Le Bernardin (New York, USA)

Le Bernardin (New York, USA)

Where:
Le Bernardin
155 West 51st, New York
USA

Phone:
+1 (212)-554-1515 but fuck yeah, Murica, you can also make reservations online via OpenTable.  Reservations through OpenTable open 30 days to the day – if you really want to go, take this shit seriously cause shit books up quick.

Price:
The Chef’s Eight Course Tasting Menu is a very large and in charge USD198 per person.  We didn’t go for the wine matching (USD336 per person for wine and food) but went with champagne instead.  After cocktails, champagne, coffees and one glass of armagnac to finish and tip/taxes, we were out at a very hefty, USD500 a person.

The deal:
Le Bernardin is what you’d classify as ‘kind of a big deal’ with its list of accolades running long and it will give anyone plenty of name-dropping material to brag to their friends/blog readers/sychophants and establish your fucking “serious foodie” credentials.  Four stars from the New York Times since 1986, more James Beard awards than any other restaurant in NYC, three Michelin stars and the list that seems to get the biggest panty twisting reaction from food blogs, ranks #21 on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.  Not that you should get sucked into believing the hype because stars and San Pellegrino ranking lists don’t necessarily translate into fuck yeah dining experiences (refer: The #5 ranked, two Michelin starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal).  Our homie who had been before had noted that it was super formal and to almost dress like you were going to a wedding – that might have a been a bit far but it has a strict dress code for the men (jackets required, ties optional) and a full suit/tie is definitely not out of place.

We padded (awwww yissssss, plush as fuck carpet) into Le Bernardin for lunch and it’s no surprise that every single aspect of service from when we arrived til when we left was a superior fuck yeah.  Understated, warm and confident hostesses welcoming you to Le Bernardin.  Fleets of black suited, silent footed waiters who anticipated every need you had (some replete with almost comically over the top French accents).  Sommeliers stalk the floor with a silver tasting saucer hung from a chain around their neck (reminiscent of Flavour Flav with his clock and chain bling). For all my complaining about these new modern restaurants which just want to be stark, industrial spaces and don’t want to spring for the expense of linen under the pretence of how it’s too ‘stuffy’ (see also: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal), it was fucking awesome that Le Bernardin just goes with it and nails a sleek, formal dining room.  A massive 24-foot triptych “Deep Water No. 1” by the Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner depicts a stormy Pacific Ocean (read more detail about the oil painting here) presides over the Bentel & Bentel designed dining room of wood ceilings, plush grey carpet, towering white and green floral arrangements, dark brown leather and shiny steel chairs, soft velvet lounges and white linen.  Fuck yeah, soft furnishings – I’m having my throwback reaction to those noisy, polished concrete moments and you should all get involved so we can be ahead of the goddam trend.

As we were one of the first tables for the day, I spotted Eric Ripert in the dining room talking to the waitstaff.  I managed to keep my shit together (just) before reflecting on how all of these big celebrity chefs can lend their name to restaurants but what does it actually mean if they never actually fucking show up and see what is actually happening in their own fucking kitchen.  It’s interesting to note that while in Asia we love to add the “by” tagline, to denote who is the big name behind the restaurant that the big name restaurants in New York stand alone with no tacky “by Eric Ripert” to get you in the goddamn door.

We went with the signature eight-course Chef’s Tasting Menu because if I’m doing ‘balls to the walls’ dining, I want to have the menu which should showcase the Chef’s vision of his restaurant, his philosophy surrounding the food/ingredients and should optimally present what he thinks is a phenomenal meal.

Out of the eight tasting courses, six are seafood.  It obviously changes depending on what’s seasonal but there are some signature dishes (for our meal we worked through a Tairagai clam, kingfish with Osetra caviar, langoustine, lobster, monkfish and white tuna escolar).  This isn’t a tasting menu which is showing off endless modern technique and scientific methods or a million different references.  Almost every course follows the format of precisely cut pieces of seafood with a purposefully placed accompaniment whether that is a few eggs of caviar, a solitary microchive or a paper thin shaving of a baby fennel or a truffle before being sauced at the table.   I can imagine this simple format would cause some consternation to some people because it feels ‘samey’, but the more I’ve reflected upon this meal I think what I’ve loved was that each course let the seafood be the focal point.

Side note: I’m a slut for tableware too and it was so on point here with the dimpled white and silver Bernardaud “Ecume” tableware and the appropriately stark German Robbe & Berking Riva silver cutlery.

A highlight which wasn’t something I’d had before was the first course – three sashimi style pieces of charred raw Tairagai clam which came dramatically served on its massive black shell, topped with a piece of shaved baby fennel and a Japanese influenced apple and ginger broth. The signature lobster and celeriac lasagne was fucking incredible too, with its truffle butter sauce, shaved truffle and sylph of a microchive.  But the fuck yeah triumph was the fanciest surf ‘n turf of my life, the white tuna escolar with the Kobe beef.  The grilled escolar’s dense waxy texture is set against slivers of sweet Asian pear and topped with a soy-lemon emulsion with the turf compent provided by the only non-seafood protein of the meal, a piece of seared Kobe beef, with its melted fat and a tiny kimchi roll.  This shit was fucking off the hook and this is the dish that I will remember forever, when all the other ingredients and dishes fade into the dark recesses of my memory.

The two dessert courses were small and refined.  One was a Candied Peach Compote, Pistachio Gelato and Raspberry Sorbet “Swirl” Tahitian Vanilla Custard which provided the sharp, tart palate cleanser after disposing of so many rich, creamy seafood courses and the other being the expected chocolate closer, Le Bernardin’s take on a s’more, with a Smoked Madagascan Chocolate Crémeux, Graham Cracker Sablé Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream. I’m not one of those people who loses their shit over chocolate, but this dessert was a fuck yeah to chocolate – avoiding being too sweet or one note by using different chocolate textures, in particular an inbuilt chocolate puddle which pooled out across the plate when you breached the cremeux walls which surrounded it.

I have purposefully not given you a detailed laborious rundown of each course and its ingredients because I think that when you go to a tasting menu, you should go in with expectations but not a whole, goddamn playbook that takes away any potential for the unexpected.  This is why I’m so vehemently against those food reviews which labour through a tasting menu with a blow-by-blow of each course and a million photos from the bread basket to the petit fours.  I also think it’s such a fucking insult to the chef when he’s planned the pacing of his tasting menu and you want to slow down proceedings by taking photos while also fucking up the whole table’s meal.  It’s not that fucking hard to show some fucking respect and just focus on the actual experience at hand versus the one on your fucking camera and/or phone, so you can show people later.  So just in case some of you homies want to one day also drop some serious bank at Le Bernardin, I’ll leave some of the mystery for you to discover for yourself.

Verdict:
This is not the restaurant for someone who doesn’t enjoy seafood or wants a high end dining experience to be filled with tricks and shiz. This was a refined seafood experience which showed each ingredient for what it was in a perfect dining environment. This was the best high end “fuck yeah” seafood experience of my life.  Fuck yeah.  But most definitely on pay day.

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