When I went to the CIA, I kept hearing Le Bernardin and Eric Ripert. Coming from the Philippines, and not from the culinary/kitchen world, I didn’t know what it was or who Eric Ripert was. It was only when I progressed through my course that I realized what a big deal that restaurant was.
I mentioned to my dad about Le Bernardin and he told me that he and my brother ate there when it first opened in 1982 (?). I was just about to born, I think. He told me that my brother (who was only 8 then) asked for a hamburger after their meal. That made me laugh and even more curious about Le Bernardin.
Despite the number of times I’ve been shuttling back and forth to NYC, it was only this spring that I was able to eat there.
I had been trying to get a reservation through Open Table even before I left my country for NYC to no avail. It was always fully booked, lunch or dinner. I was getting desperate because I really didn’t want to let this year go by without eating there.
I finally messaged a friend who was working in the kitchen. I used the regular route for reservations first because i didn’t want to hassle my friend who I’m sure was super busy.
She was busy, but she did get my message on Facebook, and even better, she got me a table for lunch.
I arrived from Albuquerque the night before and didn’t have anything to eat until my reservation just so I would have space for Le Bernardin food. I woke up that day and didn’t eat breakfast unless you consider coffee from Oren’s Daily Roast “breakfast” though that’s the only breakfast I can really wake up for.
My reservation was for 1:45pm so I had enough time to go to B&H Photo to panic buy for my camera gear. I did my recommended daily exercise in that store, zipping through the aisles, grabbing anything I thought I needed for my Olympus OM-D Em5 and Nikon D7000 without blowing through my Le Bernard food budget.
I came in my most decent smart casual outfit (a dress from Free People) with a coat over because I didn’t know how dressy the restaurant was going to be.
I got there a little earlier than my reservation so I checked my B&H loot at the coat check and had wine at the bar.
Cool dog tags by the way. I was almost tempted to take it home as souvenir. But then I remembered they had my B&H loot and that was much more important to me. HAHA!
I think that was the Gruner Veltliner. I hadn’t even finished my wine when they called me to my table right on time. I followed the lady, eased into my table and hid my giant camera. The ambiance was honestly intimidating for me because it was PACKED and I had never seen a fine dining restaurant that had NO SEAT unoccupied. Plus, everyone was obviously much older than me, and MUCH MORE WEALTHY. I felt like an alien. A Lucky Alien!
I Didn’t want to stick out so I stealthily (as I could) used my iPhone camera to take shots of my food. (I’m Asian, I will always take shots of my food, and I’m not going to apologize for it.)
I decided to get the tasting menu because who knows when I’ll be back to eat. The only thing I felt bad about was I couldn’t get the corresponding wine pairings since I caught a virus in Chicago about 2 weeks ago when the temperature dropped from 69F to 39F.
I had been coughing relentlessly and didn’t want to further irritate my throat so I had to sacrifice my wine.
They were so nice and sent me a very classy hot water, lemon and honey set for my cough.
First course was this salmon spread which was good but didn’t finish it because I wanted space for the other courses.
I did tell them to leave it on the table so I could pick at it between courses.
My next course was a carpaccio/sashimi preparation called Tairagai. I didn’t hear the full description (I’m a little deaf from years of listening to loud music in front of my dad’s speakers) and all I heard was Siracha (which I don’t even like). I then researched it online, like as in now as I’m writing this post, and this Tairagai dish is pen shell clam “sashimi” with a white grape-lime sauce vierge. Luckily, the wine that i ordered at the bar was the same wine they paired with this dish which blew my mind. The Gruner’s minerality and high acid really brought out that sea salt flavor in the dish plus complemented the lime in the dish. Great first impression. I knew my lunch would be phenomenal from that course alone. I loved it. I hope someone recreates this dish (Hello, friend in the kitchen, J!) and I would pay for it and eat it over and over again.
The next course, the octopus, was even more phenomenal.
I took a bite and said, “OMG” and literally had an orgasm. This was a Charred Octopus “a la plancha” with Green Olive and Black Garlic, Emulsion, Sundried Tomato Sauce Vierge.
The octopus was cooked perfectly, really tender, then melt in your mouth. Plus, I loved the charred flavors and that sauce vierge. Oh man. It reminded me of the sauce vierge my partner and i used to make at E-room Fish Station, only 100x better.
Later, I messaged my friend on Facebook that the octopus was my favorite dish, and it turned out that she made it!
Third course, I call it the climax, was the salmon which is a barely cooked salmon (poached) with sweet and sour hon shimeji, mushrooms and lotus root and maitake broth.
This salmon dish really took me back to Japan with all the delicate flavors of the mushroom and the maitake broth, very umami, combined with the PERFECT, SUPER PERFECT, PERFECTLY cooked salmon. I didn’t even have to chew it. It just melted in my mouth.
It was still very much like a sashimi to me with an udon broth of some sort.
The Halibut which was a poached halibut with opal basil and shaved fennel, with red-miso citrus emulsion was pretty interesting. I’m a big fan of fennel and love to eat it since not many restaurants cook with it at home. I think the jump in flavors from the very delicate salmon with the broth to the halibut with the bold flavor of the citrus-miso emulsion kind of jolted me. I wasn’t prepared for the transition of flavors but it was still awesome.
I think from there, my palate was ready for the heavier dishes.
It was here that I shifted from my Gruner Veltliner to a Barberesco to pair with the heavier courses. The sommelier asked me what I usually drink and I told her I liked Italian wines and wasn’t really a big fan of Bordeaux. I’m glad she brought a Barbaresco because I didn’t see that on the wine list (must have missed it).
The Warm Alaskan King Crab “Crabouillabaisse” came after the Halibut which prompted me to down one of my anti-histamines (i was really prepared for this meal) and braced myself for an allergic reaction. I didn’t sip my wine because usually my wine triggers my allergic reaction to the crustacean, even though I’m not allergic to wine. The wine would have drowned or clashed in this dish because the crustacean/crab broth was Mighty powerful (thank you, i love powerful bouillabaisses).
They paired this dish with a Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec haut Lieu which is one of my favorites so I just thought about eating bouillabaisse at work and drinking my own bottle of Domaine Huet Vouvray to look forward to.
I finally got to my last course before dessert. This course tipped me over the edge. The sauteed Dover Sole with almond-pistachio barberry golden basmati with brown butter tamarind vinaigrette sang to my soul. Well, anything with brown butter sings to my soul. But still!!! I promised myself I would make this dish at home. Of course, I would fail miserably, I’m not Eric Ripert after all, but I was that desperate to have all of those flavors in my mouth again.
I’m not a dessert person so I really didn’t pay much attention to my dessert. I barely ate it since i was stuffed but I tried it just to experience the flavors.
My first dessert was a mango black sesame with a sesame meringue, macerated mango and black sesame ice cream. I could have personally eaten the black sesame ice cream without the mango. I think the mango turned me off a little bit because it obviously wasn’t a Philippine mango but the black sesame ice cream made up for it.
My last course was called “Chocolate-Popcorn” and had a really interesting element of popcorn ice cream! It was a Madagascan chocolate ganache with candied peanuts.
They paired it with The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky, 12 years.
I should have paid attention to the pairing for this course because had I known, I would have ordered a shot of this for myself. Now I can just imagine it.
I shut my eyes, signed my credit card, and hobbled off into the streets of New York, walking around aimlessly for the next 5 hours, just thinking about my meal.
I forgot to mention that Eric Ripert came out into the dining room for 10 minutes and I was STARSTRUCK, so yes, I was also still pretty glazed over from seeing Eric Ripert in the flesh.
Le Bernardin is at:
155 West 51st Street, NYC
If you want to change the way you see food, you might as well start with Le Bernardin.