were nice, as well as the butter lettuce-tarragon emulsion on the plate.

By now, my friends and I were seriously underwhelmed by this meal which was supposed to blow our minds. One of my friends reminded me of the spectacular meal we had at Melisse years ago, while the other kept saying it wasn’t unusual that I found the meal lackluster, but it’s really telling when they were feeling the same.

Desserts were supposed to redeem everything which came before, but unfortunately, it ended on a bad note. Fig was a very gelatinous poached fig which lost all semblance of the fig, but was a sticky mess. The honey mousse was like face cream in both texture and taste and rosemary rice water threw the entire dish off more than it already was.

Plum offered a nicely flavored plum “parfait” but texturally a little dense. Ginger foam was faintly gingery and the sake sorbet was bitter. The micro shisho was the best part of dessert, cleansing my confused palate.

The best turned out to be Chocolate Peanut, a Madagascan chocolate peanut mousse served with a quenelle of salted caramel ice cream. Everything worked on this plate and the textural components complemented one another.

At lunch time, three prix-fixe menus are offered. Ours was a 3-course prix-fixe ($70) while a $45 two course is offered in the lounge, and a $190 tasting menu is also available. All I have to say is, I sighed a breath of relief that we didn’t select the tasting menu. To say we were disappointed was an understatement. I was hoping to have this meal wow me, for me to feel that going to New York and visiting the caliber of restaurant we don’t get in southern California was worth the time and money. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st Street
New York, NY 10091
Tel: 212-554-1515

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

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