Kari is one of my dear friends who lives in New York. She shares my foodie exuberance and love of prosciutto holders (wow, is that a long story…). Anyway. She mentioned she was going to Le Bernardin for dinner, and I jokingly suggested, “Oh, that’s totally a wine me, dine me guest post!”
She, being a writer (and recently produced a play for the New York Fringe Festival), didn’t take it as a joke and wrote it up. Man, I really want to go to Le Bernardin now– even more than I did before.
I have wanted to go to Le Bernardin for years now, but being that it is a bit cost prohibitive (okay, a LOT cost prohibitive), we have not been. We do not have the kind of money that enables us to just head on out to whatever fancy restaurant we feel like. However, when I got my bonus this year, and with the full realization this very well could be my last finance job bonus on account of it being hobotimes and all, we decided to go for it. And go for it we did!
My husband and I consider ourselves foodies, but sadly, have not hit up as many of the Michelin starred restaurants as we would like. So far, we’ve gone to Bouley, Nobu, and Jean Georges – all of which were excellent (Nobu being the easy favorite, in fact, up until Saturday night I’d have chosen their spicy ponzu rock shrimp tempura as my last meal).
Our meal at Le Bernardin on Saturday night blew them all away. By a lot.
We arrived at the restaurant at about 6 pm. The dining room is beautiful and understated – clean lines, lit candles, light wood. The floral arrangements set all around are seasonal and stunning. We did not have to wait a single moment for our table even though we were early. The service is cordial. No one fawns over you – they do not have to. It is a privilege to be there. The food is the star of the show, not them, and certainly not you. As long as you go into the place knowing that, you will not get offended (some people need their proverbial asses kissed at all times. We’re totally not like that.). The service was unbelievably precise. A chair was pulled away from the table the moment you wanted to use the restroom. Your plate was cleared the moment you finished your last bite. The tablecloth was crumbed, wine was poured, glasses refilled. If you needed to walk back to your table, the staff would part like the Red Sea so you could make your way through.
Upon sitting down, we were handed menus and a very thick wine list, at which point, Mike leaned over and said “I’m nervous”. I was too. Promptly, we were served an amuse-bouche, which was tiny rock shrimp floating in a delicate buttery sauce (I was too excited and did not listen to the whole description). It was amazing. We were also served bread with the most delectable butter I have ever had. We ordered our food and the sommelier assisted us in selecting a fantastic bottle of Pinot Noir (Chantom 2006). Be warned – minimum for a bottle of wine is about $100, and that’s about what we spent. It was the best wine I’ve ever had by a mile. We were both so excited at this point.
We ordered from the 4 course menu ($109/pp). The first course was the “Almost Raw” course. I ordered the Kampachi tartare with cucumber, pineapple and a citrus vinaigrette. It was absolutely fantastic. The texture of the fish was like butter, and the citrus and fruit were a fantastic compliment. Mike got the Hamachi Vietnamese Style with a Nuoc Mam Vinaigrette. It was extraordinary. Ripert clearly knows his way around Asian food and puts his own twist on it. The hamachi was delicately dressed with a fish sauce which was literally an explosion of flavor. We were beyond thrilled with this course and savored every bite.
The next course was the “Barely Touched” course, which I was most excited about. I ordered the Sea Urchin Risotto with Toasted Nori, Urchin and a citrus emulsion. Now, dear readers, I do not exaggerate when I tell you that this was absolutely, hands down, THE best thing I have ever put in my mouth. I love sea urchin, and the creaminess of the urchin was brought out to its full potential. The risotto was impeccably cooked, and the three generous hunks of urchin sitting a top a sea of the most fabulous citrusy emulsion ever were the star of the dish. It was heaven. It was bliss. I never wanted it to end and I tried to eat it as slowly as possible. I kept making little squeals of joy and Mike tried it and agreed that it was amazing. Mike had the Bacalao (grilled salted cod) with Arugula, Lemon Confit Pesto, Almond and Chorizo oil. It was absolutely divine. The fish was grilled but still moist, and the Chorizo oil gave it an otherworldly smokiness. Mike really loved it. We both got dishes that complimented exactly what we like when we go out to eat and were ecstatic. I almost shed a little tear when they took my empty bowl (and I mean empty – I ate every last bite and may or may not have scraped the bowl with my spoon!).
Our final main course was the “Lightly Cooked” course. I ordered the Crispy Black Bass with braised celery, parsnip custard, and iberico ham green peppercorn sauce (some of you may remember this as the dish Jamie butchered on Top Chef, and the fact that she didn’t like Le Bernardin food just confirmed to me that she’s an idiot).. OMG, is all I have to say. Where can I begin? The fish was exquisitely cooked and the skin was light and crisp. The ham infused peppercorn sauce was unbelievable and it perfectly complimented the tender celery it surrounded. And the parsnip custard? It was absolutely stellar and tied the whole dish together. Mike got the bread crusted Red Snapper with marinated heirloom tomatoes and a basil scented tomato consommé. Again, the fish was cooked perfectly, and the flavor was intense – almost Indian inspired (which is great, we both love Indian food). We ate every last bite.
The only disappointing portion of the meal (and by “disappointing” I mean “I didn’t have an orgasm when I ate it”) was dessert. Mike got a dark chocolate, caramel and peanut butter tart with praline ice cream and I got a hazelnut cream with homemade brown butter ice cream. Both were tasty but not extraordinary, but that was okay by me. By this point we were so thrilled with the food they could have given me an ice cream sandwich and I’d have been happy. We did order an after dinner drink. I had an armangnac and Mike got a cognac. That was probably a bad idea because they were expensive, but whatever, they were amazing and a perfect finish to our night of extravagance. We also got an amazing little set of petit fours at the very end of the meal which we ate with gusto despite being full. One of the main complaints about the restaurant is that the portions are too small. I say that people eat too much. The portions were perfect.
The bill was…well…it was big. Very big. Bigger than one ought to ever spend on dinner. But this wasn’t just dinner – it was an experience and one that neither of us will ever forget. We returned home broke, a little drunk, and unbelievably happy. If I were a millionaire, I’d eat there every week. As it stands, once a year will have to do. If you are ever in NYC and have some cash handy, please, go to Le Bernardin. Lunch is a bit cheaper (four courses for $68 – a steal!), so that’s a good option too. But if you love fish and you love food, you must experience Eric Ripert’s genius at least once. You won’t regret it.