A Slightly Disappointing Lunch at Le Bernardin
The last time I’ve been to Le Bernardin was about three years ago and had their prix fixe menu. Arguably to say this, I’m not really a stranger to this place but years have passed, foodies still praise this restaurant and my inquiring mind wonders if this place is still good as it used to be.
I went there the day before Thanksgiving with Ariel since he’s willing to take the plunge with me on this expensive lunch. If you do look at their menu, $64 for three courses ain’t cheap. Include tax and tip, it’s at least $80. Yeah, for that price we have high expectations.
Upon entering, I was greeted by two people, welcoming me to Le Bernardin and asked if I was dining with them. I have made reservations and I was told to wait until my table was ready. During the five minutes sitting at their waiting area, I’ve seen Chef Eric Ripert making a round in the dining room, stopping by a few tables and chat with them before he returned to the kitchen. It’s actually the first time I’ve actually seen the actual chef gracing the dining room. I was a bit amused.
After that was over, I was escorted over to my table in the back of the dining room. Hence, the interior photo that you see previously is looking toward the front. Eventually, Ariel made his presence and we were given menus and peruse what we wanted to eat. At the same time, one of the servers presented us with a bowl of salmon spread and a small plate of sliced bread. What Ariel said about this spread that it reminds him of something one would get from a deli, except the fish is a better grade; which I do agree.
Reading over the menu, I’ve found out (after inquiring the waiter) they’ve taken out the fluke ceviche tasting! I was a bit disappointed since that particular appetizer was amazing when I had it back then. Three or four shot glasses filled with marinated fluke that have flavors ranging from simple to complex. Oh, how I missed that… Ariel and I eventually ordered after much more deliberation of what we should eat due to that missing dish.
Shortly after ordering, another server came out with their bread tray and presented us with a choice of four different breads to choose from (which I don’t remember all at the moment except for a rosemary, mini olive baguettes, and walnut rolls), we both chose an olive baguette and they’ve placed a silver tray of soft, room temperature butter. Strangely, Ariel had this weird notion of actually smearing his baguette with an entire pat of butter with a heap of salmon spread. Either he was ravenous or he’s willing to shorten his life by a few years with that atherosclerosis-inducing sandwich.
Eventually, our first course have arrived. Ariel’s appetizer course was the Kanpachi, which is prepared as a tartare topped with wasabi tobiko, flavored with a ginger-coriander emulsion. Having a bite of his kanpachi, it’s very delicious. The silky, smooth kanpachi melds with the slightly spicy kick of the wasabi, ginger, and coriander, with some texture from the fish roe. It would explain why he told me he’s having another foodgasm.
My appetizer, entitled “Tuna,” was sheets of thinly pounded tuna, covering an open-sandwich, if you will, of a thin slice of toasted baguette, and topped with a layer of foie gras. After trying Ariel’s kanpachi, my appetizer is noticeably much heavier in terms of taste and textures due to the foie. The über thin, crisp baguette was the only crunchy substance of the dish, while the remaining dish was silky, smooth, fresh (the tuna) and earthy (the foie gras). I honestly liked Ariel’s dish because it’s more complex, innovative, and a tad more aggressively flavored compared to my tuna.
After completing our first course, our mains arrived several minutes later. Mine managed to arrive first: Masala spiced crispy black bass sitting on top of a bed of Peking Duck-green papaya salad in a ginger-cardamom broth. Like Jean Georges, they present the dishes that contain soups or sauces by pouring it in front of the diner; as you will see in the following photo. Does service have to be this fussy? Arguably, since one is paying top dollar, it should be expected. But is it necessary? Probably not. Speaking of service, my water glass is empty for quite a while and no one actually filled it for the past five minutes prior to serving my fish. That’s when they actually noticed it and filled it up right afterwards.
Anyways, back to the food. My fish looked pretty delicious. A perfect sear and it’s cooked perfectly but somehow when I ate the fish with the accouterments, I thought it was mildly…bland. The broth had nuances of ginger and cardamom. The salad that’s underneath the black bass has minute punches of tart, sweet, and savory but it didn’t harmonize well; it’s more like disparate notes of a symphony. It sounded great, complex and intriguing when I’m reading it off the menu (that’s the description I’ve gotten when I wrote it in the previous paragraph). It left me more to desire. It need something to make me fall in love with this dish which isn’t happening. Ugh…it’s like being sexually frustrated with a man (or woman, depending on your orientation).
Ariel’s Skate arrived a minute after my dish was presented before us. The same fussy presentation went for his dish except he had an additional step of adding an extra green sauce on top of his pepper broth. A very similar argument goes for this dish as well. The fish is cooked perfectly but as a whole, it’s quite disappointment. It’s not screaming on my palate that this fish is the best thing on Earth. It’s more like saying to me, “It’s good but there’s no thrilling joy ride.”
Then we finally moved to the dessert course. After looking at their dessert menu, a few sound like it have some promises while the others sound a bit humdrum. Knowing that Chef Michael Laiskonis has a reputation (but not as great as Johnny Iuzzini of Jean Georges), nothing should be bad. I ended up choosing the Chocolate-Corn since that sounds the most intriguing. Ariel was stuck between a few desserts but ended up asking on a recommendation, which he got: the Chocolate Peanut.
The Chocolate Peanut tasted fine. Think of having a sophisticated, less sweetened form of a Peanut Butter Cup. The textures were good: crisp crust on the tart; smooth, slightly peanut-y ganache, with the cold, creamy praline-citrus sorbet. It’s very good but I don’t love it.
My Chocolate-Corn was quite excellent. The multiple textures of grittiness from the corn powder, ethereal crisp from the hazelnut tuile, and smooth creaminess from the chocolate ganache. All of those textures with the right amount of sweet corn flavor caresses the palate. Oh, this was divine.
Moments after our dessert arrived, our petit fours of sort was set on our table: a complexly folded napkin filled with baby financiers. The two flavors served are the regular and pistachio. Both tasted very good: nutty and buttery but it’s mostly crunchy crust rather than a slight crust meets soft, moist, dense cake.
After finishing our desserts and partially eating the financiers, Ariel requested to pack these dainty cakes so he could share it to his co-workers and we paid the check. We had to scurry since we managed to take a 2-hour lunch! Jeebus, what the heck took us so long?
My overall impressions is like what I’ve stated on my title. I am a bit disappointed. The service is a bit lacking despite the fact that they do treat you with respect. The appetizers were good, while we were feeling that the entrées should have more pizazz, and the desserts were good but we both prefer what I had. For what we’ve spent, Ariel argued that we could have eaten almost one of everything in Degustation and be very satisfied in terms of hunger and the palate. Or have Jean Georges’ lunch again, despite the fact that we left hungry but our palates were happily gratified. I do agree but it was nice to re-visit what was a good memory. I just tread with caution if I do come back here since my wallet feels significantly lighter.
I should note the fact that my head’s not feeling to well since I’m under medication. I got a cold from my younger brother over the Thanksgiving break, so it might explain the possible grammatical problems or slightly-off humor thrown around this post. Hopefully, you understand what I wrote or I’ll revise and edit once my head is clearer and if you do indicate there’s something off. I also hope I get well soon since I have that bo ssam dinner this weekend!
155 W 51st Street
New York, NY 10019