After checking out countless fine dining establishments throughout New York and beyond, there were moments that I would tire of multi-course haute cuisine format. Sometimes, simplicity pays off way better with faithfulness to freshness of ingredients and solid execution when I visit restaurants. All this use of emulsion, exotic ingredients and fancy cooking techniques may look great in picture, but not all restaurants delivered quite the way that I had anticipated. One exception to this evolution of my taste is Le Bernardin, and it shows why this perennially famous and rightfully acclaimed restaurant has been in the ultra-competitive New York dining scene for the past 30 years. Chef Eric Ripert doesn’t play safe; he surveys the world for inspiration (last year’s NY Times article about his visit to a tiny Buddhist temple in Korea to learn more about the temple cooking from a female monk there is Exhibit A), and brings what he has observed to the table to spectacular effect. While the seafood-oriented dishes at Le Bernardin are ostensibly French, they draw influences from all over the world. On my last visit for lunch with summer interns at my firm, I learned yet again the boundary that the kitchen is willing to push for another spectacular meal.
In Le Bernardin’s cooking, emulsion is the central part of most dishes but that doesn’t mean that the kitchen pays any less attention to the main seafood. They care deeply about the quality of ingredients and make sure that the texture of seafood, combined with the surrounding emulsion, work together harmoniously. The barely cooked scallop had one of the most memorable textures in scallop as far as I can remember, and combined with roasted bone marrow and calamansi-butter emulsion, had impeccable elegance to flavor. As I tried bite after bite, there was always something new to my taste bud that I couldn’t quite pinpoint but was nevertheless stupendously wonderful.
When you see seared cod coming from the kitchen, you see all these cute little pieces of daikon-green papaya “salad” followed by pouring of Japanese nori-hijiki emulsion that may distract your attention. Yes, the dish looks absolutely beautiful, but better yet the cod was just cooked to perfection and again the balance of flavor and texture was something that I would not forget for a long time. After capping the meal with mango parfait accompanied by Thai basil-mango emulsion, a delightful treat that had the right amount of sweetness to it without overpowering my palate, I walked out of the restaurant an extremely happy man. The three-course prix fixe at Le Bernardin, which has now gone up from the $70s per person from my previous visits to $85 per person, is still one of the best lunch bargains in town if you want to explore the depth of chef Ripert’s philosophy to his cooking but don’t want to break the bank doing so.
Getting the reservation at Le Bernardin is still extremely challenging for dinner, but the lunch reservations tend to come by more easily. Too bad it was lunchtime for work functions so I couldn’t get a glass of wine to complement this wonderful meal. The dining room still oozed the classical beauty and serenity that I remembered on my previous visits. I’m so glad that Le Bernardin is still going as strong as ever; with the passage of time, the quality of food at a restaurant, more often than not, tends to suffer as the head chef expands his or her businesses or the insanely fickle New York diners move on to the next hot places. There is a reason that this place remains one of the best dining destinations in the greatest food city of the world.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 9.5/10
Address: 787 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10019
Telephone: (212) 554-1515