Sunday, 21 August 2016

Great Food But Little Imagination At New York City's "Le Bernadin"

155 W 51st St
New York, NY 
+1 212-554-1515

Reservations recommended?  Yes, however not as much so as others in the city (Eleven Madison Park, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare).  We were able to change our reservation day about 3 weeks out without an issue (for a 9:30 reservation).  If you have your heart set on a particular time/day though, be sure to reserve well in advance (max 6 weeks ahead).

Atmosphere: Le Bernadin is located near Times Square, right in the heart of New York City, and is within walking distance to many theatres, concert shows and late night show venues.  The room at Le Bernadin has the same degree of extravagance as its surroundings outside, but is much more refined and very formal.  You will note that men must wear jackets, and many women wear formal dresses.  The words “pretentious” and “stuffy” come to mind, and despite having been to many restaurants of the same caliber, I could not help but feel self-conscious and uneasy.  The only thing comfortable about the experience was the swivel seats and the nice bench for my purse.

Service: What I have said above pretty much captures my thoughts on the service as well.  Although our servers were all extremely attentive, there was absolutely no “back and forth” between us, and I would have felt remiss for trying the ask any questions about the meal.  At other 3-stars, I have felt comfortable asking anything to the servers and even joking around with them, but the servers at Le Bernadin were very guarded and stiff.  The sommelier was not only “stiff” but downright rude in my opinion.  She seemed unimpressed with our wine selection (too inexpensive perhaps?), and when Hubby mistakenly coughed after having the first sip of our wine, she seemed quite offended and we barely saw her for the rest of the meal.  Some may say that this is what we should expect from French service, but we had much more pleasant dining experiences at Michelin restaurants in Paris.  So I don’t buy it.

Food: One cannot fault the food at Le Bernadin.  It is prepared to the highest standards, with the highest quality ingredients and superb technique.  There is no doubt that Eric Ripert is a master of fish, and makes it the highlight of every plate.  The ingredients he pairs with the seafood complement it perfectly and elevate its flavours.  His technique in preparing and cooking the fish is flawless.  But, just like the atmosphere and the service, there is a lack of imagination and personality.  Hubby and I left feeling as though we had seen similar variations of all of these dishes before and that no dish really left us feeling awed or inspired.  The seasonality of the dishes was also lacking, which is a shame considering the many summer ingredients available at the time of our visit. 

Here is a look at the Chef's Tasting (prix fixe and a short "Le Bernadin tasting" also available).  I called ahead about my pescatarian request and they substituted some of the dishes on the other menus for the meat dishes (*).

Amuse Bouche:

King Fish-Caviar (king fish-ostetra caviar tartare, smoked creme fruit emulsion):

Lobster (lacqered lobster tail, herb spring roll, lemongrass consomme):

Langoustine (seared langoustine-foie gras, pickled hon shimeji, sauce perigord):

*Seafood truffle pasta (scallop, shrimp, lobster, tagliatelle, black truffle emulsion):- 

Salmon (barely cooked organic salmon, baby peas and favas, mint-tarragon emulsion):

Halibut (poached halibut, manila clams, wild mushroom casserole):

*Dover sole (sauteed dover sole, almond-pistacio barberry golden basmati, chardonnay-shallot butter):

White tuna-javanese wagyu (grilled escolar and seared wage beef, fresh kimchi, asian pear, soy-citrus emulsion):

Cucumber "pisco sour":

"Black forest" (brandied cherries, whipped vanilla cream, smoked chocolate cremeux):

"Parting bites": 

Overall verdict? 

While the food itself at Le Bernadin was virtually flawless in execution, the rest of the experience left a lot to be desired.  When I spend this kind of money on a dining experience, I expect to have a great time, but here at Le Bernadin, fun seems to be discouraged.  Perhaps this is this degree of formality and “perfection” is enjoyed by some, but I can think of many other similarly-ranked restaurants where I would rather dine.  This will be my first and last time at Le Bernadin.

Le Bernardin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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