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Taillevent or Le Cinq LUNCH

I'd seriously be interested to hear how Le Squer is doing now at Le Cinq. That noodle castle and the eel at Ledoyen c. 2010 were awesome -- truly two of the most memorable dishes I've ever had.

Aug 25, 2015
SimonC in France

Special occasion dinner recommendation

Thanks for the report on Aquavit! Sounds like a wonderful meal. Could you give a few more details about your dinner at Le Bernardin? I'm on the fence about returning there for the first time in three years.

Aug 06, 2015
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Chef's Tasting Menu - any recent experiences?

Thanks so much for the reply! I was only inclined to the tasting menu because my mother enjoys small tastes of multiple dishes, but maybe I can convince her to do the prix fixe.

What other dishes did you enjoy?

Aug 06, 2015
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Chef's Tasting Menu - any recent experiences?

Hello - does anyone have any recent experiences with the dishes on Le Bernardin's Chef's Tasting menu? I did a quick search here but only found a couple reviews, and none of the tasting menu.

I'm in the somewhat odd position of trying to talk myself into returning to Le Bernardin, after three outstanding meals in 2011 but a decidedly lackluster one in 2012 (reported on here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/849137). I haven't returned since.

I've loved Ripert's cooking at its best for its subtlety, finesse, and utmost respect for the raw ingredients. But the kitchen seriously let me down in my last meal, mainly for a number of dishes with overseasoned and overpowering sauces or broths.

In general, I've been less taken with Ripert's attempts at bolder, more direct flavors. I thought the red snapper with smoked paprika and chorizo sauce from some time ago was a misfire, while the Langoustine (with Mâche, Wild Mushroom Salad, Shaved Foie Gras, White Balsamic Vinaigrette) was my favorite of the dozen or so courses I've had there. (As an aside, in contrast, I think boldness of flavor is precisely where Jean-Georges excels and distinguishes itself -- in the surprising and punchy use of spice, sweetness, and acid.

)

What direction has the menu at LB taken? The highs I've experienced in the past were so great that I'm longing to give it another try, but I'm also bracing for disappointment.

I assume the service is as remote and robotic as ever, the atmosphere in the dining room at dinner still funereal, and that the wait staff still sauces the dishes at the table (I've never understood why a kitchen, which is so obsessed with creating a Zen-like balance of flavors on the plate, gives so much power over the finishing of a dish to the servers).

And if people do think I'll be disappointed in a return visit to LB, where else in the city can I go for the kind of subtle, refined, and balanced cooking I'm longing for?

Aug 05, 2015
SimonC in Manhattan

Marea or Lincoln for lunch?

What are the best dishes at Lincoln (at dinner)?

Jun 18, 2012
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Report: Dinner, Friday, 5/11 (long)

Let me say that I have had the good experiences at Le Bernardin that Pete Wells had, and my OP was really a lament for the perceived loss of those experiences. I'm actually rather glad to have read Wells's review, instead of having my findings confirmed by someone who presumably made repeat visits to the restaurant in the recent past.

May 24, 2012
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Report: Dinner, Friday, 5/11 (long)

Oh, yes, I meant it doesn't seem to be available as part of the $70 lunch prix fixe that calf was asking about.

May 14, 2012
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Report: Dinner, Friday, 5/11 (long)

I will say that I did have a very pleasant lunch last year where I special ordered the whole red snapper for two. The dish isn't really representative of the rest of the menu -- the preparation is much simpler -- but it was impeccably prepared and very satisfying.

Unfortunately, the best dish I've ever had at Le Bernardin -- the Langoustine (with Mâche, Wild Mushroom Salad, Shaved Foie Gras, White Balsamic Vinaigrette) -- appears only to be available at dinner.

May 14, 2012
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Report: Dinner, Friday, 5/11 (long)

some would say the egg invented the chicken.

May 14, 2012
SimonC in Manhattan

Le Bernardin Report: Dinner, Friday, 5/11 (long)

Le Bernardin - Dinner, Friday 5/11

It pains me to write this report, as I have admired Eric Ripert's cooking for over ten years and think the kitchen at Le Bernardin outshines its peers in New York like Jean-Georges and Daniel. But based upon my experience Friday night, it will be a long time before I return.

We ordered the 8-course Chef's Tasting, our usual choice, and let me say that the first three courses were among the better dishes, though not the very best, I've had here: the Caviar-Wagyu, Octopus, and Crab. All of the hallmarks of Ripert's cooking were on display: subtlety, refinement, and, above all, a perfect balance of flavors and textures that showcased the high quality ingredients. I'm still thinking about the almost impossibly delicacy of the peekytoe crab, with cauliflower and mustard-curry sauce.

The portion sizes were, however, almost excruciatingly small, a trend here I've noted with dismay over the past year and a half. (A direct comparison of the Chef's Tasting from January 2011 and May 2011 -- comparing photos from my camera phone from Feb. with what was on my plate in May -- showed portions sizes had shrunk noticeably in those five months.) Le Bernardin has never been great value for money, but I no longer feel that it even approaches fair value -- a lot of profit-taking here. Still, in terms of the food, so far, so good.

Things began to go off the rails with the next course, the Sea Medley, a dish of shellfish, sea urchin, and custard served with a smoked bonito broth. The servers, finishing the dish at tableside, drowned the seafood and custard with the bonito broth, which was simply too salty and overpowered everything else. It made the shellfish difficult to eat and the custard almost impossible to eat. As an aside, I don't understand why a kitchen, which is so obsessed with creating a Zen-like balance of flavors on the plate, gives so much power over the finishing of a dish to the servers. I've had lesser versions of this problem here before, where heavy-handed servers threw off the balance of a dish by plating too much sauce. To be fair though, in this case, the fault rested mostly with the saucier for making that broth.

The next dish, the Arctic Char, once again suffered from a sauce -- a butter lettuce-tarragon emulsion -- that was too salty.

With the following course, the Monkfish, the problem wasn't the sauce but the fish itself, which was just inedibly salty. Enough was enough, and we sent this back to the kitchen, noting our complaint. About five minutes later, we received a Lilliputian version of the course -- what looked like two thin pieces of monkfish cut from the smallest ends of the fish and about half the amount of sauce. I'm assuming the kitchen thought if the portions were smaller, we'd have less difficulty with the seasoning. The fish, however, was still the same -- simply too salty. However, we soon discovered that if we cut away the skin around the margins of the fish and just ate the flesh of the fish with the sauce, the dish came into focus and the flavors and seasoning into perfect balance. (I'm guessing the outside of the fish was seasoned far in advance of cooking.) Simply put, without the skin, it's a perfect dish -- which made the preceding events just so maddeningly frustrating.

Ripert's cooking, which relies on subtlety and balance rather than boldness of flavors, is like a high-wire act without a net. When it's on, it's some of the best cooking in New York. But any slight missteps will result in disaster. The Platonic ideals of his dishes are lofty and unforgiving, and there is little margin for error. When three of the six savory courses are flawed in one way or another, as they were on Friday night, it results in serious disappointment. The dishes were so salty that I drank, literally, two bottles of their sparkling water all by myself, and was drinking water all night long afterwards. It was not a pleasant feeling.

I should note that the two desserts, the Raspberry-Rose and Chocolate Peanut, were fine, though I was dismayed to learn that the egg pre-dessert now costs $12 (when did this happen?).

But the fundamental reason why I will not be returning any time soon is the service. I've always preferred Le Bernardin's lunch service to its dinner service, which has always struck me as a little off-kilter and suffused with an uneasy mix of coldness, an almost febrile energy from all of the different servers whirling about without discernible logic (to me, at least), and a corporate/tourist clientele. Meanwhile, lunch, for whatever reason, has always seemed to have a calmer and more settled atmosphere.

But what struck me about the service Friday night was its fundamental lack of sincerity. Some here have described it as a kind of coldness or arrogance or pretension, but I think it goes deeper than that. It's hard to encapsulate in concrete details, but I never felt as though the servers here thought themselves to be in the hospitality business, devoted to making their diners happy. Rather, it seemed like they were parts of a corporate machinery, who viewed diners simply as marks or profit centers and were determined to get their share of the take. Granted, I imagine most waiters, everywhere, think along somewhat similar lines, as well, but the good ones overlay that with warmth, professionalism, and a genuine desire to please. Not so here. GIven the restaurant's apparent desire to turn many of its tables in 2 or 2.5 hours, there's an inescapable feeling of the assembly line here.

There was also one serious service error, with our fourth course being delivered to the next table over (also having the Chef's tasting, but one course behind), resulting in a wrongly ordered course progression for them and an extended wait in between courses for us. This should never happen in a 3* Michelin restaurant, and would never happen in any of the 3* Michelin restaurants I've been to in France.

This was just a long-winded way of saying: a serious disappointment for someone who loves what Ripert's cooking can, and should, be. But despite its glories, I sadly will not be returning to Le Bernardin any time soon.

May 14, 2012
SimonC in Manhattan