Thursday 18 July 2013

New York Series - Le Bernadin

Here we are in New York City, the Big Apple. NYC is one of the dining capitals of the world, so it was with great care that I searched through and listed out the restaurants that I wanted to visit.  There are no less than six 3 Michelin starred restaurants in Manhattan, along with seven 2 Michelin starred and about 50 restaurants with a single Michelin star, so I was almost overcome with the choices available to me.

The first of the mega restaurants that I was able to book into was Le Bernadin, which is arguably the best restaurant in Manhattan.  As the name suggests, Le Bernadin is a French restaurant, with the original Le Bernadin opening to humble beginnings in Paris in 1972 but quickly became a Parisian favourite, winning its first Michelin star in 1976 and its second coveted star in 1980.  Inspired by their many American customers, siblings and owners Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze decided to open a Le Bernadin in New York.  The risk paid off with Le Bernadin almost immediately winning a coveted New York Times 4 Stars, the highest accolade in NYC.

After the sudden death of Gilbert in 1994, disciple and close friend Eric Ripert took over as head chef in the kitchen and was able to maintain the very high standards that the Le Coze siblings had set.  Under Chef Ripert Le Bernadin has gone onto greater heights, earning and keeping the coveted 3 Michelin stars from 2005 and is currently ranked the 19th best restaurant in the world in the San Pellegrino worlds top 50 restaurants.

It's fair to say that I had very high expectations for my visit to Le Bernadin.  Not only did it have an amazing reputation and fantastic reviews, I have watched Chef Ripert over the years on one of my favourite cooking shows, Top Chef.  We had a pretty early start time for New York standards, with a 5:15pm reservation, which is also the commencement of the evening dining session.  Surprisingly, we were not the first to arrive and by the time we were seated and looking over the menu, there was a steady stream of diners taking their seats.

There are a number of options when dining at Le Bernadin, two tasting plates and a la carte.  We chose the Le Bernadin tasting plate, which was the slightly cheaper option, only $150 per person, as opposed to the $195 per person for the 'Chef's Tasting' degustation.  While we were waiting for our first course to arrive we were offered a selection of fresh breads to start off.  What I love about a Michelin Starred restaurant is the attention to detail and this was on display for the bread, with the accompanying butter being soft and easy to spread. What was more, the fabulous wait staff regularly changed the butter over, so it didn't get too soft!

We also had a trio of Amuse Bouche presented to us before our first course was delivered.  The first was a tuna tartare, which was delicious and incredibly fresh and delicate.  Next up was a crab concoction with indian spices, which was also fresh and delicate and had just a little heat from the spices, but not enough to spoil the freshness of the crab.  Last up was a clam bisque, which was lovely and light and helped sooth the palate after the spiced crab.  Each of the Amuse Bouche worked perfectly with the last.

First of the dishes was the tuna, layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras and toasted baguette with chives and extra virgin olive oil.  This was a spectacular start to the meal, with the tuna sliced incredibly thin, then pounded even thinner and covering delicious foie gras and toasted baguette.  The tuna and foie gras married together wonderfully, with the creaminess of the foie gras not detracting from the delicate tuna.  There was some crunch from the toasted baguette with added texture to the dish.  It was quite a generous service of tuna and foie gras but left me wanting more by the time I had finished.

Next up, and quite possibly my favourite dish of the night, was the barely cooked scallop in a brown butter dashi.  The scallop, massive by Australian standards, sat within its large shell only slightly cooked in a dashi broth.  The idea with this dish was to cut up the scallop into tiny squares and then eat the scallop pieces in the broth.  It was a fabulous way to eat the scallop, with the dashi providing layers of complexity to the subtle flavour of the scallop.   The flavours were rich and powerful, but not overpowering, the balance was just right and I definitely was left wanting more of this one!

It's incredible how popular Lobster is in New York, it's practically everywhere and on every menu, although none quite so spectacular as one given the three Michelin Star treatment!  The pan roasted lobster with charred baby leaks, sea bean and mango salad, finished off with a lobster and lemongrass broth was amazing.  The sweet meat of the lobster was cooked to perfection and the claw was not only expertly cooked, but taken out of its shell and preserved beautifully.  There was a little bit of theatrics with the lobster bisque added at the table and gently poured around the artfully displayed lobster.  The lobster meat was tender and sweet, with the claw flesh being spectacular but taken to another level when combined with the broth.  Technically, this was a very accomplished and very beautiful looking dish.

There was a little more theatre with the next dish, with pan roasted monkfish, tarragon scented pea puree, morels and armagnac black pepper sauce, with the black pepper sauce ever so carefully poured around the pea puree on the plate, so as not to disturb the perfect square.  Monkfish is quite a robust flavoured fish, which is why is was a wonderful match for the slightly peppery sauce, which again was perfectly offset by the sweet pea puree.  Each of the component were delicious, but when you combined each, the dish was spectacular, just a well balanced and flavoured plate of food.

The final course, and the course that was my second favourite (only just beaten by the scallop) was the  wild striped bass, Bhutanese red rice, green papaya salad with a ginger-red wine sauce merlot.  The bass was incredibly well cooked and sat atop the red rice and immersed in the lovely sticky red wine sauce.  The sauce was again poured at the table and had a lovely smell, which had hint of ginger and when combined with the red rice and fish provided a taste sensation with every mouthful.  The green papaya salad on top provided a little extra texture with the dish, but the star was the bass and I wanted a much bigger serving of it...

It was time for the first of our desserts to come out and the Raspberry with olive oil emulsion, Swill meringue and raspberry sorbet was initially quite disappointing to the eye, to me it looked a little plain for a three star restaurant.  I was pleasantly surprised with the complexity of the dessert, which came as a result of the olive oil emulsion, it was a revelation!  Olive oil can have an amazing depth of flavour on its own, but the emulsion, when combined with the raspberry was wonderful.  I still think the dish was a little on the plain side visually for a three star restaurant, but it made up for it with the complexity of flavours.

Last of the desserts (or so I thought) was the Dark Chocolate Parfait with candied Marcona almonds, duke de leche and milk sorbet.  This was a prettier dish and looked lovely on the plate.  Not only did it look pretty, there were lots of interesting flavours on the plate, all competing for attention.  The chocolate was dark and rich, with the caramel sauce sticky and sweet underneath.  I actually found the balance to be too heavy for the dark chocolate, so it was a little bitter for me, but I'm not a huge fan of dark chocolate.  SC loved this one, so it was likely just my palate.

We were surprised and touched when the wait staff brought out an additional dessert for us, which was for SC's birthday, which had just passed (but this was her birthday dinner).  I had mentioned this when I made the reservation, but had completely forgotten about it until the dessert arrived at the table.  This was what I would hope to see as a dessert from a three star restaurant, the chocolate work was amazing, with a piece of tempered chocolate delicately held in place by some sorbet.  There was also a little chocolate cake, with caramel dots surrounding it and a 'Happy Birthday' message for SC.  Wonderful flavours and a great surprise!

Dinner was over and as we waited for our bill to be brought over, the wait staff presented some mixed chocolates to finish up with.  These were delicious, but my favourite was the little macaroon, which I'm pretty sure was orange, but tasted amazing after eating all of the chocolate on the plate and with the previous two desserts.  It was a lovely way to finish up the meal.

This was a very different experience from the last time SC and I had visited a Michelin Starred restaurant, which was in the Europe a few years ago.  I have to say that while the service at Le Bernadin was fabulous, it was just a cut below the service we received in the European Michelin Starred restaurants.  There were a heap of wait staff on hand and the looked after our every need, as you would expect, but they just didn't engage as much as our previous experiences with starred restaurants.

Where Le Bernadin exceeded was the quality of the food, which was spectacular.  Each course complimented and built on the previous course to present a complete meal.  While I had some favourites, each dish packed heaps of flavour and was inventive, without taking away from the primary ingredients.  

I had very high expectations going into this meal, it's hard not to be expecting the 'best meal of your life' when you go to a three Michelin Starred restaurant for the first time.  Was this the best meal of my life?  It's hard to say if it would rate as the number 1 meal that I have had, when food gets to this level of quality it's like splitting hairs (really hard to do).  It was certainly up there with the best and was quite memorable and when you are spending a heap of money on a meal like this, memorable is exactly what you want.

Quite beautiful in an understated way inside the restaurant
There was heap of bread offered throughout the meal and the butter kept getting replaced!
That scallop dish was something special....
A great surprise and a wonderful looking dessert
It would be easy to miss Le Bernadin, it is very understated.  They don't even have their 3 Michelin Stars on display!

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon


  1. Name kind of speaks for itself. How mjuch early did you have to book it?

  2. Booked about a month early! It was even harder to get into eleven madison park!!

  3. Great looking dishes, reminds me of the meal I had here years ago, which was my first ever at a michelin starred place. Needless to say, I was blown away. Just for info, Maguy le Coze is Gilbert's sister, not brother!

    1. haha, thanks Lee, I better fix that one up! Yeah, top notch food and a great setting, what more could you want :)


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