When I mentioned that I was disappointed I probably wouldn’t be able to visit Le Bernardin before Michael Laiskonis, the much lauded executive pastry chef, left at the end of 2011 – many say that he’s the best pastry chef in all of New York, possibly the country – DLS made a few phone calls and told me he was taking me to Le Bernardin. Yes, I am truly blessed and lucky to have people in my life who want nothing more than to see me happy.
What girl could say no to that?
So on an unseasonably warm, late November evening, I visited Le Bernardin for what can only be described as a blurred magical night. Blurry mostly because of all the alcohol consumed, but also because it was just… incredible. I felt like a princess – though we easily sat at the ‘worst’ table in the house, it was perfect. Upon sitting, I noticed a stool for my purse was already in place. Our service was impeccable, with multiple servers appearing and disappearing seamlessly – bread, wine, food, to explain our food, to give us whatever we needed – everything was flawless. Eric Ripert even wandered the dining room for a few minutes, before vanishing back into the kitchen. Towards the end of the night, tennis pro John McEnroe walked through the doors to join a large table in the center of the dining room.
True to form, though, the night started off with an error on my part: after perusing the cocktail list, I didn’t see anything to my liking. I decided to request a drink be made for me – something I knew I’d enjoy – and asked the server if I could have prosecco (one of my absolute favorite things to drink) topped with St. Germain. The server smilingly said this would not be a problem to bring me champagne topped with St. Germain; I quickly agreed. Because… who goes to one of the top French restaurants in the city and asks for Italian sparkling wine? Apparently, this girl… but he never made me feel stupid, it was done politely and in such a way that I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable at all.
DLS decided we should get the Le Bernardin tasting menu, along with a wine pairing to split (he doesn’t drink much, and I’ve been trying to cut back on my alcohol intake as well).
First, though, before anything: our amuse bouche. From left to right, tuna tartare with a soy/miso reduction and a potato crisp; a lovely bite with the perfect combination of textures and a lightly sweet taste. Smoked salmon, pumpernickel, dill and honey mustard: I wouldn’t have thought honey mustard would work well with smoked salmon, and at one point the taste almost overwhelmed, but the overall effect was quite tasty and I thought “Why don’t I eat more smoked salmon with honey mustard?” The last, for some reason I neglected to write down, but I recall it was lobster chunks in a foam… and I definitely laughingly pondered, “Who but Le B would have lobster in the amuse bouche?” Not a chunk or two, mind you, but a good amount of lobster… very tasty and sweet, and a nice hint at what was to come.
Do note that Le B is fish-focused, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding who should be your dining companion. Our first course was the only course that contained a non-fish protein: the ‘caviar-wagyu’ course, Nebraska Wagyu beef topped with langoustine and osetra caviar tartare, served with a black pepper vodka creme fraiche, and pomme gaufrette. The wine pairing was a 1998 Dom Ruinart. I absolutely loved the champagne’s fizziness with the saltiness of the caviar, the meatiness of the wagyu and the ocean taste of the langoustines. The delicate fried waffle potatoes was perfect with the creme fraiche, the tartare… both DLS and I commented on the perfection of this course, and I think it’s safe to say this was easily one of our favorites of the night. An excellent start, to be sure.
*I am not quite so talented to remember all of this, nor be able to take notes throughout the entire night while drinking the lion’s share of the wine pairings; it’s listed on the website, thankfully.
The tuna course: ultra rare yellowfin tuna atop a spiced dashi gelee with green pepper corn & Iberico chutney, paired with Chablis, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Savary, Burgundy 2009. It may not be exactly clear, but the bottom part – the gelee – is, well, a gelee, or a gel that melted easily in our mouths, dissolving like so much soup, with a ton of umami from the dashi, and an excellent foil for the super tender fish. I even though the dashi gelee was a touch too overpowering, and ate only about half of it with my fish, though DLS was fascinated by the gelee and ate all of it. Yum!
At this point, I’d had enough to drink that as this was placed in front of me and sauced tableside, I squealed loudly, “It’s a smiley face!” – ah, children; oh, did I not mention that we were easily the youngest diners in the restaurant by about 20 years? – lobster course: butter poached lobster tail with spiced celeriac, finished with an Earl Grey citrus sauce, paired with Yuki no Bosha, Yamahai Junmai, Akita. Those last six words translate to: sake, of which I’m not a fan (I find it exceedingly harsh on my throat, more often than not, and this wasn’t much of an exception), so at least the alcohol consumption ceased during this course. The Earl Grey was extremely faint in the sauce, but that suited me fine as the tea has lost favor with me in recent years, but the lobster was cooked perfectly… more so than the butter poached lobster I’d had just a few weeks prior. I would have happily sopped up the sauce with bread had I chosen to continue my bread service.
Speaking of which – though I neglected to take photographs – I did try the brioche that some have claimed is simply amazing, another mark of Laiskonis’s genius, but found it… okay. It could be that brioche in general is just OK to me, but I don’t think that’s the case. It was good, but I was not blown away by it. Yet another truth: to each his/her own.
Codfish: baked cod, artichoke barigoule; Perigord truffle butter. Paired with Chassagne Montrachet, Premiere Cru Les Caillerets, Marc Colin 2006. The slices of artichoke surrounding were incredibly intense in flavor, while the cod was delicate, and just that shade of fully cooked – super moist, tender, and just incredible. I sincerely apologize to all those who read Feisty Foodie for detailed descriptions on dishes that they may never have the chance to taste, but incredible is just the word that keeps coming to mind. This fish dish just made me wonder why, when I make cod at home, it doesn’t come out this amazing. Gently cooked, its own fresh flavor speaking for itself, along with intense artichokes and truffle butter… just wow.
Hiramasa: lacquered hiramasa, chayote squash, finished tableside with a sofrito broth. Paired with Barolo, Mirafiore, Piedmont, Italy 2007. This dish was surprisingly bold in flavor, but paired with the Barolo, it was excellent. I loved the movement from lighter fishes, lighter dishes to a sudden strong dish – lovely. The meaty fish wasn’t overwhelmed here at all, either.
Black bass: crispy black bass, pickled cucumbers, topping a black garlic-Persian lime sauce (with a piece of black garlic on the side). Paired with a Syrah, Copain, Tous Ensemble, Anderson Valley, California 2009. I remember breaking into this piece of fish – through the crisp skin on top, to the dense flesh underneath, and just marveling in how delicious it was. The pickles were a nice acidic bite contrasting against the richness of the fish and the sauce. So good.
Suddenly, it was time for dessert. Our first dessert: pineapple; roasted pineapple, rosemary ice cream, sesame tuile, paired with Torrontes sparkling, Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia. The sparkling was a lovely complement to this incredible dessert. Those who know me know that I love sesame, and I don’t like fruit except plain – as nature intended, really – but the combination of textures here, the headiness of the rosemary ice cream, crunchiness of the tuile… oh my, I know for sure I whispered (or I thought I was whispering, anyway – it was a LOT of wine later) to DLS, as I scraped my plate clean, that this was amazing. The genius behind the dessert was not lost on me, and the intense sweetness of the roasted pineapple, the creamy coldness of the ice cream along with its herbaceous flavor, then the crunch of the tuile… oh my stars, I was in heaven. You know when you eat something you didn’t think you’d like, but wind up loving it? Take that feeling and multiply it by a thousand.
Chocolate olive oil: Dominican chocolate ganache, toasted bread, Marcona almond, olive oil ice cream, paired with Passito de Pantelleria – Sangue d’Oro, Sicily, Italy 2009. The crunchy Marcona almond was an excellent foil for texture against an otherwise mostly-soft dessert, though that toasted bread was pure genius as well. I can honestly say I understand why Michael Laiskonis receives so much praise, and that all of his accolades are well-deserved.
A small dish of further treats appeared: from left to right, salted caramel, strawberry macaron, cannele, and a vanilla cream puff. DLS declined, so I tried each one in turn and found them all delightful, well-executed, and very tasty.
When I realized the meal was ending, I immediately told DLS we couldn’t leave without trying the Egg. Laiskonis’s signature – and of which I’m sure he tires – I’d heard such incredible things, I couldn’t walk out without having this. A few bites served within an egg shell- but what bites! milk chocolate pot de creme, caramel foam, maple syrup, and ‘a grain of salt’ – when it arrived, I could swear I was trembling with excitement. I’d remembered that I was here for dessert, and dessert I would have: one bite, and DLS agreed that it would have been a complete shame to miss out on this. (Don’t you love validation?) Treading that precarious balance between savory and sweet, each bite was a complete dessert in one: never too sweet, never salty, just right, with creaminess mixing with airiness mixing with… love. That’s all you can say to describe this. Love. Absolute, pure, unadulterated, unconditional, all-consuming love.
A few notes on my overall experience: while I had an absolutely incredible dinner, and every note was hit when it comes to what one might expect at this price point, at this level of restaurant reputation, and there was not a single moment when I was unhappy… something sets Le B apart from Daniel (on that night, the only other three Michelin starred dinner I’d had). While I desperately wanted to pen another love letter to Le B the way I had to Daniel – and deservedly so, because I absolutely loved my experience at Le B, without a question – I couldn’t. It all comes down to, somewhat ironically, the lighting… Yes, my photos are leaps and bounds better at Le B than they were at Daniel (due in no small part to the camera I used, and post-processing, but also because of the light)… but the brighter light left the restaurant feeling less romantic, less hushed, less austere. While at Daniel, the atmosphere almost bordered on uncomfortable for me – as I’m not accustomed to such posh luxury – it also created an air of foreboding, an almost hushed respect for the institution in which one was about to dine… and Le B… it felt more like an upscale restaurant but not super old school, super fancy pants. Maybe it’s just me, but that definitely helped guide my expectations of the night, and the overall feeling as I walked away that night.
Another note: while this might seem like an awful lot of food, I actually did not feel uncomfortably full by the end of the night. I assure you that I ate every last delicious morsel from each dish, drank a lot of wine, had at least one piece of bread, but I still managed to walk away comfortably (and then get on the subway to drink more while watching the Giants/Saints game). I don’t know if that’s a testament to my ability to eat lots of seafood/fish without getting very full, the lack of red meat, the lack of carbs, or just the excellent menu planning by Ripert, but I was satisfied and full without being uncomfortable. I was very pleased.
Finally, sincerest thanks from the bottom of my heart to DLS, for making this night possible, for making this night what it was, for indulging my whim, and for being the friend you’ve been to me and continue to be. I don’t have to tell you that you’re awesome, because you’re just going to say “I know” – and you’re still not cool enough to pull it off the way Han does 😛 Thank you!!!
Yvo says: As I said at the end of my post about Daniel, this is not how I eat all the time. I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience this… but I have to say that if you can, this is definitely an experience I highly recommend. The food was all delicious, to a level I can’t even describe properly (apologies again!), while the service and experience overall is just impeccable to the point that if you have this opportunity… you should seize it. Just amazing, incredible, awesome. Love.
highly recommended at least once in your life… if you can