Deciding which restaurants – and in particular which Michelin starred restaurants – to go to in New York was one of the hardest things I had to do (#firstworldproblems). We decided we *had* to dine at Per Se or Eleven Madison Park (yes, sadly we had to choose between the two) but selecting other restaurants was more difficult. After a lot of reading and many recommendations we finally decided on Le Bernardin.
Le Bernardin is Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze’s acclaimed French seafood restaurant. Originated in Paris Le Bernardin relocated to New York in 1986 and has received a number of accolades over the years – 4 stars from The New York Times, 3 stars from the Michelin Guide, a number of James Beard Awards, and ranked 19th in The World’s Best 50 Restaurants Guide 2013.
The day finally arrived for our first Michelin starred restaurant experience. But after days of glorious sunshine the weather decided to rain on our parade. Luckily we found umbrellas in the apartment we were renting and off we went. We managed to find the restaurant without too much fuss and arrived looking somewhat respectable (their dress code did have me rather stressed – if men have to wear dinner jackets, what is acceptable for women?!)
As Eleven Madison Park was pegged as our blow-the-budget meal we’d planned on having the three course prix fixe for lunch at Le Bernardin. But then we started perusing the menu and couldn’t possibly settle on just two savoury dishes each. And the first three dishes on the Le Bernardin Tasting Menu were ones we both had our eye on. Then of course we looked at each other, shrugged and said “when in Rome…”
Le Bernardin Tasting Menu – $150.00 per person / with wine pairing $241.00 per person
- Tuna – Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna, Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
(Amigne de Vétroz, Romain Papilloud-Cave Vieux Moulin, Valais, Switzerland 2011)
- Scallop – Barely Cooked Scallop, Brown Butter Dashi
(Assyrtiko, Hatzidakis, Santorini, Greece 2012)
- Lobster – Pan Roasted Lobster, Charred Baby Leeks, Sea Bean and Mango Salad, Lobster-Lemongrass Broth
(Chardonnay “Jurassique”, Domaine de la Renardiere, Jura, France 2011)
- Monkfish – Pan Roasted Monkfish, Tarragon Scented Pea Purée, Morels, Armagnac-Black Pepper Sauce
(Saint Joseph, “Céleste” J.L. Chave Selection, Rhône, France 2011)
- Striped Bass – Wild Striped Bass, Bhutanese Red Rice, Green Papaya Salad, Ginger-Red Wine Sauce
(Merlot, Paumanok, Long Island, New York 2008)
- Raspberry – Olive Oil Emulsion, Swiss Meringue, Raspberry Sorbet
(Muscatel “Seleccion Especial #1″, Jorge Ordóñez, Malaga, Spain 2011)
- Dark Chocolate Parfait – Candied Marcona Almonds, Dulce de Leche, Milk Sorbet
(Beerenauslese Alois Kracher, Burgenland, Austria 2010)
You may notice a number of bread photos. I couldn’t resist. The bread was some of the best I’ve ever eaten and of the dozen or so varieties available I have to show you those we tried (sadly Dylan reminded me I couldn’t try all the types of bread for fear of filling up before the tasting menu had even begun).
Le Bernardin recently started ordering bread from master baker Eric Kayser’s Maison Kayser. I can’t tell you what Le Bernardin’s in-house bread was like but I can tell you the current bread offering is out of this world. First up I couldn’t go past the tomato basil bread roll. Vibrant in colour and flavour, the roll was light, buttery and brioche-like. Needless to say it didn’t last long.
Dylan went for a more traditional option of the mini baguette which had a crisp crust and nice texture.
Second time around it was the focaccia for me. Flecked with olives and a sprinkling of rosemary, this was a lovely focaccia. But I kind of wished I had devoured another tomato basil roll.
An amuse bouche (or appetizer as Americans would say) of salmon rilettes instantly grabbed our attention. We slathered rilettes on the thin toasts and took our first bite of Michelin star rated food. Smooth flavours befitted the smooth texture of rilettes; smoky and creamy it was just what you want to smother the bread crisps with and crunch away. Textural and full of flavour.
Tuna – Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna, Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Amigne de Vétroz, Romain Papilloud-Cave Vieux Moulin, Valais, Switzerland 2011.
One of the dishes I had heard much about prior to dining at Le Bernardin was the tuna and foie gras. Yellowfin tuna is pounded into wafer-thin sheets and laid like a veil over a rectangle of toasted baguette which has been spread with a layer of foie gras. The whole dish is drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with chives and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Pure clean flavours of tuna bathed in a film of a superb, grassy olive oil. Thin precisely cut baguette was quite firm and brittle making it burst into crumbs when eaten. Luscious and velvety foie gras that while rich just belonged with the bread and tuna. Three very different components working impeccably together. A masterstroke; it’s easy to see why everyone reveres this dish.
Scallop – Barely Cooked Scallop, Brown Butter Dashi.
Assyrtiko, Hatzidakis, Santorini, Greece 2012.
If there ever was a perfect way to cook a scallop this may be it. Ever so finely cross-hatched and treated to a very gentle amount of heat, the strands were cooked through but the centre was perfect – translucent and mighty fine looking. While the fierce richness of a brown butter sauce may seem a little on the big side for a scallop, the addition of dashi and a touch of lemon juice was able to lower the intensity and make for a smashing broth that was exactly what the scallop needed.
Lobster – Pan Roasted Lobster, Charred Baby Leeks, Sea Bean and Mango Salad, Lobster-Lemongrass Broth.
Chardonnay “Jurassique”, Domaine de la Renardiere, Jura, France 2011.
Where do you go after tuna & foie gras and scallops? Lobster of course. The fusion between classic French and modern Thai was a real highlight – something that could go either way but in this dish it never felt like there a chance of that happening. The lobster was sadly overcooked and for a chef that is renowned for having the Midas touch with seafood that shouldn’t happen. But let’s not quibble – with sweet lobster, salty samphire, juicy mango and aromatic broth the dish was nevertheless exceptional.
Monkfish – Pan Roasted Monkfish, Tarragon Scented Pea Purée, Morels, Armagnac-Black Pepper Sauce.
Saint Joseph, “Céleste” J.L. Chave Selection, Rhône, France 2011.
Le Bernardin’s tagline is “The fish is the star of the plate”. When it comes to this dish I couldn’t agree more. Beautifully pan fried monkfish set upon a bed of bright and flavoursome pea puree that was finished with punchy Armagnac black pepper sauce. Alongside the crisp peas the texture of the morels was a lovely inclusion adding a wonderfully earthy touch.
While my portion of bass was on the larger size and with an abundance of peas, Dylan’s portion was noticeably smaller and had only 7 peas… if you look at the photo of my dish you can easily see many more. Although the overall flavour of the dish was in no way affected we were expecting more consistency in plating at a restaurant of this calibre.
Striped Bass – Wild Striped Bass, Bhutanese Red Rice, Green Papaya Salad, Ginger-Red Wine Sauce.
Merlot, Paumanok, Long Island, New York 2008.
Bhutanese red rice had flavour in spades and was cooked with great precision, the red wine jus was bursting with intensity from its beef base and zingy ginger, the meaty wild striped bass was cooked impeccably and the green papaya salad was able to capture the Thai essence of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
We had high hopes for the final savoury course but in the end we found a dish of much discussion, confusion and differing of opinions. Dylan felt the dish should have been split in two – red rice, red wine and a firm piece of white fish OR a firm piece of white fish and a green papaya salad. As one he found it too left field to work. Conversely I loved each individual element and the overall combination of those elements. My only qualm was I didn’t feel it was well suited in the flow of the tasting menu.
Raspberry – Olive Oil Emulsion, Swiss Meringue, Raspberry Sorbet.
Muscatel “Seleccion Especial #1″, Jorge Ordóñez, Malaga, Spain 2011.
Reading through the menu I initially skipped over the raspberry dessert. I was smitten with the main attraction, chocolate. So when this dessert hit the table I wasn’t expecting much. How wrong I was. Tart sorbet, raspberry foam, crisp sweet meringue, macerated raspberries and a full bodied olive oil emulsion. There was texture, there was sweetness, there was tartness, there was that perfect balance many desserts fail at achieving. This was a winner.
Dark Chocolate Parfait – Candied Marcona Almonds, Dulce de Leche, Milk Sorbet.
Beerenauslese Alois Kracher, Burgenland, Austria 2010.
Although the raspberry dessert sidetracked me it wasn’t for long. Within its core a crisp sphere held smooth as silk dark chocolate parfait. Brownie pieces added a chocolate richness, candied almonds both sweetness and nuttiness. Dulche de leche with a great caramelisation took the dessert even further. Moreover the milk sorbet was a nice choice to go with such strong flavours.
Neither dessert was overly sweet. Gone are the days when I wanted a dessert as sweet as you could possibly make it. I’ve found an appreciation for desserts that display balance and these are two prime examples. The only ‘negative’ which isn’t really a negative is we didn’t get a stunningly beautiful dessert like those I’ve seen on their website. But hey, flavour is king.
Coffee and Petits Fours.
A meal just isn’t a meal without a coffee to aid digestion. I ordered my usual macchiato while Dylan opted for a double macchiato. Our coffees were served with not one but two pots of sugar and a whole array of sweetener. A few financiers also made an appearance to end our meal on a sweet note.
Upon entering the restaurant and being shown to our table the first thing we noticed was the presence of staff. A lot of staff. There are a lot more staff at high end restaurants in New York than back home. We found the service at Le Bernardin efficient and well-informed. With the exception of the bass the meal was exquisite. While it was lovely seeing Dylan suited and booted we still feel it’s unnecessary for men to wear jackets to restaurants – especially for lunch.
Overall Le Bernardin sits highly, but not quite as high as Quay, Sepia, momofuku seiōbo or Rockpool on George back home. Our beloved three hat restaurants can stand up to the three Michelin star restaurants over the other side of the world. Let’s see what we make of Eleven Madison Park.
155 West 51st Street
New York NY 10019
+1 212 554 1515
Le Bernardin Website