As promised, here is a belated report of our special dinner
out at Le Bernadin last Thursday. It was my girlfriend's
birthday and I wanted to take her some place special
(also pushing on our one year anniversary.)
Now, first of all, she's an artist and I'm a
musician/teacher/doctoral student, so what for some
would be merely a "special" evening was for me, for
us, close to a once-in-a-lifetime event. I knew this
going in, and it seemed to put added pressure on
my selection. In the end I had boiled it down to
Union Pacific and Le Bernadin, and ultimately went
with the latter.
Of course, it was a splendid meal. When we arrived
we were asked to wait a few minutes, and then we
were ultimately led to our table - right next to
the kitchen door. I had expected as much, since we
were about 20 or 30 years younger than the average
guests (we are in our late 20s). Nonetheless, the
service was courteous and quite wonderful. We were not
made to feel out of place, or condescended to at all.
Ultimately it was rather nice being out of the center
of the busy room.
For starters, I had the bouillabaisse, and Alex a special -
Peruvian clams served open faced with merely garlic,
butter, and lemon. When we were trying to make our
decision the captain brought out the Geoduck clam,
an electrifyingly phallic creature that left us
both speechless for a spell. Has anyone tried that?
The bouillabaisse was delicious, with an aiolli crab cake
swimming in the middle of a thick, lobster broth
(poured from a silver decanter before my eyes.) The
clams were delicious and fresh, although I think
Alex wished she had gone with something a bit more
Alex ordered Dorade from the menu, served in sherry reduction
with mushrooms. I had a special,
Turbot in a black truffle sauce (I was told it was
a $10 supplement. It ended up being $12, but you try
pointing this out in a place like that when you're a
mere kid). Both of the entrees were wonderfully rich,
fresh, delicate, and exquisitely presented. Neither
was the most remarkable dish I've had, although
they both ranked up there with the most refined.
Surprisingly, dessert was the best part of the meal.
On our captain's suggestion (and you'll see, he was
OUR captain) Alex order the warm chocolate tart, and
I took the crepes with a passion fruit souflee served
with Grand Marnier ice cream. I suppose the captain
took a liking to us, perhaps he was amused by how
much time we took ordering, how hard we worked on
each decision (gotta get it right this time!) He brought
us the desserts we had ordered and also a third, his
favorite, a crisp hazelnut crusted tart with a hazelnut
mousse inside, served with stewed kumquats. This was
the best dessert I have ever had, the mousse ethereal
in texture and strongly nutty, the kumquats offering
a stunning contrast. The warm chocolate tart was of
the variety that, after one bite, ran all over the
plate, creating a dense, beautiful mess that played off the
hard, bitter chocolate crust. I'm not
a chocolate tart or cake lover, but this was truly
inspired. The crepes, while the least exciting,
were wonderfully light and tangy.
The petite fours were fun as well. A tiny raspberry tart,
a french fruit jelly candy, a chocolate peanut butter (!)
truffle, and a coconut chocolate concoction (glorified
It was a wonderful meal. I was not happy that the
captain's suggestion of wine was a $70 bottle, and
did not muster the gumption to ask to see something
else...I learned. But the wine, a 95 medoc, (Fontensac
I think?) was certainly delicious, and was lovely with
all that we had ordered.
I was not at all taken with the decor though. It is
not a particularly beautiful or romantic room, and
the large old-style (but not actually old)
paintings were garrish, even cheesy. Also, maybe it
was just us, but the other diners seemed to take
precious little pleasure in their dining experiences.
It looked as though this was a regular meal for most
of them, and maybe it was, but it broke my heart to
see such fine offerings being so casually and dissinterestedly
gobbled. Plates of petite fours went uneaten, especially
in the little chef's table off of the kitchen. I couldn't
imagine doing such a thing. Incidentally, the open
kitchen one encounters on the way to the bathrooms
is a real joy to sit and stare at...although I don't
think I could have really learned much - every slice was way
above my head.
That bottle of wine really jacked the price up, and the
whopping $297 bill I got hurt more than I expected it
would. Although I had a wonderful evening, and
Alex had a great birthday, I do not think that the
experience taken as a whole was quite worth that
price. I was disappointed by how many items on the
menu carried supplemental charges. I naively thought
that at $72 prix fixe the truffles were covered, and I
learned otherwise. Also, I learned about myself that
if I'm going to splurge, I, and probably Alex too,
would rather try something a bit more adventurous.
This food was refined and fresher than imaginable,
but did not shock me with daring combinations of
flavors or magical, unsolvable sauces. Everything was
what it was, and probably the best of what it was.
It is foolish to dwell on second thoughts, but as I work
the long hours of overtime to compensate for the huge
dent in my next credit card statement, I do wonder
if Union Pacific would have been a better choice.