Le Bernardin


155 West 51st Street, New York


Phone: 212-554-1515

Le Bernardin has been on our list of restaurants to try for quite some time now, but we were saving it for special occasions since dining at this place doesn't come cheap. So to celebrate Gan's very special 30th Birthday, I decided to splurge and treat him to a dinner at Le Bernardin.

Unlike wd~50 which excites diners with experiment of flavors and textures, Le Bernardin's food speaks for itself by being extremely fresh, well-prepared and well-seasoned. Even though the dinner was last week, I can still vividly remember the taste of the Lobster Bisque starter, the Fluke and the Langoustine dish. We were very pleased with the service and the whole dining experience as well. No wonder the restaurant was awarded 4 stars by New York Times every year since its opening in 1986.

Gan: The "high-end" (read: you get to charge >USD150 per person) restaurants usually comes with the typical pre-requisites: a celebrity chef or in some cases - owner, signature dishes that may or may not have past its time, and the sideshows - snotty sommelier, judgmental wait staffs, and all the underpaid runners and bussers. To the uninitiated, the whole experience of this "formal" dining concept can be a little more than intimidating. That, I'm happy to say, is absent from Le Bernadin. Well, you still have celebrity chef/owner, sommeliers, general managers, runners, bussers and what nots here but the hospitality shown by the front staffs (staffs who manage the dining room, as oppose to back staffs who manage the kitchen) more than make up for the stuffiness radiating from the ritzy crowd. It's well known that the high end restaurants live and die by their regulars, who at times, dines nightly at their restaurant. I suspect, some true blood chefs who are motivated more by their craft than the cash registers, welcome the influx of some of these uninitiated. It can be a source of great satisfaction to have your meticulously prepared food enjoyed by people who understood and appreciate the efforts that went into them.
I have heard or read somewhere that chef Eric Ripert kept a high level of quality control by tasting a majority of the food before it's allowed to pass from kitchen to the dining room. That is quite rare amongst the ranks of the celebrity chefs as they start to juggle between their many obligations from opening of new restaurants to expand their empire, publishing biographies or cook books and appearances in marketing events.
Le Bernandin is a true antithesis to how impossible it is for celebrity chefs to still be active in the kitchen daily, how formal dining can still be made accessible to the masses, and how you can get value for money at the "high-end" restaurants.

The wine was good. We told the sommelier that we don't drink as much so he recommended a bottle of Groebe Aulerde Westhofen 2005 Riesling that complemented all the dishes in chef's tasting menu wonderfully.
Gan: The sommelier was very accommodating to our likes and dislikes, as well as patiently explaining the intricacies of wine pairing for us to understand. There's usually a list of pre-recommended wine-pairing for tasting menu but we opted not to go for that as it's usually too much alcohol for us.

Chef Eric Ripert really knows how to start the tasting menu course well. This was actually a pre-dinner lobster bisque with Baby Langoustines. I never realized that lobster bisque could be this perfect- not too creamy and heavy, and have a good blend of lobster broth and liquor/wine.
Gan: Delicate. The baby langoustines were cooked perfectly and was very juicy. The bisque was a little more subtle than usual but the spices complemented the protein well.

White Soy-Yuzu Marinated Fluke; Seaweed and spiced "Rice Crispies" - This dish is so refreshing and absolutely DELICIOUS!!!
Gan: This was my favorite dish of the night. It was very flavorful and very refreshing. Without any sauce, you would think it could be dry or bland but the fluke must have been soaked in white soy-yuzu for quite some time as it was complete with flavor. The seaweed and rice crispies provide good contrast in texture to the fluke. Totally satisfying.

Sauteed Calamari Filled with Sweet Prawns and Wood Ear Mushroom; Calamari Consommé - I realized that Chef Ripert loves to serve his seafood dish with consommés on the side, pouring into the dish just before eating. But it makes perfect sense since fish and seafood tends to soak up liquid quite easily and can get quite mushy.

Spicy Langoustine Curry; Heart of Palm Meuniere; Mango Chutney - I was wowed by this dish. The sweetness of the langoustines went well with the light and tasty curry and mango chutney.
Gan: This was great as well. As you can see by now, I love langoustine. It has the sweetness of lobster and the texture of a shrimp. Best of both types of shell fish.

Barely Cooked Wild Alaskan Salmon; Snow Pea Tips and Enoki Salad; Baby Leek-Wasabi Sauce - To me, this was the perfect way to cook Salmon. Instead of the usual boring citrus seasoning for Salmon, the Baby Leek- Wasabi Sauce was unusual and quite intriguing.
Gan: Le Bernardin specializes in seafood, as you can see in the dishes we've had from the tasting menu. The menu is split into 3 separate categories of done-ness (as in meat's well done, medium pink, or raw): almost raw, barely touched, and lightly cooked. As you can see, they believe strongly in not over-cooking the seafood. The seasonality and freshness of the seafood is of utmost importance here and the creativity is usually seen in the seasoning, saucing, and plating/presentation of the food.

Wild Turbot; Shiso- Matsutake Salad; Lemon Miso Broth - Gan and I have never tried Turbot fish before, thought it tasted somewhat like sole.
Gan: I realized mushrooms go very well with seafood. In fact, most ground or below ground vegetables (even underwater vegetables) compliment well with seafood. Not sure why. Need to look into that.

White Tuna Poached in Extra Virgin Oil; Sea Beans and Potato Crisps; Light Red Wine Bearnaise - Perfect dish before desserts. The white tuna was delicious and the potato crisps gave the dish a really nice texture.
Gan: This white tuna is a bit fatty though it doesn't look like it. That makes it a good entree dish as it's more hearty and heavy.

Warm Butternut Squash Puree; Vanilla Cream; Cinnamon Beignets - Beignets are basically dough nuts and these were puffy, crispy and addictive. The warm Butternut Squash Puree was also very nice.
Gan: What a delight. Who doesn't like doughnuts? The butternut squash puree was very savory.

Star Anise Infused Chocolate Cream; Warm Caramel; Crispy Rice; Vanilla Salt - A very delicate chocolate cream dessert.
Gan: Just like Eric Ripert, we like chocolates as well. This is one of the more interesting chocolate desert we've had.

Our waiter brought over a cake with a candle for Gan
Gan: Honey bunny's surprise. I was wondering why she was grinning ear to ear all night. Thought it was because of Eric Ripert showing up in the dining room.. or maybe it was. :-)

Mini assorted cookies/pastries

We were hoping that Chef Ripert will go around and say hi to everyone, but of course that did not happen. Nevertheless we were glad to have caught a glimpse of him in the dining room.

Gan and I outside of the restaurant after the dinner
Gan: Great food, delicious wine, amazing wife, quiet dinner: can't think of a better way to hit the big three-oh than this.

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon


yaohua said...

Hey yaokuis! We went to Le Bernardin last night, and I think the food might have been the best we've had in NY so far. Everything was perfectly balanced and desserts were great!

Sarah and Gan said...

yea! isn't everything at le bernardin amazing?! after 2 years and other food expeditions later, we still think that le bernardin is one of the best restaurants!

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