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The roller coaster that was Le Bernardin- A mini novel


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Restaurants & Bars 74

The roller coaster that was Le Bernardin- A mini novel

steakrules85 | Apr 5, 2011 06:16 PM

OK, so here it goes. I’ve always had an appreciation for great food from the time I was a little kid. It was just engrained in me like many Italian kids, who have had the privilege of eating grandma’s wonderful cooking, then my mother’s great cooking. Gathering with the family every Sunday and feasting nonstop for 7 hours like it was Christmas every week. However, it was not until three years ago that my obsession for restaurants and passion for fine dining really began. As a young kid out of college I got my first real job, getting paid pretty decently enough to afford such expensive meals. And where? In New York, one of the best fine dining meccas in all the world. I bought my first Zagat, and the rest way history. The first thing I did of course was look at which restaurants got the highest food ratings. The list of usual suspects (who I had no clue about back then) appeared- Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Gotham Bar and Grill, etc, Garnering grades of 29,28,28,28 across the board. Right away these places went straight top the top my “list”.

I joke with a good friend of mine that over the past three years that “list” has grown so large that I keep an excel spreadsheet with all of them. The ironic and real funny thing is it isn’t a joke. It’s actually true. And three years ago is when Le Bernardin went onto the list. My family even teases me that I missed my real calling of being a food critic. How come I’ve waited so long to go? I don’t know honestly. It just never happened. When I started my list I was still somewhat of a novice in the food genre. My idea of a great meal revolved primarily around steakhouses (still among my favorite culinary destinations). As time went on, I have really grown fond of seafood of all kinds and have developed a real love for fish and crustaceans. I've had the privilege to dine in some really wonderful restaurants since the creation of that list. Le Bernardin was not one of them just because for whatever reason the time wasn’t right. So it just so happened that today, three years later the time was finally right. Everyone knows these dinners usually turn into 3+ plus hour events. Add in the fact that I have another 1 hour commute home and it turns into a very long day. But, on this night I was working in the area and Le Bernardin would be having me for dinner.

As I am making my way to what I hope to be “my next great culinary expedition” I always think to myself “How is this dinner going to plan out”? Will it be as good as I hope? Will it be a disappointment? Is it going to be a meal for the ages that I remember for the rest of my life? Or just another day of my life that has no particular special meaning at all? It is at this time that I start to get butterflies like a child who is running down the stairs on Christmas morning rushing to the tree to rip their gifts to shreds. And there I was at the entrance of LB. Finally, I’ve made it. Another place on the excel spreadsheet to cross off the list.

I will preface this by saying I have written many reviews about my culinary adventures on this board. Most of them extremely long and full of immense detail. This one is no different. Yet for better or worse, it is the longest review I have ever written to date.

I won't speak much about the ambience as I have a lot of material to cover. All I will say is that I agree with many that the atmosphere is outdated, passé, and in serious need of a major overhaul.

I arrived promptly for my reservation and was seated right away. Here is the first negative already right off the bat. A good 7-10 minutes into my experience, I have no come into contact with a human being. No water, no hello how are you, and certainly no menu. I was in by no means in a rush, however I thought this was noteworthy. I experienced the same kind of treatment at the Bar Room at the Modern almost 2 years ago and ripped them for it. So..sorry LB you get the same treatment. Finally, my waiter comes to the table and gets me acquainted with the way the menu works. Of course, doing my research and studiously reviewing the menu ahead of time like I always do, I knew the format. I had my mind made up already about the Le Bernardin Tasting. Much to my chagrin, the menu had unfortunately changed! Three courses had been swapped out from the menu shown online. I had asked my waiter when they changed the menu and he said… um, I think sometime last week. Last week? One week and you couldn’t take 30 minutes out of you day to update the menu? This was the second strike against LB. I find this to be another unwelcoming trend with numerous restaurants these days. They rarely update their menus when they change. To me it is inexplicable. It’s false advertising actually. You have a wait staff of at least 30-40 people and 3-4 managers running around like chickens with their heads cut off, however you cannot take a few minutes to change your online menu for those who actually are taking the time out of their life to read it? No excuse. Ok, I’m done fuming about that but needed to get it off my chest.

Luckily, the dishes that were removed from the tasting were still on the ala carte menu. Having told the waiter I had my heart set on some dishes on the online tasting menu, he assured me that I could substitute them for others if I wanted to. Fine, all was now forgiven. I proceeded to tell the waiter I wanted to swap the lobster carpaccio (online tasting) for the octopus as I am not a fan. No problem. The new third course was some kind of shrimp. I didn’t come to LB for shrimp. One of the courses that really caught my eye as soon as I came across it on the online menu and started my research was the poached turbot with truffle broth and squab jus. Everything in that description sounds amazing. Sign me up. So I asked to sub that. I received a look from the waiter as if he’d seen a ghost. He bit his lip as if he was holding back a fart and made a face like someone was stepping on his toe. He then said “Hmmm, I don't know..well I guess we COULD sub it”.. the shrimp is more like an appetizer and that’s a main course. So? Sub it god damn it. This is LB. I’ve been all over the city, other areas of the country. Some of the finest in Manhattan, New Orleans, and Dallas over the past 3 years. Never, have I been shunned on what I deem to be a reasonable request. I've also had the extreme pleasure of having some rather unreasonable requests granted, which this was not. Restaurants bending over backwards to accommodate. The customer is always right, within reason of course. He did oblige after resisting at first but still I felt uncomfortable and annoyed by his remark and initial hesitation. I left the next 2 courses alone for fear that he would start having convulsions if I decided to ask for more subs. The next 2 were monkfish and crispy black bass (one of the fish on the online menu that I planned on keeping). Fine. Still, the one dish I HAD to have was the Hiramasa. So this was added as my final savory. In lieu of the tasting desserts, I also chose to order them ala carte.

I’ve heard the stories of the “cold” service at LB. Waiters having no personality, rather robotic creatures merely acting the part for that Zagat rating. As the meal unfolded I saw this first hand, up close and personal. I don't need or like when people are falling over you or kissing your rear end for 3 hours. But a little genuine personality or a smile wouldn't kill you. Act like it isn't an effort for you to be a normal human being instead of a rehearsed and rigid pretentious fool.

After the order was squared away, out came the bread. Five different varieties- Potato flavored parker house rolls, raisin bread, w7 grain, whole wheat, sourdough, and olive baguette. Very nice assortment. I opted for Parker house (I love brioche), raisin bread, and olive. I must say they were all extremely good, and the Parker house was especially outstanding. I appreciate when a restaurant has great bread; however I try as hard as I can to not eat too much because I'd rather save the stomach space for the real food. But I couldn't help slathering them with liberal amounts of salted butter and demolishing the whole Parker House roll and my raisin bread. In fact, the bread guy must have come back to my table 4-5 times throughout the meal which was nice. In this manner, the service throughout the meal was flawless when it came to refilling water, clearing plates, cleaning the table, etc. It is more like service by committee as you will no doubt encounter 7-8 different people waiting on you during your meal. However, as you will see later there were other issues regarding shoddy service. Onto the real food now.

So here is my in depth opinion of each dish::

1st course- TUNA-Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Toasted Baguette; Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil- This is highly regarded as on of LB signature dishes. No question, there is a lot of skill and beauty involved in the plating and preparation of this dish. How they pound the tuna that thin must be very time consuming. As for the taste? It really didn't blow me away. I found it… serviceable. The tuna tasted very fresh; however I didn't think the foie gras or baguette really added anything to the overall taste. I found myself enjoying the tuna on its own and detaching it from the foie and baguette. For a signature dish I was honestly not impressed.

2nd course- LOBSTER- Warm Lobster Carpaccio; Hearts of Palm, Orange Vinaigrette (supplement for the Octopus from the Chef's tasting) - This was originally the third course on the online tasting menu (which is outdated as I pointed out earlier). I was planning on doing the bay scallops here as my second but they were also removed. So I subbed this as my second course. This course fared much much better than the tuna. The lobster was exquisite and the orange vinaigrette was delicious. Buttery, yet balance from the acid of the orange and vinegar. The lobster was perfectly cooked and sliced thin, but had thick enough to have enough toothsome bite to it. The heart of palm provided a very nice crunch and textural contrast. Maybe it is because I love lobster so much? But I do have to give them credit here. Overall, I really loved this dish and it was a nice light plate to have as an introductory course in the tasting. High marks here.

3rd course- Turbot- Poached Turbot; Wild Mushroom – Black Truffle Custard,

Spiced Squab Jus (supplement for the shrimp plate currently on the tasting)- This was one of the courses I decided beforehand was a must try for me. What doesn't sound outrageously delicious in that dish? Turbot is a fish I've loved the few times I've eaten it. The waiter described the texture and flavor to that of Dover sole. Black truffle custard? Spiced Squad jus? Yes and yes sign me up for that! This was the dish that my snotty, arrogant waiter had given me a face when asked if I could supplement it. Maybe that was an omen for things to come? Because when I tell you this dish was an abomination of epic proportions I am putting it lightly. This is when things really started taking a turn for the worst. After thoroughly enjoying the lobster in my previous course and really being excited for this one, I felt as if I was at the top of a cliff and had just been pushed off, and crashed into the ground. As the plate was presently in front of me, I immediately knew it would be a disappointment due to the portion size, however little did I know I would be even more let down by the taste. First off, the piece of turbot was about the size of a Lego- and no this is not an exaggeration for literary purposes. I understand it is a "tasting" but I don't want a thimble full piece of fish. For a third course, the portion size was totally unacceptable. If I say it was an ounce of fish, I may be lying. Just like the dish before (and every subsequent dish thereafter), the waiting bows, artfully explains every ingredient in detail and pours over the "sauce" in whimsical fashion. Along side comes the black truffle custard, which the waiter says "the chef recommends you take a bit of this between bites to cleanse the palate". Really? To cleanse the palate? Um, yes I agree! Because after tasting the turbot I definitely needed something to rid the off-putting aftertaste from my mouth. The squab jus looked like dirty bath water and unfortunately the taste of it wasn't much better. Think broth made from chicken bouillon cube. Yes, that is what it tasted like. Chicken bouillon cube broth. I don't know what squab was implemented here, but I didn't taste anything remotely resembling the delicious little bird. On first bite of this miniscule portion, the only flavor I got was… salty nasty broth. The fish was seriously overcooked (probably due to its size), under seasoned, just plain bland. I for one am not a big complainer when it comes to food. As a matter of fact I’ve never had to send a plate back at a restaurant of this caliber. I'm usually somewhat easy to please, especially when it comes to fish. It doesn't have to be that complicated. I understand that LB wants the fish, not the sauce to be the star. They do not want to overpower them with sauces. But that doesn’t mean they could not create a sauce to enhance the flavor and create a plate of perfect harmony. At LB I was expecting a little something special. Something with pop? Something exotic? Something I couldn't get anywhere else? Or at the rate we were going how about something that was just decent? This was just plain awful. I decided to take another little bite because hey maybe it would be better upon the next taste. Nope. Same thing. The black truffle custard "meant to cleanse the palate" was the only good thing about this. After two bites, I was left with a tiny triangle of bland, unseasoned turbot. For this I just doused it with the black truffle custard because I needed something to help me get it down. Three little bites and the fish was gone. At this point I contemplated whether to say anything to the waiter. Should I complain? After all this was probably one of the biggest letdowns I had experienced to date in a restaurant of this quality. How could a dish that I was so looking forward to fall flat on its face? Alas, looking down at an empty plate I found it wrong to say anything about the horridness of this dish. So… I let it slip. After all I had many more courses coming and they had time to try to win me over. But I was almost an hour and half into my tasting and very underwhelmed. Just as a side note it certainly wasn’t La Grenouille’s Dover sole. Recently, I had a wonderful Turbot at Gotham Bar and Grill’s tasting. A week earlier, Ai Fiori’s Dover sole put this rendition to shame. None of these places hang their hat on seafood as their namesake. Was this Le Bernardin? More like Le Disappointment or for my French friends Le Decepcion.

4th course- MONKFISH- Roasted monkfish, sweet pea, garlic something jus (new addition to the tasting menu. Not printed on site so I am not even sure if the description is 100 percent correct). Here is another fish I enjoy. The texture and taste has been labeled as "poor man's lobster. Therefore, I was actually receptive to this dish being on the new tasting menu and didn't mind leaving it. After the last dish, I admit my heart had sunken deep into my stomach and I was feeling very disheartened. So, next up the monkfish. Again, another portion for an elf. Better than the monkfish, but still tiny. At this point I felt the fear really creeping into my head. Then gathered myself and shoved the first forkful into my mouth. And that's when it happened…. De ja vu all over again. The fish was cooked fine but again there was no seasoning! Had someone stolen the salt and pepper shaker from the chef? Was somebody playing a prank on me? The sauce again was just a watery brothy mess. Completely flavorless, unimaginative garbage. Where was the robust flavor that I was expecting in the great Chef Ripert's "seafood palace"? Unfortunately, it was non existent. There seemed to be a familiar theme here… tasteless. At this point, I found it warranted to say something to the waiter. I had contemplated it the plate before but held back. But fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me! I called the waiter over to explain the last two disasters that were placed before me. He asked.. "What's wrong"? My response was to be honest, the last dish was an abomination and this dish is also just plain bad. Waiter: In what way? What were you expecting? Me: The "sauces" were basically just water, the fish was bland. In a word tasteless. He gave me a look like I had personally offended him, like he was annoyed. If he was annoyed how should I feel? I was the one shelling out my hard earned money on seriously sub-par food. I could have eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at home and been more satisfied. I have had better fish dishes at chain restaurants like Bonefish Grill, and McCormick and Schmick's (which by the way updates the menu DAILY). Oh and the service at those places doesn't make you feel like you are the one in violation when reporting the food is poor. After all of that, the maître came over and offered me something else. I had originally considered ordering the halibut instead of the turbot (God only knows I wish I did). Halibut is one of my favorite fish, so I asked to try that. He left, came back two seconds later and said "The chef says that if you didn't like the previous two dishes you won't like the Halibut either". Speechless, struggling to think of what to say, all I could do was stutter…. And then the waiter said the chef suggests the Red Snapper. I just nodded and he walked away. Really? The chef didn’t have enough confidence that he could turn out a good enough Halibut? That lack of confidence said a lot to me. Now 2 hours into the tasting and with a 1 hour commute home ahead of me all this would do is make the night longer for me. Hopefully, it wouldn't mean prolonged anguish.

Now I really want to make it clear that I for one am not a huge complainer when it comes to food. Generally, I'm fairly easy to please. And for anyone who has read my previous reviews will see that 95 percent of them are raves rather than negative reviews. And I can understand that not everyone is perfect. We're all human, we make mistakes, shit happens- even at Le Bernardin. Everything isn't always going to be the best thing I ever ate. But this was just ridiculous.

No apology. No "We're sorry how can we make it up to you"? Were they too full of themselves to admit that they possibly made a mistake? Or was it impossible that LB could send out a bad dish..let alone 2 right after one another. I don't need a place to kiss my butt, but an apology would have at least gone a long way in making me feel better. Maybe they just didn't care. Eh, why should they apologize to me? I was just some stupid young kid whose opinion didn't matter. The place was jam packed on a Monday night, which I sure it always it. Celebrities flock here regularly. Steve Martin and Regis Philbin happened to walk right by me to their private room in the back. If they lost me as a customer, what did they care? That was the impression I got from them.

Side note- Then the next travesty proceeded to unfold here. As if I wasn't mad enough, I could see the maître clearly go over to my waiter and start whispering into his ear. Sweet nothings you ask? Highly unlikely. I couldn't make out exactly what he said but I'm 100 percent sure it was regarding yours truly. I definitely heard the words "complain" and "tasteless" and could read his lips as well. Add on the fact that I could see him looking at me out of the corner of his eye to see if I was monitoring him and my suspicions were confirmed. Go ahead LB- dig your grave a little deeper. Excuse my language but- not only did the food suck at this point but now the service was approaching shitty as well. At this time, I felt so upset and so alone that I couldn't share my rage with anyone that I ended up emailing a good friend of mine to tell her that so far my meal at LB was very disappointing. But it wasn't just failing to meet my expectations. At this point it was laughable. Well, not in a funny haha kinda way. Laughable in the joke's on me kinda way. The last two dishes were just plain awful with a capital A. I was trying to think of an adjective to describe the way I was feeling but was at a loss for words. It was a collapse of epic proportions. I was in total disbelief and feared that there LB had dug itself in too deep a hole to salvage the rest of the meal to get itself into my good graces. And to top it all off the waiter's snotty attitude and the chef's comment about the halibut was the topping on the sundae. Half way through my tasting and the only thing filling me up was the parker house rolls and raisin bread. Great, I'm coming to one of the premier seafood restaurants in America, some say the world, and the thing that I am filling up on is… bread?? Ugh. Just thinking about this was making me furious, and trying to keep my composure was very difficult.

Le Bernardin? No. Le Decepcion? No. Now it was Le Debacle (which I find most fitting since this word has French origins). Just an utter embarrassment. It was like going to Ferrari dealership and they sell you a Ford.

5th course- RED SNAPPER- Bread Crusted Red Snapper, Saffron Fideos Sweet Paprika Sauce (replacement to my Monkfish debacle)- This was another dish that had immense appeal to me when scanning the menu options. I love red snapper and I love fish with a crispy skin .. or at least a crispy aspect to it which this had. When this dish came out, the portion size was much larger than the previous two dishes. More like an entrée size actually. I suspect this was because they were trying to make up for the lackluster performance up to this point. Immediately, I could smell the aroma of the smoked paprika sauce and knew this dish would at least have some kind of flavor. The snapper was delicious. The bread crust really delivered a serious crunch and the flesh of the red snapper had enough meatiness but was fork-tender as I cut through it. It seems the chef somehow found the salt, pepper, and maybe even the butter to baste the fish because this was seasoned very nicely. What a novel idea! The smoked paprika sauce delivered the goods. It was smoky, spicy, and had a hint of pork flavor. This was the punch I was looking for. Finally, something somewhat impressive. The saffron fideos were like little spaghetti, a very tasty garnish to complete the fish. I was delighted that LB was able to rebound here and the kitchen delivered a really good dish. Too bad for them I didn't select this instead of the Turbot originally because maybe then my overall experience wouldn't have been so jaded.

After the snapper, the maître returned to ask how the make up course was. I told him that it was great and these were the flavor profiles I was expecting from LB. He smiled and then asked me a question that I've been getting more and more lately. And to be honest it annoys the crap out of me. "Are you in the "business"? Having heard this on my last three visits when I dined solo, I merely said "No, just a fan of fine dining". His reply was "excellent". Yes, that's right excellent, unlike the overall experience to this point. Why did he ask me that? Why was it relevant? Would I have received better food if I was in the "business"? Maybe he wouldn't have blatantly talked about me to one of the other servers after I finally spoke up. I guess it was just impossible for him to fathom that I was just a food enthusiast looking to indulge and enjoy what has been touted as one of Michelin's best. No need to fear for I wasn't some young up and coming undercover food critic about to write the ultimate expose detailing the chinks in the armor of the great Le Bernardin. And no I wasn't Steve Martin or Regis Philbin or Paul from Letterman. But that didn't mean I wasn't going to still get the word out through Chowhound.

6th course- KING FISH- Seared Yellowtail King Fish; Truffle Risotto, Baby Vegetables, Black Truffle- Like I stated earlier this was THE DISH I have had my eye on from the start. There was no way I was leaving without trying this. Again, the description contained all ingredients that I love. But after the bad turbot I was wary since that dish had also had black truffle in it and turned out to be nowhere to be found. Finally coming off a very good dish in what at this point was a total lackluster experience, came the kingfish. Again, I was overwhelmed with a wonderful scent from the sauce in this dish as the waiter meticulously poured it around my plate. It smelled so intoxicating, I told the waiter to leave the boat of sauce on the table in the event I wanted more. He obliged. What can I say about this dish? Simply fantastic! Now this is what I was expecting out of Le Bernardin. THIS was an incredible plate of food. The only negative thing I can say is that it wasn't four times larger. I wish I could have erased the bad turbot and monkfish and had this supplemented two more times. That's how great it was. Dare I say maybe, quite possibly the best fish dish I have encountered. I had never had Hiramasa before, and it was succulent. Cooked similarly to tuna, perfectly medium rare and pink on the inside. Again, it seemed as if the chef found his seasonings and of course my favorite ingredient BUTTAH. I think this fish is naturally buttery, however there was definitely some added help here. The other star of the dish was the sauce. It was the epitome of French cuisine in every way. Butter, cream, truffles- unfreakinbelievable. I found myself going back for more and more out of the sauce boat I ordered my waiter to leave on the table. After I finished the plate, I took some bread to sop up every last bit. And then when all of the sauce was gone from my plate, I found myself spooning whatever was left from the boat and just slurping it like soup. Amazing. The truffle risotto was really incredible as well and the perfect accompaniment. Overall, this was undoubtedly the best dish at LB and one of the best fish plates I have ever eaten in my life. I bashed them big time, so I find it only fair to give them due praise when they deserve it. Ahhhh- somewhat of a reprieve at last…somewhat.

At this point, I was more confused than ever. How could 2 dishes be so unbelievably flavorless? Two sauces be so watery and off-putting? And then the kitchen turns out a delicious Snapper and an unbelievable Hiramasa with delectable seasoning and impeccable saucing. This was the ultimate case of Jekyll and Hyde. It goes without saying that the inconsistency was rather noteworthy. The kitchen just seemed to have it backwards. They were paring the more delicate tasting fish with “milder” sauces, while the meatier more robust fish were receiving these ultra rich sauces. You’d think it’d be the other way around. Very very unusual.

7th course-BLACK BASS- Crispy Black Bass; Lup Cheong and Beansprout “Risotto”

Mini Steamed Buns, Hoisin-Plum- Another classic LB dish, or so I've read. At this point my review is becoming another one of my mini epics so I will spare the details. All I will say is this was another very good dish. The crispy skin was textbook; the fish was buttery, juicy, and delicious. To be honest, the sauce wasn't my cup of tea in this one- basically tasted like something you could get at your local Chinese restaurant. The little dumpling that came with it was just there to take up space on the plate. But the main star, the fish, shined through appropriately.

How about now? We went from Le Disappointment to Le Debacle. Is it now finally Le Bernardin? I can't for the life of me say that but at least it was getting closer to what I expected.

So at this point my savories were done. What a mixed bag it was. My advice? Steer clear of any fish that says "Poached" and any sauce that says"Jus" or sounds like it is broth based. These are just camouflage and code word for bland and tasteless. Stick with the French style dishes. Butter, cream, thick sauces. I only tried one Spanish influenced one (Snapper) and that was a success as well. It turned out to be 7 courses in total. 1 so-so (Tuna), 2 morbidly embarrassing (Turbot and Monkfish), 3 delicious (Lobster Carpaccio, Snapper and Black Bass), and 1 that was darn near perfection as far as I am concerned (Hiramasa). Even though the final 3 dishes of the tasting at least gave me a little sense of why LB has gotten the raves for over a decade, I still will never ever ever get over the disappointment of the dishes early on. LB definitely has some weaknesses and the chinks in their armor were definitely present, visible, and were exposed.

Onto the desserts. I had requested the Egg when I made the reservation, and they delivered it to me as my pre-dessert. I had also requested when I initially ordered that I would like to supplement the tasting desserts for desserts on the ala carte menu. I was set on getting the Tres Leches, however … you guessed it gone from the revamped menu. Bummer. So here is how it all turned out.

Pre- dessert- Egg- Wonderful little bite. I definitely think they should consider tripling the size and making it a mainstay on their dessert menu.

1st dessert- BLACK SESAME-CHERRY Black Sesame Panna Cotta and Pain de Genes, Sour Cherry Sphere, Shiso, Mandarin Sorbet ( supplement from tasting dessert)- A new creation from the pastry chef. I was feeling adventurous so I decided to try it. No complaints here. I was worried about the black sesame because I am more of a sweet, rather than savory dessert person (I joke my sweet tooth is the size of the Grand Canyon). But it was sweet enough, and the sour cherry spheres and sorbet were very refreshing.

2nd dessert- Coffee- Spiced Coffee Cream, Dark Chocolate Sponge, Whipped Mascarpone, Coffee Ice Cream (comped dessert for all my trouble so far)- Another very tasty dessert. This was the richer of the too obviously as you look at the ingredients. They described it as a deconstructed Tiramisu, however I wouldn't quite agree as there was no alcohol involved here. The dessert contained coffee mouse sandwiched between chocolate sponge, complimented with some great coffee ice cream. Mocha flavors were ever present, so I'd say more like a Mocha chino than a Tiramisu. Very good sweet treat to end off the meal. Overall, I liked the desserts and can't complain. Nothing revolutionary, but I enjoyed them and they served their purpose as a sweet treat.

So that was it. The tasting was complete. It was a very very weird experience honestly. It was a total crapshoot. Had I forgone the tasting and did a la carte and selected the really noteworthy dishes, then maybe this whole review would have been different. Maybe I'd be singing their praises and hawking LB as another favorite. But I did the tasting to get a taste of as many dishes as possible because how often do you go to LB? I wanted to give the kitchen a chance to wow me as many different flavors, textures, and techniques to as possible. Let them bowl me over with their full array. Hit me with their best shot. Unfortunately, they ultimately fell short because they didn’t nail every dish.

The tasting after awhile seemed to just keep dragging and amounted to be a 3 and a half hour ordeal. Filled with both lows and some incredible high points, this meal, this whole night was a total roller coaster. Up, down, up down. Some points I felt disgusted and nauseous, other times I felt elation from that pleasure rush. Hills and valleys. Twists and turns. Much like a roller coaster. At the end of it I felt almost exhausted. Like I had just run a marathon, and then someone beat me up repeatedly. It was just a big blur. I don't think the strong ending made up for the other weaknesses in both food and service throughout. The lack of an apology and their poor attitude also didn't help their cause. Well, they did comp me a dessert. Wow, thanks! They lost $8 on me, but I'm sure the thousands of dollars that Steve Martin and Regis Philbin were throwing down in the private room more than made up for it.

I think I have gone into enough detail already about the food. I have briefly touched upon the service throughout this mini novel. And here is a bit more.

For sure, LB showed glimpses of why it gets so much clout. But I have eaten in some of the finest restaurants in NYC and in other parts of the country with similar accolades. And I did not have the same unexplainable inconsistency from one dish to another and certainly not the inexcusable snotty and rude service snafus. I'd bet my life that Chef Ripert was not in the kitchen last night. Well I hope he wasn't anyway, because there is no way he should have allowed those two horrible dishes to exit his kitchen doors. And if he was in the kitchen then shame on him. I don't think LB believes in the idiom "the customer is always right". Because apparently when I finally felt the need to voice my disdain for what was happening here, they tried to pawn it off on me as it was my fault. As if I was bothering them. And when I spend $200, I don't want to be treated that way. Heck, I don't want to be treated that way when I go through the drive-thru at McDonald's. Leaving LB, I cannot say that it was money well spent. I felt ripped off honestly. This meal was certainly not worth the price tag. I had been to Tocqueville weeks earlier and spent nearly half more a tasting menu that totally blew this one out of the water. Was I glad I went after all of that? Yeah…I’m glad I went. I tried it. I can say “I’ve been”. But I instead of it being remembered for the good things, unfortunately my run in with LB will forever be tarnished because of the bad.

As I was making my 1 hour commute on the way home I was seriously weighing whether or not to write such a long review. Did I want to waste my time and effort doing this? Usually, I do not mind doing so for a review that is a complete success. For those who have read some of my other reviews, I'd say 99 percent of them are positive. I do not like posting negative ones. But here I felt like my voice had to be heard. I just couldn’t stay silent with this one. And when I started typing, as usual my fingers and brain just started to take over resulting in the longest review of a restaurant I have ever written.

So I'll try to think of a clever way to end this. Keep it short and simple for a change. There were periods where this fine dining behemoth was Le Disappointment, then Le Debacle, then showed glimpses of what Le Bernardin could be. I guess the best way to describe it all was organized chaos. Or maybe Le Montagnes Russes. If you don’t speak French, look like up like I did.

Le Bernardin
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

Gotham Bar and Grill
12 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003

La Grenouille
3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

Ai Fiori
400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

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