I was nervous about only one thing, well two, actually. I knew the food would be amazing, but would Le Bernardin be really formal and stuffy? And most of all, what would happen when I whipped out my camera? Would they hiss at me to put it away and look down their nose at me the rest of the night?
We got there a few minutes early and we were invited to wait just a minute for our table. I took that as an opportunity to chat up the Maitre D’ and ask him if the chef was in the house. In a heavily (French, of course) accent, he said no. I said, oh that was too bad, because I wanted to talk to him about voting Kenny off Top Chef. He (the maitre D’) said, “Oh Kenny went home?” I was worried I had ruined the show for him, but he said no and we discussed the in’s and out’s of Top Chef. That was a good start, I thought.
As we were being seated, we saw the sommelier taking pictures of one table of people with their camera. He couldn’t have been friendlier or nicer about it. So that was my second big worry down the drain before we even reached our table.
No menus yet, we first ordered a drink and were asked the type of water we wanted. I ALWAYS order
The room itself is beautifully appointed, but more men's club than romantic getaway. It was very plush and comfortable and the only thing I wished was that the lights had been a little lower. Plus there were no tables in any discreet corners. It's definitely a place to see and to BE seen.
The menus came, which I always check out in advance. But I hadn’t realized there was no a la carte menu. Le Bernardin has 2 tasting menus and a prix fixe FOUR course menu. The four course menu had loads of choices, but you did have to order all 4 courses (which included dessert), whether you wanted to or not.
I’m not sure I feel about this. I remember a particularly mediocre place in
Of course, when you order a multi-coursed TASTING menu, you know what you’re getting yourself into. You want to have the chef’s vision of the perfect progression of courses. Prix fixe menus offer more choice than that and I have no problem with them, but FOUR courses isn’t an option that everyone enjoys.
However, the French aren’t known for being democratic and certainly not in the kitchen, so if Chef Ripert wants to offer 4 courses, that’s his prerogative. Plus there WERE 12 choices in EACH of the first 3 savory courses, so really there was nothing to complain about.
The amuse from the kitchen was tiny squares of fried squid (I‘ve NEVER had it cut like that) with a wonderful aioli. (Don’t kill me if it was a tartar sauce, I actually can’t remember. The kir had just kicked in.)
H ordered the Sea Urchin - Sea Urchin Roe On A Bed Of Jalapeno – Wasabi Jam, Seaweed Salt, Wakama – Orange Scented Broth.
It did look like brains and had a firm texture, but no hint of rubberiness. It soaked up the salty broth beautifully. I didn’t get any hotness in my taste, but it seemed as if it had been grabbed right from the ocean.
I started with Pounded Tuna - Layers Of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Foie Gras And Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives And Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Okay, THIS is what I’m talking about! This is the reason to come to Le Bernardin. The hearty fish is pounded thin, which is interesting. I liked the hearty texture and taste of tuna as a counterpoint to its delicate presentation. There was just a hint of the fatty richness of the foie gras and a very slight crispness in every bite from the baguette, which you couldn’t see, but you had this hint of.
I don’t know how shaving a chive is different from snipping it, but the tiny pieces of chives almost seemed as if they had been arranged with tweezers, they were so beautifully scattered around.
A whisper of olive oil enriched the dish and echoed the rich feel of the foie gras on the palate. Seriously, this was an artful dish that displayed all the best of Le Bernardin.
Course two started with H’s Langoustine – Seared Langoustine, Mache And Wild Mushroom Salad, Shaved Foie Gras, White Balsamic Vinaigrette.
The langoustine itself was so tender, moist and flavorful that anything else in the dish would have to be extraordinary to even notice it. I do love white balsamic vinegar. It lifts every dish to a new level and it did that with the “salad” ingredients and foie gras. I would call the salad more of a garnish rather than an accompaniment and that was just fine. It didn’t take anything away from the perfect langoustine and actually enhanced every bite.
My second course was Lobster - Warm Lobster Carpaccio; Hearts Of Palm, Orange Vinaigrette.
I adore hearts of palm and I was looking forward to this combination. This dish was the only one with a hint that a mere mortal, and not a god, had cooked it. The lobster was JUST on the wrong side of rubbery. Plus the flavor didn’t compare to the langoustines, which were so sweet. I loved the dressing and the snipped chives and the hearts of palm, of course, but both H and I agreed the langoustine won that round.
There was no question that I would order the Black Bass. Why? Because I loved baos – the little steamed buns. They are among my most favorite things.
Black Bass - Crispy Black Bass, Lup Cheong And Bean Sprout Risotto, Mini Steamed Buns, Hoisin-Plum Jus
The bass was so moist and tender, but it was quite meaty too. The skin was a super thin layer of divine crispiness. I also love hoisin sauce and I really liked the sweetness it gave the sauce. The buns were just right with a touch of the Chinese sausage (lup cheong) on top.
H had the Hiramasa - Seared Yellowtail King Fish, Truffle Risotto, Spring Vegetables, Black Truffle Emulsion.
It was a riot of truffles, both on the risotto and in the sauce. It was beautifully cooked, but I actually preferred the black bass and my cute baos. The risotto was so rich and full of that musky truffle taste that I actually thought they could have served it with less yellowtail. A few pieces would have done it.
I have to mention the sommelier. He was seriously good looking, REALLY cute.
This blurry picture doesn’t do him justice. I asked him for a red wine that would knock our socks off, a wine that would really grab us. He found us a wine that WAS a bit more than our budget, but it was fabulous and I will always remember it.
The whole staff was so friendly and down to earth and utterly professional. I asked the waiter, actually he was kind of the HEAD waiter type guy, if I could take the menu home. Not only did he say bien sur, he brought me the dinner and dessert menus in a nice big envelope. Oh, and when he showed us the dessert menu, he asked if we could guess what that was on the cover. I couldn’t. Can you? Look for the answer in the first comment to this post.
This is interesting. When I read the description of this dish, the lemon stood out. White chocolate, banana and…lemon? That’s not a common combination, but what it did was to ensure that the white chocolate wasn’t too sweet. It was inspired. Plus the coconut sorbet was a nice, exotic touch on a plate of very calm flavors.
I broke my usual no-chocolate in restaurants rule and we also ordered the Chocolate-Peanut dessert - Dark Chocolate Ganache, Salted Peanuts, Caramel, Lemon Purée, Peanut Powder, Praline-Citrus Sorbet.
The chocolate ganache tart was fantastic. How could it not be? But again, there was an out of ordinary lemon touch, which added such an interesting dimension. The salty and sweet combination really worked too. This was such a seriously thought-out dessert that it’s actually making my head spin thinking about it. You have sweet and sour; sweet and salty; chocolate and nut flavors together; nut and citrus. Wow!
The Petit Fours arrived and we actually left a couple. There was just no need to eat anything else.
The food, the kir royale, the wine (plus the cute guy serving it) and the service – all were nearly perfect. Oh, I did think the bread guy was a few steps behind in his game, but everything else was pretty superb.
One more thing…H, thank you for such a beautiful meal. To you, to us...