Thursday, January 7, 2016

Le Bernardin, NYC

Le Bernardin, NYC, 1/2/16, $215/8 courses (excluding taxes & gratuity)

Ever since Le Bernardin had its latest renovation, I have not been there yet. Recently, I have read and heard quite a few controversial opinion on its food. Out of my curiosity, I decided to have a meal there around the holiday time.

There are 3 types of tasting menus – 4 courses for $147/person, 7 courses of Le Bernardin Tasting Menu for $180/person and 8 courses of Chef’s Tasting Menu for $215/person. I chose Chef’s Tasting Menu with a few substitutes.

It was crowded being the weekend of New Year. I found out from the server that Tom Cat is still the primary bread supplier. Tom Cat makes one of the best breads in town. Many years ago, I happened to pass by the restaurant while Tom Cat was making a delivery. I told the driver how much I liked their bread and was rewarded with a baguette. There are currently a few varieties of bread served. They are focaccia, raisin walnut, sesame basil, flaxseed and baguette. While some fine dining posts serve a variety of butter, Le Bernardin serves only one type of butter.
The meal started with Amuse Bouche. There were 3 items, from left to right:

1).Fluke sashimi served with ponzu vinaigrette and akinori seaweed. It was fresh but a bit too weak to open your palette.

2). Circle of bouillabais, shaped like an egg yolk created by dipping sodium alginate into calcium lactate. In many ways sodium alginate has become the poster child for modernist cooking (molecular gastronomy) due to its use in spherification. Sodium alginate is a natural gelling agent taken from the cell walls of brown algae. It only gels when it comes in contact with calcium. This product of spherification was a popular item in Europe when I visited Italy two months ago. I prefer Bouillabais with intense shell-fish flavor. This item had a mild taste of shell-fish, I wondered if it was probably made more for visual pleasure.

3). Celery root soup with truffle foam and black pepper and corn tuile. I happened to like this item most among the 3 amuse bouche served.

1st Course, Tuna – Yellow Tuna Carpaccio; Iberico Ham “Chutney,” Sea Beans, Lemon-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Yellow Fin tuna was fresh and was served at the right temperature. I used fork to cut it into smaller pieces and came across some sinew. On top of the Yellow Fin, there were some sea beans, croutons and Iberico ham.  The small bits of Iberico ham did help to make a more balanced taste.

 2nd Course, King Fish – Caviar – Warm King Fish “Sashimi,” Osetra Caviar, Light Marinière Broth.
My server told me that King Fish is in the family of Mackerel. The King Fish was served warm with chives for decoration, it was warmer than room temperature. The highlight of this course was the Osetra Caviar imported from Israel. It was good quality and not too salty. I inquired the brand, my server brought over an empty jar to show me its brand “Paramount”. This course was served with mussels Marinière sauce. The sauce was excellent, not too thick and not too light, in between sauce and broth.

3rd Course, Langoustine – Pan Roasted Langoustine; Truffled Foie Gras, Aged Sherry-Verjus Vinaigrette

The onion purée was at the bottom. Then, the roasted langoustine was topped with cold foie gras and a few slices of truffles. It was served with sherry and un-ripened grape juice (the round shaped dots around the plate). On top of the truffles, there were some micro-green and fennel leaves for decoration. The langoustine was tender and tasty. The foie gras seemed to be a bit too cold to be in sync with the rest of the dishes.

4th Course, Lobster – Lacquered Lobster Tail; Herb Spring Roll, Lemongrass Consommè

The lobster itself was very well prepared, slight cooked outside and raw inside. It was sliced slightly diagonally to make the lacquered appearance.  On the side, there was one Vietnamese spring roll with Romano lettuce, basil and rice vermicelli wrapped in rice sheet. It was served with lemongrass and shrimp shell consommé. The consommé did not seem to be robust enough to bring out lobster’s full flavor. I asked the server why lobster shell was not used. I also called to inquire Le Bernardin’s office and was informed it was the chef’s preferred profile. This dish reminded me of Caccia al caciucco (soup with raw fish) that I had at Da Vittorio near Milano, Italy. Da Vittoria made a pot of famous Caciucco-Livorno fish soup, discarded cooked shell fish and reserved the condensed soup to serve with raw fish. I really miss Da Vittorio’s made to perfection cuisine.

5th Course, Halibut – Poached Halibut; Manila Clams, Wild Mushroom Casserole

I usually like to remind the server to inform kitchen not to overcook my fish. My server did not want to hear it. He said Le Bernardin is the best seafood restaurant in NYC, they always cook to perfection. When he brought over the plate, I found out it was not as perfect as what the server said. It was a bit overcooked. The fish was fresh, served along with baby carrot, Chinese black wood fungus, varieties of mushroom, and Brussels sprouts in cockerel sauce. I liked both the mussel Marinière sauce served earlier and cockerel sauce. They both were with the right consistency and flavor.

6th Course, White Tuna-Kobe Beef – Grilled Escolar and Seared Wagyu Beef; Fresh Kimchi, Asian Pear, Soy-Citrus Emulsion

To replace Black Bass “Surf& Turf” – Crispy Black Bass and Braised Veal Cheek, Parsnip Emulsion, Ginger-Five Spice Reduction

Since I don’t like braised veal cheek on Chef’s Tasting Menu, I requested for a substitute. Since this was the last savory course, so I preferred eating something that I was in a mood for. 

escolar is found in deep (200–885 m) tropical and temperate waters around the world. It has firm white flesh with incredibly rich flavor often described as “succulent. It is like a fattier version of swordfish. Sometimes, it is under the name of “butterfish”, “oilfish”, “waloo/walu”, “super-white tuna” or “king tuna”.  It was tender because escolar has a lot of wax esters which are like indigestible triglycerides. Julienned Asian pear were placed on top of fish along with soy-citrus emulsion made of butter, lemon juice, lime juice and soy sauce.

The Wagyu beef was tender although slightly overcooked. Beef was served with Korean barbecue sauce made of garlic, ginger, onion, miso and Korean hot pepper paste. The sauce was delicious but not spicy.


In the middle of the plate, a chunk of braised cabbage (considered Le Bernardin’s in house kimchi) was covered by a piece of bah-choy. On the flavor side, my taste buds were confused. I was expecting authentic kimchi and the course served non-spicy cabbage (called kimchi on the menu). I would prefer at least a half-spicy real kimchi to enhance the taste.

7th Course, Exotic Fruit “Pavlova,” Roasted Pineapple, Guava Jam, Yuzu Coconut Sorbet
To replace Matcha – Green Tea Custard, Preserved Lychee, Jasmine Ice Cream

Roasted pineapple and guava were place at the bottom and covered by a thin layer of yuzu coconut ice cream. The top part was meringue covered by roasted almond slices and flanked by egg-white candy waffles. It was a good palette cleanser.

8th Course, Dark Milk Chocolate – Milk Chocolate Mousse, Dark Caramel, Candies Peanuts, Warm Malted Caramel

To replace the Apple – Ginger-Scented Apple “Bomb,” Warm Riccotta Financier

It was disappointing that Le Bernardin has stopped making its signature dessert “Hazelnut Praline Cake”. Years ago, when I first had it, my message probably was so loud that the server actually offered me a 2nd serving. Since it is no longer available on the menu, I chose a chocolate dessert instead. It was good, but I still think my favorite hazelnut praline cake was better. My server also brought me a scoop of passion fruit sorbet. I wished its flavor was a bit more intense and fuller. Years ago, Picholine used to make wonderful passion fruit dessert. Its dessert chef actually gave me the recipe, it required a lot of other ingredients besides the passion fruit purée.
After the dessert, there were 4 petit four items: green tea bon-bon, pistachio macaroon, apple cider jelly candy, and cherry financier.

At the end of 2nd course, I requested for my customized menu as I usually did at other fine dining restaurant. My server brought me a full set of menu including tasting menus and a la carte menu for the holidays and with a slight different price. I made a 2nd attempt to get my customized menu at the end of 5th course from a different server and got a full set of menu again. This 2nd set of menu, however, was for 1/2/16. After this 2nd attempt, I decided not to make another attempt to get my customized menu. I just could not believe that the server could not produce my customized menu.

At the end of meal, I would still consider it was a good meal, although nothing deserved a “wow” worthy a journey like the one I made to Da Vittoria recently. It seemed that Le Bernardin’s chef’s preferred profile has leaned toward light flavor instead of full and robust flavor. My latest dining experience at Le Bernadin reminded me of what I had at Daniel’s three years ago. Personally, by spending similar amount of money for the next fine dining occasion, I would consider going to other restaurants offering more flavor and creativity.


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  2. Very interesting! Those desserts looked wonderful but not much on the savory menu appeals to me - except the celery root soup with truffle foam. I can see why that was your favorite of that course.

  3. I have never fine dined before but I think it would be really fun to try out. It isn't very often that people go to fine restaurants. Are most restaurants like this have seafood as their main food that they cook. I just noticed that a lot of the courses have some sort of seafood in it.

    1. In Bernadin's case, it specializes in seafood French style. If you would like to try out as a beginner, I would highly recomment Bouley which is also in my blog. I am just curious how you foun dout my blog. Enjoy your fine dining.

  4. Hi there! I love reading about your experiences in fine dining and wanted to ask you a question about your blog. Could you let me know where to reach you? Thank you!

    1. Thanks for your opinion. You are reaching to me.