Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Another Visit to Le Bernardin (food)

The last time I went to Le Bernardin, I wrote that it lacked the grandeur that one might expect from a 3 Michelin Star "destination" restaurant even though it served some of the best composed seafood preparations I've ever had. With that in mind, I wondered whether I would enjoy it more going in with a different set of expectations.

The prix fixe menu is 4 courses for $127+t/t. Even though the headline number is higher than all other prix fixe menus in NYC, in a way it's actually better value than the $116 at Daniel and the $118 at Jean Georges as those are only 3 courses (EDIT: At Jean Georges it's actually the same 3 savory courses + 1 dessert). Diners generally pick one choice each from the "almost raw", "barely touched", and "lightly cooked" sections, but both my friend DC and I chose two from the "barely touched" instead of the "almost raw", and they had no problems with that.

The evening started with three amuses presented together. I can't seem to find my notes, but from memory there was a tuna tartare, a crab salad with curry flavor, and a sea urchin custard. The sea urchin custard had a texture that was the closest to Chinese steamed eggs that I've had in a Western restaurant. For my friend DC who couldn't have shellfish, replacement amuses featured salmon rillettes and a maitake mushroom broth.

Having overheard us discuss the rillettes and the Le Bernardin menu over the years, our server brought us a gift of a large plate of the salmon rillettes. I assume the term rillettes is used here to refer to the final appearance rather than the traditional preparation, as this did not feel in any way like it was heavily salted or cooked slowly in fat. Instead, it had a great clean fish flavor in addition to mild notes of creaminess and richness that was just delectable when spread onto crisps of toast. The rillettes are actually offered on the Le Bernardin lounge menu, and I thought they were even better than the ones at the NoMad hotel restaurant.

The bread basket had over 7 different types, with my favorite being the herby tomato bread. There were some hiccups with the bread service, though. First, there was a parmesan mustard roll that sounded very appealing that my friend took the last one of. The last one? How do you run out of bread before 6pm? Second, only when I asked for more bread later in the meal did we learn they had a poppyseed roll. My friend PG loves poppyseeds and almost missed out!

Lobster “Lasagna”; Celeriac, Truffle Butter
The lobster lasagna came with two thin slices of black truffle on top, and a view from the side revealed two layers of lobster meat mixture in between three sheets of pasta.

The lasagna was topped with a truffle butter poured tableside. The pasta was delicate but toothsome, and provided a good wrapping for the flavorful lobster meat inside. The truffle butter works well here, the earthy richness helping to give the dish an identity as something warm and comforting.

Grilled Salted Cod; Soy Glazed Baby Turnips, Miso-Dashi Vinaigrette

Flash Marinated Nantucket Bay Scallops, Lemon Grass-Finger Lime Nage
The lemongrass and lime imparted fragrance and brightness that highlighted the natural sweetness of the bay scallops. A true appetizer, this both tasted good and opened up your appetite for more.

Sautéed Langoustine; Summer Truffle and Chanterelle, Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette
My second course was the exact same dish I had on my last visit 9 months ago. Nothing else on the menu looked interesting enough to me to replace it. While this was still an amazingly executed composed dish, cooked beautifully and with perfect balance, a little bit of the wow factor did wear off compared to the first time I had it.

Warm Green Lentil Salad; Seasonal Vegetables, Truffle Vinaigrette
It has been said that the non-seafood dishes at Le Bernardin tend to be noticeably inferior to their seafood dishes. But this salad featuring a wide variety of vegetables, cooked differently to result in a range of flavors and textures, showed that a lot of thought still goes into the non-seafood dishes.

Roasted Bone Marrow; Sea Urchin, Bacon Crisp
While others have raved about this dish, my friend PG thought that it was good, but nothing too impressive. With such strongly flavored ingredients, my guess is that the dish might have been missing some finesse and subtlety.

Crispy Black Bass; Roasted Shishitos and Acorn Squash “Ceviche”, Peruvian Chicha Sauce

Sautéed Sole; “Almond-Pistachio-Barberry” Golden Basmati, Brown-Butter Tamarind Vinaigrette ($18 Supplement)

Barely Cooked Wild Salmon; “Black Truffle Pot-au-Feu”
This was the version of the salmon dish on the tasting menu. The original version on the prix fixe featured Sweet and Sour Hon Shimeji Mushrooms and Lotus Root; Maitake Broth. I was originally deciding between the salmon and the red snapper. Our captain thought that my first two courses (lobster and langoustine) were on the light side, so suggested this for me. Strangely enough, that made it three courses with truffles. I wonder if "The Fish is the Star of the Plate" should be changed to "The Truffle is the Star of the Plate". The dish was good. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by a salmon preparation, and it didn't.

This was one of the accompaniments to the red snapper dish. We asked to have a side of it for each of us and they had no problems with that. It was dense yet not full of cream or butter. There was just a hint of the fragrant lemon flavor. I don't think I'd specifically recommend it, but if you're a big mashed potato person then by all means; you'll enjoy it.

Accompanied by shortbread cookies, the ice cream was originally a selection of four: Coffee, Tahitian Vanilla, Salted Milk Chocolate, and Pecan. We chose to just have four scoops of pecan. Good nutty flavor, with some texture from the nuts without being too gritty.

I honestly don't remember what the other two desserts were. They were good and satisfying, but nothing that really captured our attention.


The food at Le Bernardin continues to be excellent. It just wouldn't be a place that I would save up money to go to. I would sooner return to the lounge to have the excellent salmon rillettes more frequently. Even the langoustine dish, which was still awesome, lost a little bit of the wow factor nine months later. Then again, in the last six months, I've been to Atera, Brooklyn Fare, Daniel, and Eleven Madison Park. I feel like the push and ambition of these restaurants has raised the bar while Le Bernardin hasn't really stepped up their game. I just find that the original definition of 2 Michelin Stars, "Excellent cooking and worth a detour. First class cuisine of its type." describes Le Bernardin better than the 3 Star definition, "Exceptional cuisine and worth a special journey."

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
New York, 10019

No comments :