Le Bernardin (NY) – A Michelin One Star Meal

Eating out at the haute level, and then reading/writing about it, can sometimes invoke a Schopenhauer-ian perspective on the hobby – life is suffering because our desires can never be fulfilled. Le Bernardin has its critics who argue that a restaurant focused on fish should not be awarded three Michelin stars; others argue the food is just plain ordinary. Based on my one and only visit, the ingredients were sashimi-quality, the execution flawless, and the conception perfect. It still ranks as one of my favorite meals. But this was the “re-visitation” New York trip, where Jean Georges got knocked out of my Top 5 US earlier in the day. Would Le Bernardin suffer the same fate?

This was more of a social meal so I didn’t take notes. The pictures, while not as good as the last few posts, did turn out ok once I got done with Photoshop.

1. Progressive Tasting of Marinated Fluke

This dish has garnered a fair amount of hype but it’s lost on me. The tasting starts with a simpler citrus-based marinade and progressively gets more “complicated” – more ingredients and stronger flavors. All of the marinades have a bit of heat but I found the last two too strong for the fish. Good.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Progressive tasting of fluke

2. Yellowfin Tuna w/ Foie Gras, Shaved Chives, & Olive Oil

A paper thin slice of tuna covering foie gras. This dish just seemed to be a mis-mash of ingredients without unifying properties. The tuna/foie combination did not come close to comparing to similar combinations from Pierre Gagnaire (Paris). The whole dish just seemed confused. Ok.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Yellowfin Tuna w/ Foie Gras, Shaved Chives, & Olive Oil

3. Kanpachi Tartar w/ Wasabi Tobiko & Ginger-Coriander Emulsion

One of the better dishes of the night – the ginger-coriander emulsion spiced up the dish and gave it a complementary dimension missing from the previous two dishes. Good.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Kanpachi Tartar w/ Wasabi Tobiko & Ginger-Coriander Emulsion

4. Grilled Salt Cod Salad

I don’t remember much aside from it was a neither here nor there dish. Ok.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Grilled Salt Cod Salad

5. Warm Peeky-Toe-Maryland Lump “Crab Cake” w/ Dijon Mustard Emulsion

This tasted fine but the mustard emulsion was one dimensional. Good.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Warm Peeky-Toe-Maryland Lump 'Crab Cake' w/ Dijon Mustard Emulsion

6. Spicy Langostine Sambal, Chayote, & Pear Julienne

This was a send-it-back dish. I ate one half of the langostine but then I told the waiter it was not that fresh – very mushy. Not Good.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Spicy Langostine Sambal, Chayote, & Pear Julienne

7. Pan-Roasted Red Snapper w/ Ginger-Lemon-Scallion Broth

The fish was overcooked – a cardinal sin at Le Bernardin. Not Good.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Pan-Roasted Red Snapper w/ Ginger-Lemon-Scallion Broth

8. Baked Lobster, Wilted Romaine, Port & Tamarind Reduction

I don’t remember this dish.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Baked Lobster, Wilted Romaine, Port & Tamarind Reduction

9. Milk Chocolate Pot de Creme, Caramel Foam, Maple Syrup, & Maldon Sea Salt

Thank goodness the egg is still magical – one of my favorite all-time desserts. The sea salt is the masterful stroke. Excellent.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Milk Chocolate Pot de Creme, Caramel Foam, Maple Syrup, & Maldon Sea Salt

10. Chocolate Ganache & Sweet Corn in 3 Textures

Desserts with savory elements score higher marks with me. The corn sorbet is something I will have to try once corn starts popping up in this area. Very Good.
Le Bernardin (New York) - Chocolate Ganache & Sweet Corn in 3 Textures

I’m not dying to go back unless Eric Ripert himself promised me a return to greatness (which I would absolutely heed.) This meal lacked the precision and subtlety of my last visit, not to mention ingredient quality. It was a Saturday night; perhaps a weekday dinner or lunch would allow the kitchen to focus better. Nonetheless, for $180 food cost, there shouldn’t be egregious errors. My last meal was French Michelin three star quality; this meal deserved one.

Providence (LA) has displaced it as the better (and cheaper… and closer) fish-only restaurant in the US. If I were to bastardize these experiences, and enter both meals into an Iron Chef competition, the Providence meal would win hands down.

- chuck

  • http://www.aistesite.com Aiste

    Totally agree with your review. By the way, for me, the dessert part in Le Bernardin was the best from all the dinner too:)

  • Paul

    If what you say is true, about the quality of the food, that you have had recently at JG and LB, then mabey it is true what people say about the Michellen guide inflating, it’s raitings for it’s New York edition, because IMO, if Per Se, JG and LB were in Paris, they would be nothing more than, middle of the road 2* resturants, and they would be lagging a long, long way behined the likes of PG and Arpege, in terms of the quality of the food, you can get at these two particilar restaurants

  • mark z

    I definitely agree with you Paul, but you must also allow for the like of Per Se and Le Bern, JG to have access to the same ingredients as PG and Arpege….. the difference in quality of produce that you can find in paris and ny is apples and oranges. So if Le Bern, JG and Per Se were in Paris, I bet their cuisine would rise above what it is here in nyc.

  • Paul

    Re mark z

    I agree to a certain extent with what you say, but New York is not exactly a back water town is it, because, it is one of the best city’s in the world to eat in, and therefore, top class restaurants like Per Se, LB and JG, sould have every top producer in America beating down there doors, and begging them try there produce.

    As for the food in those pics, it does look attractive, apart from that Red Snapper dish, because to say that it was over cooked is a bit of an understatement, because to me it looks like the Red Snapper has been carbonized, and IMO for a 3* restaurant to serve this to you, is a joke, because if you are going to pay 3* prices, the least you should expect for the most part is 3* cooking, and i am certainly no food snob, but if i was served this, i would have had them take it back to the kitchen, and cook it for me again. And for a chef of the caliber of ER, to have served that particilar dish to you, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself

  • ChuckEats

    Paul, based on my previous 2 meals at JG & LB, I would have argued the NYC Michelin rating system was not handicapped. I’ve certainly had less than stellar 2 & 3 star meals in France and Spain. The fact that there were only four 3** restaurants in NYC also suggests that there wasn’t much, if any, inflation. Although my Per Se meal was crap, I thought the NYC Michelin 2** & 3*** ratings were fair.

    However, both JG & LB are 1-1 for me; I will re-visit them with hopes they can turn out the excellent meals I remember.

    If I had to rate American restaurants I’ve visited, and I might make this a blog post in the near future, I’d say:

    Michelin 3-star:
    - Urasawa (LA)
    - Manresa (Bay Area)
    - French Laundry (Bay Area) – just barely but i’d rather eat at some of my 2 stars below

    Michelin 2-star:
    - Bouley (NY)
    - Masa (NY) – tough call but it probably belongs here
    - Alinea (Chi)
    - Keyah Grande (RIP)
    - Providence (LA) – and it might be 3-star quality
    - Jean Georges – the average of 2 meals
    - Le Bernardin – the average of 2 meals

    Michelin 1-star:
    - Quince (SF)
    - Coi (SF)
    - Cyrus (SF)
    - Chez Panisse (SF)
    - Farmhouse Inn (SF)
    - 11 Madison Park (NY)
    - WD-50 (NY)
    - Masa (NY)
    - Blue Hill (NY)
    - Uni (Boston)

  • David

    I’m a bit dissapointed as I chose LB to celebrate a special occasion with friends in my upcoming NYC trip. Hopefully it’ll turn out to be more along the lines of your first trip.

    Great blog BTW

  • Scott

    I had lunch at Le Bern a couple months ago and sent back their black bass (? I think it was black bass. It was supposed to be the signature dish). And I never send food back. Ever. It was honestly one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten anywhere. Bizarre.

  • will-smith-but-not-that-guy

    The only time I have ever eaten at Le Bernardin was in 2000, LONG before Eric Ripert became a Top Chef type celebrity. Then, it was magical — but he wasn’t well known. Pity now that he takes his reputation for granted things have slipped. He needs to get a reality check, and soon, or we will lose this once-exquisite bit of old school NYC chic!