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Excellent Food at Le Bernardin (review)

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Excellent Food at Le Bernardin (review)

fooder | Jul 31, 2012 07:29 AM

As usual, full review with photos on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

Atmosphere: The renovation has made Le Bernardin feel more like a restaurant than the old "office lobby" feel it used to have. The dining room feels more spacious and modern, and even the bar area feels less stuffy than before. While there were clearly people there on dates, I did not find the space romantic at all. The lighting was fairly bright (which I actually like personally), and to compare, it lacked the view of Per Se, the serenity of Eleven Madison Park, and the warmth of Daniel.

Service: The bartender and servers seemed friendlier, especially compared to my last visit, during which I would classify them as downright snooty. The service is efficiently run, and you don't get the sense that there are too many servers which often results in "hovering". One interesting result is that while dishes arrive at the same time, they do not always get placed at your table simultaneously by multiple servers as they would at some other places.

Food: I find that the key at these more traditional restaurants is to order a la carte or prix fixe, and avoid the tasting menu. I found this to be true at Daniel, Marea, and now Le Bernardin. The food is excellent, but do not expect some grand tasting menu of elaborately composed and plated small bites.

I arrived early and sat at the bar for a bit. They offer bar snacks in the form of walnuts, rice crackers, and yuzu popcorn.

SMOKED SALMON, CRAB SALAD, WATERMELON SOUP
The amuse was brought to the table before we even got our menus. The crab salad stood out with its freshness.

The bread selection was quite good, with my favorites being sourdough and brioche.

CAVIAR TARTARE ($45 SUPPLEMENT) - LEAPING WATERS BEEF, LANGOUSTINE AND OSETRA CAVIAR TARTARE BLACK PEPPER-VODKA CREME FRAICHE, POMME GAUFRETTE
Unlike a traditional tartare flavored with condiments, this was extremely clean tasting and allowed the freshness of the ingredients to shine through. The addition of the raw langoustine provided brilliant sweetness, though I would have preferred the caviar to have been slightly saltier than it was to balance it out.

MESCLUN SALAD - SALAD OF THE DAY'S MARKET HERBS AND VEGETABLES WITH BALSAMIC-SHALLOT DRESSING
For a restaurant that specializes in seafood, they do a fine job of catering to other tastes. For example, this salad is far superior to the one at Marea where the salad looked like they had just "put something together".

LANGOUSTINE - SAUTEED LANGOUSTINE; SUMMER TRUFFLE AND CHANTERELLE AGED BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
This was one of most extraordinary langoustine preparations I've ever had. This was just perfect. While cooked langoustine can easily be overdone and raw langoustine often has a bit of chewiness/stringiness that I don't like, this langoustine was perfect with a warm, soft texture. The sweetness was balanced well with the earthy truffle and mushrooms and enhanced by the vinaigrette. This is probably my favorite composed langoustine dish, although I still love the simplicity of the langoustine en papillote at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

BLACK BASS - CRISPY BLACK BASS; PICKLED CUCUMBERS BLACK GARLIC-PERSIAN LEMON SAUCE
One of Le Bernardin's signature dishes, the skin was indeed crispy and the sauce was simple yet had a complex flavor with the black garlic. Although I can certainly understand if people feel that this dish is too straightforward.

SKATE - BAKED SKATE "EN PAPILLOTE"; PICKLED CHANTERELLES, BABY TURNIPS "GREEN MARNIERE"
I did not see them opening up the papillote so I'll have to take their word for it. In between the the two pieces of beautifully cooked skate were more vegetables and turnips, which really made the dish with crunchiness and flavors that complemented the delicate skate beautifully.

DOVER SOLE - SAUTEED SOLE; BROWN-BUTTER TAMARIND VINAIGRETTE
This dish, to me, stole the show among the main courses. The fish was perfectly cooked with delicate flaky flesh and a slight browning on the outside. While I often find dover sole sauces to be too rich, this one felt just right and beautifully balanced.

"ALMOND-PISTACHIO-BARBERRY" GOLDEN BASMATI
This came with the Dover Sole, but I didn't feel it was necessary.

PASTA - BLACK TRUFFLE-BUFFALO MOZZARELLA STUFFED RAVIOLI "SUMMER VEGETABLES", PARMESAN SAUCE
This sounded great on the menu so we ordered one for the table. While all the components were tasty, I didn't feel that the dish really came together as a whole. It could be because we focused on our fish courses first, but the pasta felt limp. I don't have a problem with that myself, but if you equate pasta with al dente, this wouldn't work for you.

ASSORTMENT OF ICE CREAM - VANILLA, COFFEE, CINNAMON, CHOCOLATE
Honestly I don't really remember the flavors exactly. I asked for the egg, but they told me that it's not available at all now that Laiskonis is gone. Having already ordered the chocolate peanut, nothing else on the menu jumped out at me.

The food is excellent, with some of the best composed seafood preparations I've ever had. Although I say composed, many dishes end up being a piece of fish and a sauce, so don't be thrown by that. The overall meal itself, however, seemed to me to lack a grandeur that one now expects from a 3 Michelin Star "destination" restaurant. But if the only thing that matters is food, and you're not saving up to be wowed by a whole night out extravaganza with delicately composed plates, then it truly is some of the best.

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