Friday, October 14, 2011

The King of Fish

If I had any sincere doubt about whether or not Le Bernadin deserved four stars--or about whether or not Eric Ripert remained the confirmed king of the sea--I doubt no longer. Last night's four course dinner (ten people, two grand, thank you very much) blew all us little fishies out of the water. It is an occasion restaurant, as marked by the fact that we ran into not one but two other tables of culinary school grads. And it is a restaurant for the wealthy, as marked by the fact that a very famous comedian couple sat in a corner banquette, sharing wine and looking deliciously unkempt.

Thanks to the tip off from a friend, the restaurant began our meal with a gratis magnum of champagne. The dining room is larger than a lot of four stars (per se has sixteen tables and Jean-Georges is the kind of precious, carpeted room that makes people afraid to speak loudly), though smaller than Del Posto. It is carpeted, as is tradition in these kinds of places. It is filled with warm and sophisticated touches--a flowing wall pattern resembling the ocean; a seascape mural at the restaurant's rear; white orchids on the tables and in large standing vases. It is a hospitable, warm room, if not one that is terribly memorable.

And then: the food. An amuse bouche arrives of poached golden and red beets, wrapped in tiny burritos filled with goat cheese and a puck of tuna tartare and a bowl of lobster knuckle in some kind of emulsion. It points to the luxury of the meal and made even this beet hater a convert.

A raw course of black bass, sliced green grapes, celery, and olive oil packed crunch and punch. It was sweet and savory, silken and crunchy. A foie gras and tuna carpaccio arranged in the shape of a fish was equal parts decadence and allure. Striped bass with crispy artichokes reminded me that raw fish can be powerful in its excellence.

My langoustines arrived next, bathed in a salty, sweet beurre blanc and garnished with various mushrooms and cubes of foie gras. I preferred it to an admittedly well-executed crab cake with potato chips. My entree stole the show--crispy black bass with a mushroom reduction as rich as duck stock, served with a plate of spicy pickled cucumbers. A poached halibut in beet broth rivaled my fish, as did a soft and steaming striped bass with Thai inflections. The meat dishes ordered by two in our party did not measure up to the rest of our meal. One would do best to stick with the sea at Le Bernadin.

Then: dessert. Pre-dessert was a pot de creme of chocolate, layered with caramel and custard and salted cream in a hollowed egg with a demitasse. Panna cotta with figs was a textural dream. A comped mango cheesecake was the best of its ilk and a composed plate billed as apple cinnamon brought me back to an autumn fair ground. Petit fours of chocolate and pate de fruits and a tiny pate a choux filled with cream reminded me that in four star restaurant every touch matters.


Le Bernadin
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019

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