I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Le Bernardin, in fact, we almost didn’t book it as we weren’t really expecting much. From what we’ve heard Eric Ripert isn’t in the kitchen much. Also, we’re going to Paris soon, so will be experiencing a lot of French restaurants. We were able to get a table though so off we went.
We’d read on the confirmation the jackets were required for men in the dining room. It was a very muggy day in New York City so fiancee carried his jacket, he was asked to put it on as soon as we got in. They were polite and welcomed us in that stiff approach you expect from a French forward restaurant.
We’re given a wine list and menus all in quick succession which made managing the table a little difficult. It took a little time for them to come back for the wine selection, then our pre-course came out which was salmon rillette with baguette croutons. So I’m juggling my menu, wine list and wanting to eat the food at the table. Not ideal.
Upon ordering our wine I was told they were sold out and was upsold to another bottle. This irks me a little, I know when fine dining it’s not about the price and most dining at this establishment wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid but it didn’t feel very customer focussed.
The salmon rillette was quite nice however not remarkable. There are options for 2 different tasting menus or the three course Prix Fixe where you can choose a number of dishes from the Almost Raw or Lightly Touched menu for a starter one course from the Lightly Cooked and a dessert. We go for this option as with the three of us we can taste more courses.
The waiters have wine cups around their necks and this is the first time we’ve seen something like this. Apparently, it’s a very traditional French for sommeliers to have and is used for tasting the wines before giving to the guests. It’s great to see them keeping up traditions however many jokes were made quietly at the table about expecting him to start rapping any time soon. It resembled the timepieces you often see rappers wearing. Oh, and my father would have been very upset at the sommelier drinking our wine!
The bread comes out on a tray and there are a number of choices to choose from, olive and rosemary, pumpernickel, poppy seed and quinoa to name a few. It’s cold and served with soft butter. It was fine as far as bread goes and actually quite nice when using the remaining salmon rillette on it.
Le Bernadin has that very pretentious vibe to it and the service matches it. There’s no banter, it’s not overly friendly however they are doing a good job, drinks are kept topped up and you can’t really fault them. At times it felt like they were hovering a little however I understand this is to keep up that level of service.
The first starter is the Striped Bass Tartare; Fennel, Avocado, Saffron Crisps Champagne Vinaigrette. It’s nice but not wow and the champagne vinaigrette somewhat overtook the flavour of the bass.
Dungeness “Crab Cake;” Old Bay Crisp Shellfish-Cardamom Emulsion, it has more flavour than the tartare and is an OK dish.
Lacquered Lobster Tail; Tagliatelle Black Truffle Sauce, the tagliatelle was good and the dish itself nicely done but still not blowing minds.
Our plates are left on the table for just a little too long. Again, just me being picking however in such a pretentious establishment I expected a little better. Bread is offered frequently however the crumbs are scooped with a napkin which seemed rather inefficient compared to the scoopers we have seen.
For our main courses we had:
Barely Cooked Salmon; Green Mango, Pickled Okra, Pigeon Peas Jamaican Jerk Sauce. My favourite of the afternoon, it had delicious flavours that worked perfectly together.
Lacquered Skate; Fennel-Herb Salad Smoked Duck Broth. It was cooked well but lacked that special element.
Baked Red Snapper; Vegetable Ceviche Shrimp-Mezcal Marinière. This had a nice flavour and of course was cooked well, unfortunately, it just didn’t have that wow factor.
No swarm technique is used which is interesting given the nature of the restaurant. The swarm technique is where they bring all your dishes to the table and place them down at the exact same time, repeated again when taking your plates away. It’s impressive, especially when observed at a large table.
For dessert we had:
Coffee Caramel Crémeux, Roasted Almond Mousse Bourbon Froth. While not for me with the coffee flavour I can agree with the sentiment that this was the first time the pretentiousness in the restaurant matches the flavour.
Maple Roasted Figs, Mascarpone Cream, Jalapeño Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream. Mum really liked this one.
Strawberry Roasted Strawberries, Black Sesame Crémeux White Chocolate Croquant. I quite enjoyed this and the strawberries frozen with nitrogen was a cool touch.
Dessert came with cannellinis for us all which were enjoyed by the table.
We asked for and were given a short kitchen tour. It’s not as sleek as some of the others we’ve seen however they were between services. The kitchen probably had the friendliest staff of the afternoon!
The bathrooms have no hand lotions, however, sanitary items for women which I always think is a nice touch. To wrap up our afternoon we’re given the bill with a flyer in it advertising all of their cookbooks. We unanimously found this rather tacky.
Overall Le Bernardin was a bit of a letdown and we weren’t expecting much. Everything is cooked perfectly and you can’t fault any of the food or the service. It just didn’t pack that punch. I’m fine with the pretentiousness however only if you follow through on the flavour. Unfortunately, Le Bernardin didn’t meet up to that expectation.
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