Le Bernardin

 March 27, 2013

155 W 51st St. New York, NY | www.le-bernardin.com

A brightly lit table was the stage for the most anticipated meal of my recent visit to NYC. The dinner to come beamed with promise of an exploration of the sea, providing insight into Chef Eric Ripert’s mastery of seafood. As the minutes leading up to dinner dwindled, my anticipation mounted. This would be just my second 3-star Michelin experience, one that would certainly fall into comparison against last year’s visit to Alinea.

Passing through the revolving door into Le Bernardin, I was transported into a bustling atmosphere of white tablecloth and an army of waitstaff. The remodeled interior of Le Bernardin from years past is clean, warm, inviting, and comfortable – despite the seemingly stuffy attire of both patron and server. A few minutes pass and we are greeted at our table by our server, who in some way guesses all of our names from reservation notes. The typical opening conversations ensue: Tap, bottled, or sparkling water? Any allergies? An explanation of the menu format.

Having planned for this evening well ahead of time I had walked in with full intention to try the chef’s tasting menu. After some short deliberation among my dining companions, our order was placed and the tasting could begin.

1st Course: Tuna – Thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras, toasted baguette, chives, extra virgin olive oil

The first plate in my journey with Chef Ripert is one I had expected. A slice of toasted baguette with a foie gras spread hides beneath thinly pounded tuna. Richness from the foie gras is curbed by the sweetness and slight salinity of the tuna. A light spritz of citrus brings the flavor profile full circle while also refreshing the palate. Deceptively simple yet satisfyingly tasteful – a very nice start.

2nd Course: Langoustine – Sauteed langoustine, truffle, chanterelle, aged balsamic

Woodsy tones of mushroom and truffle give surprising substance to the subtle sweet flavor of langoustine. The langoustine is expertly prepared, soft and delightfully tender. The creamy texture of the base pairs well against the slight chew of the mushrooms and langoustine. The only shortfall is the absence of taste from the aged balsamic, whose bite would have balanced the plate nicely.

3rd Course: Octopus – Charred octopus “a la plancha”, green olive, black garlic emulsion, sun-dried tomato vierge

Despite being grilled on a metal plate the octopus of our next course is remarkably tender, undoubtedly the most tender preparation I’ve ever had. A slight smoky char from the grill accentuates the mild sweetness of the octopus. Black garlic, green olive, and sun-dried tomato add punches of bitter and zing that pop with each bite.

4th Course: Salmon – Barely cooked wild samon, black truffle pot-au-feu

Ingredient quality is the focal point of the next course, with a deft hand given to preparation of the salmon. The fattiness of the salmon is evident in each bite, as the soft texture melts in the mouth. The fatty, oceanic flavor of the salmon is balanced by savory and earthy tones from the pot-au-feu. The pot-au-feu also creates a pseudo “hot/cool” temperature contrast in the dish.

5th Course: Lobster – Baked lobster “goulash”, light potato gnocchi, braised pearl onions

Tender and sweet lobster is accentuated in this dish with the varying notes of herbs and paprika from the goulash sauce. The lobster is prepared with just the slightest trace of chewiness. Accompanying the dish is a small bowl of gnocchi, also finished with the goulash. Braised pearl onions lend the occasional pop of sharpness and bite.

6th Course: Striped Bass – Wild striped bass, Bhutanese red rice, green papaya salad, ginger-red wine sauce

Strong flavor sensations from the ginger-red wine sauce and the complexity of the Bhuatanese red rice sing on the palate, but work to mask the natural flavor of the striped bass. Further muddling the mild flavor of the bass is the sourness of green papaya. Despite having lost the presence of the bass, this course still delivered a full bodied profile of flavor which I found enjoyable.

7th Course: Coconut Pineapple – Coconut “espuma”, pineapple sorbet, cilantro

The combination of refreshing and bright citrus flavors of this pre-dessert worked very well to cleanse the palate of the heavier flavors of the previous course. Coconut adds a level of sweetness and helps to keep the sour of pineapple in check.

8th Course: Chocolate Popcorn – Madagascan chocolate ganache, candied peanuts, popcorn ice cream

I find desserts which incorporate elements of savory flavors to be immensely more interesting than all-sweet variations. The bitter of Madagascan chocolate balances the sweet of candied peanuts and ice cream very nicely here. The slight corn-flavor from the popcorn ice cream adds an extra layer of sweet-yet-savory flavor to the plate.

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After the last of the petit fours were consumed and the final cups of coffee were poured I reflected on the night’s experience. Through six savory courses I had been given the opportunity to experience Chef Ripert’s skills with seafood first hand. The featured seafood element of each course – save perhaps for the striped bass – was well prepared and executed. Taking stock of all the flavor combinations presented to us (again with the exception of the striped bass) I could sense Chef Ripert’s deep understanding of the ingredients and their individual flavors.

If given the opportunity, should you dine at Le Bernardin? Certainly. Definitely. However, I did find myself longing for a course or two that were more daring. While Le Bernardin executes flavors, presentation, and seafood undoubtedly well – certainly a cut above the vast majority – for one reason or another I felt a lack of excitement or whimsy in the menu presented. While I do not expect every 3-Michelin starred restaurant to push the envelope of technique, creativity, and pre-conception to Alinea-esque extents, I do wish that just one or two courses at Le Bernardin had dared to try.

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10079
212.554.1515

*** 3 Michelin Stars

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

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