I checked out Le Bernardin last week and literally walked in right off the streets. I had no reservations and I knew the restaurant was all booked up because for the past week, I'd been trying to schedule a dinner for a month away. Since Le Bernardin was only a block from my workplace, I decided to drop in after work to see if they could accommodate me at the bar.
I was greeted by the maitre d' with a smile and was immediately led to a seat at the bar by the dining room manager. The friendly bar tender helped me settle down with a glass of water and some small talk. He reminded me of Matt Damon (haha).
It appeared that while the lounge area was expanded, only the bar served the full dinner menus. The lounge tables looked too small and dainty for a full meal anyway.
I realized my chair was angled slightly oddly and my purse was annoying in my lap. It would get pretty uncomfortable having a full meal like this. I squirmed in my seat for a bit and finally got off to adjust the chair. The runner came by right at this moment and he kindly helped right the chair and pointed out the purse hook under the bar. Ah, much better. :)
1. Bread service - sourdough, rosemary and olive rolls
There were 5 varieties of bread available: Parker House rolls, raisin(?), multi-grain, sourdough, and rosemary and olive. The sourdough was delicious, but the rosemary-olive even more so. Fluffy and flavorful, just lovely.
2. Amuse Bouche - red and yellow beets, fluke cerviche, crab avocado potato puree
Light and refreshing, especially of note was the crab avocado potato puree. It was a refined and lighter version of the comforting mashed potato. The avocado was a really nice touch that harmonized wonderfully with the crab and potato.
3.Tuna - layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras and toasted baguette, shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil
This was the signature dish that I had to try. Appearance, flavor, texture, it hit a home run on all fronts. I'd had a version of tuna and foie gras at The Modern Bar Room before, but Le Bernardin's version was superior. The Modern's rendition featured seared foie and was so rich and fatty that it fatigued my palate quickly. On the other hand, Chef Ripert's tuna and foie was extraordinarily well-balanced. The delicate tuna and the thin layer of foie gras torchon complemented each other wonderfully. Somehow, the foie enhanced the tuna instead of overpowering it with nuttiness. And the toasted baguette provided great textural contrast.
4. Langoustine - seared langoustine, mâche, wild mushroom salad, shaved foie gras, white balsamic vinaigrette
I thought this dish was less successful than the previous. The liver overwhelmed the langoustine and all I could taste was foie foie foie, and more foie. Other than texture, the langoustine contributed not much else to the plate.
5. Red Snapper - bread crusted red snapper, saffron “fideos”, smoked sweet paprika sauce
Crunch! That was the sound my knife made as it pierced the fish's bread-crusted surface. Oh my gosh! I sighed and fawned all over my plate. How did the kitchen get the bread crust so crispy and so beautifully golden? And look how perfectly even the bread crumbs encrusted the fish! Ahhh! And oh yes, the rest of the plate... the fideos were excellent, the paprika sauce was zingy and gave a nice kick. While delicious on its own, I thought the sauce was just slightly too heavy on the paprika for the snapper. I ended up barely dabbing the sauce on the fish and mopped up most of it with bread instead.
6. The Egg - milk chocolate crème brulée, caramel sauce, caramel custard foam, maple syrup, Maldon sea salt
I asked to supplement this item out of curiosity since it was so talked about. The runner instructed me to dig the spoon all the way down so I could scoop up all of the layers at once. Oh jeez! This was just spectacular. The creamy milk chocolate and the caramel engulfed and glided across my tongue and the experience was practically sexual. This was probably the best chocolate dessert I've had in recent memory. Why couldn't Michael Laiskonis double / triple the serving size and turn this into a stand alone dessert? Maybe one day, I'll go crazy and ask for 3 orders of this. Don't think I wouldn't do it!
7. Apple-Cinnamon - cinnamon caramel parfait, green apple foam, candied walnut, red wine caramel
A play on the beloved apple pie and celebrated the arrival of autumn. This was a most lovely dessert, but after getting my mind blown by The Egg, everything else just paled in comparison.
8. Petit Fours - chocolate, macaron, something I don't recognize, and cream puff
What's the center-right item called? It was fluffy and had some sort of baked apple (?) center. I really liked it.
I thought the service was very good. The staff was perfectly friendly and not at all cold and distant. In the evening light, the restaurant looked sleek and contemporary, and felt much less corporate. The centerpiece painting was truly an impressive sight to behold. What an excellent meal. It was by no means perfect, but I'd return just for the Pounded Tuna and The Egg (and order 3 of them!).
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019