Le Bernardin, NYC

December 8, 2008

Several years ago we had a disappointing meal at Le Bernardin in August and stupidly had not been back until Tom and I went on December 4, 2008. This was despite the fact that Le Bernardin has three Michelin Stars; the top food rating, 28, in Zagats and has had the top New York Times four star rating longer than any other restaurant. Le Bernardin was started in 1972 in Paris and moved to New York in 1986.

There are three menu levels: the standard four course meal at $109; the seven course tasting menu at $135 or the Chef’s Tasting Menu at $185. Wine pairings are offered for the last two. Since we were going on to the theater, we only could consider the first which offers a choice from twelve fish or seafood courses in each of three different categories: Almost Raw, Barely Touched and Lightly Cooked; plus dessert. The sommelier brought the wine list right away. Seeing that I was somewhat shocked by the prices, she recommended a Chablis. That turned out to be a 2005 Clos Pinson at only $170. It was excellent, certainly the best Chablis I have ever had.

The amuse-gueule was a glass of crab and cauliflower foam.
Very nice.

Tom’s Almost Raw course was
Progressive tasting of Kumamoto Oyster “en gelée”; From Light Refreshing to Complex and Spicy

Each oyster had a jellied topping progressing from light to heavier, but Tom felt that even the “complex and spicy” one did not overshadow the delicious oyster. Since he was wearing a tie and a little fork was provided, he used it, but concluded later that the flavors would have been better if they had arrived in a combined burst by his slurping the oyster.

My Almost Raw course was
White Soy-Yuzu Marinated Fluke; Seaweed and Spiced “Rice Crispies”
The three way flavor and texture contrast of the fluke, the light marinade and the crunchy rice nuggets was excellent. The seaweeds and gold flakes created a lovely visual effect.


Tom’s Barely Touched course was
Sea Urchin Risotto; Toasted Nori; Urchin-Citrus Emulsion

Tom writes: “The risotto had a flavor that was clearly from the sea, with another subtle, pleasant note from the sea urchin.”


My Barely Touched course was a special for the evening
Nantucket Bay Scallops with truffles
The world’s best scallops are harvested in Nantucket Bay from November through March. They have an elegant, briny flavor with a touch of hazelnut. Here they had been cut in half horizontally and lightly cooked; I would guess by poaching or sous vide. The sauce had a definite touch of truffle which went perfectly with the slightly nutty scallops. Just guessing, I would say fish stock, paprika and crème fraiche. This dish was suberb, one of the best of the year. 


Tom’s Lightly Cooked course was
Baked Codfish; Green Mango Salad; Red Lentil Stew; Yoghurt Sauce

Tom had lived in the Punjab when in the Peace Corps and is recently back from India seeing old friends from that era. He writes: “On reviewing the menu description, there is really no hint that this was the perfect dish for me, so that was serendipity. The cod came with two sauces, which the waiter added at the table. The waiter called the first a “tandoori sauce,” which I found puzzling. I kept saying “but a tandoori is an oven” and you said they probably meant the spices typically used in tandoori cooking. And that’s what they were, but in tandoori cooking they’re used as a rub, not a sauce. The second sauce was a white yoghurt sauce, which the waiter dribbled over the red tandoori sauce in a way that made a design that seemed Indian to me – just right for the dish. The cod was a very nice piece of fish, very tender. The sauce had a little heat, but not too much for the fish. I liked the Indian flavors and the presentation – but it’s surprising it’s not clearer on the menu what this is.” The only downside to the dish was that it threw off the flavor of the excellent Chablis.


My Lightly Cooked Course was
Poached Halibut; Baby Brussel Sprouts; Sea Urchin – Mustard Sauce

This is my idea of great cuisine: a superb product, cooked just enough with a single garnish and a perfect sauce. The little bit of mustard seemed to bring out the flavor of the sea urchin rather than masking it.


Tom’s dessert was
Roasted Fig, Goat Cheese Parfait, Hazelnut, Red Wine Caramel, Bacon Ice Cream

Yes, the ice cream really did taste of bacon. A good dessert.


My dessert was
Gianduja Cream, Oregon Hazelnuts, Honey, Banana, Brown Butter Ice Cream

I had enjoyed brown butter ice cream two weeks before at WD-50. It is a habit I could get used to.

Four delicious tiny mignardises were served with the espressos.

The meal was excellent, certainly worth the price. The service had been good, perhaps too pervasive, but we were done in plenty of time to get to the nearby theater for a fine production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. The noise level at Le Bernardin was low due to the high ceilings, the upscale clientele and some empty tables. They probably filled up after we left as people were waiting in the bar. We will certainly be back to try the Chef’s Tasting Menu.


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