Le Bernardin

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St.
New York, NY 10019
I always plan my vacations around food.  I make reservations for the toughest spots first and then fill in the gaps with other restaurants or tourist attractions.  For my recent NYC trip I put Eleven Madison Park and Sushi Nakazawa at the top.  Le Bernardin was sort of an after thought, which is why I could only get a 5:15pm reservation on Friday night.  It actually worked out well because we slept most of Friday anyways after taking the red eye in, and Le Bernardin ended up being our first meal of the day.

Hamachi Tartare
Lobster Causa avocado, potato foam
The meal got off to a great start with these fantastic treats from the chef.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the first bite (left) was, but I do remember it was delicious.   The hamachi tartare (center) was bright.  The lobster causa (right) had that typical Peruvian acidity that was well tempered by the avocado and mashed potatoes.  Calling it a potato foam was totally reaching.  It was straight up mashed potatoes.  Really really really good mashed potatoes.

The bread was not particularly special.  The orange one was a sundried tomato something that was pretty soft and my favorite of the 3.

Caviar Tartare filet mignon, kampachi, osetra caviar, lightly smoked dashi gelee, The first course of our chef’s tasting menu was this beautifully balanced tartare of filet mignon and kampachi.  Great caviar is neither too salty or too fishy, so if that’s what comes to mind with caviar than you’ve just had mediocre caviar.  The best part had to have been than dashi gelee, which brought added a cool savory silky Asian note to the dish.  The dish was finished with smoked foam and enjoyed with sourdough toast.  YUMS!!

Lobster lacquered lobster tail, herb spring roll, lemongrass consomme
The lobster was perfectly poached and topped with a lobster glaze.  It was accompanied by a deeply flavorful shrimp lemongrass broth.  The flavor of the broth was out of this world perfection!  It was chock full of sweet shellfish flavor and brightened by a wonderful lemongrass aroma.  The lobster spring roll had one too many herbs in it for my liking, and The Annoyer agreed with me on this.  Overall, very YUMS worthy too.

Langoustine seared langoustine, fennel mousseline, spiced citrus sambal sauce
The generous portion of lobster made this little langoustine seem a little underwhelming.  However, the preparation and flavors gave the lobster dish a run for it’s  money.  I was totally in love with the sambal sauce, but it could have used a touch more heat.  That little nori chip on top of the langoustine was a nice touch.  I was seriously impressed with how fantastic the meal was at this point.

Salmon barely cooked organic salmon, warm buddha’s hand salad, tarragon-olive oil emulsion
Salmon is not my favorite fish as many of you know, but there are times when I have been really impressed, usually when it is served skin on with the skin being extra flavorful and crispy.  The chef was going for that barely cooked approach by cooking it on one side and leaving the other side raw.  Without a doubt, the fish was extremely tender, allowing the natural fattiness of salmon to shine through.  The warm buddha’s salad included broccoli which I thought was an odd pairing with salmon.  The tarragon olive oil emulsion, while tasty, was a bit of a departure from the previous dishes that all had Asian influences and flavors.  Overall, still good, but certainly not at the same level of amaze-balls deliciousness as the previous dishes.

Halibut poached halibut, asparagus, spring peas, fava beans, morel casserole
I like halibut more than salmon, but find that it can be tough or dry if not prepared properly.  Certainly, the preparation here was neither of those things.  The halibut was meatier than the salmon, and just slightly underdone towards the center.  The morel sauce was deeply aromatic of concentrated earthy mushroom flavor.  It was perhaps too concentrated, if that is possible, and somewhat distracting.  The greens highlighted the seasonality of the dish.  I liked this better than the salmon, but still wished for something with a little more pop.

White Tuna-Japanese Wagyu grilled escolar and seared wagyu, wild mushroom “endive farcie,” red wine-peppercorn sauce
The escolar was definitely the best of all the fish dishes.  It was the best balance of tenderness, moistness, natural fattiness, and inherent flavor.  The wagyu was too fatty for me.  I felt like I could see and taste the fat globules bursting in my mouth.  I wanted more meat.  I could not finish it, mostly because I was so full already.  The endive farcie was just ok.  Endive seems to be a popular ingredient at high end restaurants, but the bitterness is hard to appreciate sometimes.  The peppercorn sauce was spot on.  I would expect nothing less for a French chef.

Grapefruit grapefruit sorbet, blood orange-quince granite
This first dessert was like a palate cleanser.  The sorbet and granite was bright, refreshing, and quite tart.

Black Forest brandied cherries, whipped vanilla cream, chocolate sorbet
This was a chocolate lovers dream.  I am a chocolate lover.  Every form and flavor of chocolate was present. Dark, milk and white.  Crunchy, moussey, creamy, and cakey.  Wonderful.

Chocolate Mousse Cake
It being one of my many birthday dinners during the vacation, I was treated to an extra dessert course.  The mousse sat on top of a crispy chocolate wafer base, which I loved.  The extra helping of chocolate ganache on the side was deeply chocolatey and maybe even a little savory.  I probably hit chocolate overload here though.

Mignardises earl grey bonbon, red wine hibiscus gelee, dulce de leche macaron, cherry pistachio financier
A nice selection of small treats to end out the meal.

Le Bernardin started off really strong with the amuse bouche and first 3 courses.  It was, without a doubt flawless, from execution and flavor to presentation.  I don’t think I’ve had such a successful succession of seafood deliciousness before.  If the meal had ended there it would have been a perfect 10.  Unfortunately the fish courses including the wagyu beef left much more to be desired.  I hypothesized that the lack of Asian flavors left the dishes feeling a bit underwhelming.  Truthfully, they felt more classically French in conception and flavor.  The Annoyer didn’t really agree, but didn’t propose a better theory.  Chef Eric Ripert is supposed to be the “fish guy” so it was disappointing to feel unimpressed with his fish dishes.  In reviewing previous tasting menus, it seems the first 3 courses are consistently present.  The latter 3 dishes have some variation.  So, I would still return to Le Bernardin for an occasion hoping for a stronger menu.  Eleven Madison Park certainly takes the cake, but in comparing Le Bernardin to Per Se it would be hard for me to give either the edge.  If you twisted my arm, maybe I would say Per Se is better.


10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here



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