Sunday, November 18, 2012


It is no surprise that whenever imported chefs visit New York, they choose Le Bernardin for a meal.  There are few other restaurants that function at this level, this consistently, continuing to please, inspire, surprise and satisfy each and every guest that can afford the experience.   It is nothing but wonderful, as well, that this success comes to a chef and gentlemen, Eric Ripert, that is quite simply the Platonic ideal of both.  His Chef de Cuisine at Le Bernardin, Chris Muller, prevails the same culinary acumen, as Ripert's empire gently expands.  And now with the recent renovation of the dining room, the impressive decor lives up to the overall experience.

The spectacular painting of a tumultuous sea threatens to crash from the wall, and is prescient of the seafood-centric menu.   Like the ocean, dishes can be powerful and surprising, or calm and tranquil, but always boundless in depth and soul.   Likewise, the global influences are as expansive as the vastness of the sea.  The technique and finesse is inarguably French, but there are Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, African flavors- you name it.   And while the kitchen would graciously acquiesce requests for meats or vegetables, the most heightened experience will occur succumbing to the whim of the chef's tasting menu.  A la carte wouldn't disappoint though, either: you would have to order items to which you had an established aversion in order to even approximate disappointment at Le Bernardin (and even then, you might decide you actually ended up liking just those things you thought you did not).

Single, pure-white orchids decorate each table, as elemental and exotic as the courses to be had.  Seated at the glowing, white linened table, the pearlescent chargers glimmer under a warm spotlit beam. We enjoyed a smooth, creamy potted salmon flecked with chives atop crusty rolls from a
selection of artisanal breads by the hottest oven of the moment, Maison Kayser in nearby Yorkville.  The chargers themselves are admirable conversation pieces, with rims beaded like droplets of seaspray.  These are soon whisked away as your first course arrives.  I began with Barely Touched (preceding this is the Almost Raw section which I tend to circumvent) sea scallops, sliced into coins and warmed to firm their texture just
slightly.  They floated atop a buttery lime-shiso broth, anointed with dots of shiitake-miso jus and precious shards of crisp snow pea.

While wine pairing was offered, I chose to to restrain myself to one glass, and was bequeathed a crisp Austrian Gruner Veltliner that exquisitely accompanied each course, and somehow magically retained its gentle coolness throughout the meal (which lasted a solid three hours).  That was a welcome attribute for the second dish, octopus charred "a la plancha" with a piquante tomato sauce vierge and a fan of crisp fennel, emulsions of vegetal green olive and pungent black garlic daubed into a paisley underneath.   From Lightly Cooked arrived a
 roasted black bass, a generous hunk of pristine skin-crisped fish amidst a golden pool of Peruvian chicha sauce, inspired by Ripert's recent trip to Peru.  The slight funk of fermented corn was spliced with lime, and then joined by buttery chunks of acorn squash ceviche garnished with shishito pepper. 

Our final savory course was a spectacular grand finale: a Dover sole in its glorious winter fattiness that it dons seasonally as the local waters cool.  Chef Muller was almost as rhapsodic about the quality of that fish alone as I was about its preparation.  The filets were sauteed to a deep golden brown, resulting a crisped edge that seemed to hold together its meltingly tender flesh.  It stretched languidly in an exquisite tamarind brown
 butter, one of those sauces that will resonate in my memory with no foreseeable terminus.  It was a dish so grand, so sumptuous, that its accompaniment of beautifully perfumed basmati rice was served aside so as not to distract from the exalted fish, adorned with rich pistachios and almonds, onyx currants and ruby-toned barberry, and a crinkle of gold leaf to appear worthy of its companion.

After such grandiosity, our first dessert displayed a refreshing humility and simplicity.  A small garnet plum topped with sake sorbet was flanked by sastrugas of gingery foam with tiny leaflets of shiso, a dollop of zesty plum sorbet atop a small square of light, spongey cake.  Not to be outdone, however, a playful composition of chocolate and popcorn followed.  A bar a thick, smooth Madagascan ganache balanced crisp kernels of caramel corn,  candied peanuts and a crisp sugary tuile, its extravagance balanced by a small quenelle of creamy popcorn ice cream, reminding us there is still fun to be had amid all this luxury.  Finally... well, next-to-finally arrived more child's play: two squares of buttery, nutty sablee
hugging hazelnut gelato, but so as not to trivialize things too much, it is presented in a flourish of silver foil, somehow elevating a simple ice cream sandwich to something exceptional.  Needing not a morsel more, the actually-final dessert came as a trio of tiny dense pumpkin cakes, moist and spiced... although perhaps gilding the lily.  Or the orchid, as it were.  But if ever there were a restaurant to live up to a little pomp, this is the New York Times four-starred,  Michelin three-starred, highest-Zagat ranked candidate to do so.

155 West 51st Street
 tel.    212.554.1515

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