Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Le Bernadin

Yes, you read that right. I recently had the pleasure of dining at Le Bernadin, one of the top restaurants in the city! Rob's uncle took us and the family for dinner before an evening at the Met Opera. It was a ritzy and glamorous evening and will be hard to match. Three and a half years in NYC and I finally got to see a side of it I've never experienced before. Sometimes life is pretty good to me.

I'm not normally a huge seafood fan, but everything here was fantastic. In fact, a lot of things I'm not normally big of -- shrimp, dessert wine, heavy & rich chocolate desserts -- all of a sudden were amazing items that I could not get enough of. We had the chef's tasting menu with wine pairings for each course. I have never experienced this before and was absolutely blown away by the quality of wine and the perfection by which it complemented each carefully arranged course. Each dish was presented to us before the sauce, broth, "essence," or whatever other liquid was poured on top, directly at the table. The meal started with raw fish and eventually progressed to fully cooked seafood. We experienced something similar at Anissa with the course of tuna prepared in three ways: raw, seared, and cooked. I like it; it makes sense.

Our meal went like this:

First, our pre-course dish: raw baby shrimp in a spaghetti squash foam. The shrimp had perfect texture, tender and firm, without much of a taste themselves. The squash foam gave it a sort of sweet note.

First course: strips of very thin raw fluke, brushed with soy sauce and topped with crunchy "rice crispy" puffs for texture and flakes of gold. Not very often you can eat gold in this economy, unless you can afford a nip of Goldschlager of course. The taste was very mild and not mind-blowing, but I did enjoy the juxtaposition of slippery raw fish with crunchy toppings.

Second course was very Japanese: "ultra rare" scallops topped with daikon radish, shiso, lily bulb and sake with a super thin and delicate stick of cayenne laid on top (how do they do that with pepper?). It was good, but not incredibly memorable. I think the presentation might have outdone the taste on this one.

Next: seared salmon with a citrus emulsion and gingered baby bok choy. The website says there was also water chestnuts and "pea tendrils" but I didn't know that's what those are. This one was one of my favorites. I love the half-cooked style, the sashimi side and the cooked side taste almost completely different, and a forkful of both just makes it fun to eat. The citrus sauce was incredible. I could not stop myself from soaking up eary last bit with my sourdough roll; I know it was probably not the proper way to do it but I'm an Italian and that's just how its done.

Number four: skate wing with bamboo jus and dog ear mushroom atop fine cellophane noodles. Skate is always a treat for me as its very hard to properly cook. I've had skate as less-than-stellar restaurants and been disappointed by the hard texture or too many tiny bones. Not here; the skate easily came apart and was well-complemented by the glass noodle and faint bamboo taste. My favorite part of this course was probably the wine. Up until this point, every course was served with white wine; this one was served with a Flower pinot noir because the sommelier "likes to break the rules." That was A-OK with me because I like reds much more than whites, even if the whites do complement fish dishes better. The site I linked the wine to describes it as a "fruity bouquet supported by a clean minerality with hints of spice and violet." It's too bad that words can only go so far in describing it. It was so much more than that, but, I'm no better at trying to describe delicate tastes in a wine, so I won't bother trying to explain. But its good. Very good.

Last course before dessert was the pan-roasted monkfish. Now I've had monkfish liver at Bozu and Sushi Azabu, but never actual monkfish meat before. It was very fully cooked and tender, served with an amazing veal-based black garlic and Persian lemon sauce with dried pomegranates, I believe. Lots of interesting flavors, both heaty and light. The sauce had a subtle dried fruit tang to it. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the Israeli cousous tabbouleh. Oh My God. It was heavily lemon-scented and had an amazing firm texture that sort of popped in your mouth. I was savoring it slowly when I was told I had to hurry up if we wanted to make the opera. I hated shoveling this in but there was no way I was going to let it go until I was done.

Now for the desserts! The first was my favorite; panna cotta with pomegranate pearls and a side of pomegranate sorbet, adorned with myers lemon cream, orange peel and mint. Rob commented that if he could sit at the bar and order this every night he could, and he is not at all a dessert person, so that is some high praise right there. The greek yogurt had this soft texture and amazing taste that trumped any ice cream I have ever had. And I love ice cream, so there's some more high praise. Cue heavenly chorus!! The pom sorbet, eh. It was all about the panna cotta baby.

At some point in here we saw Eric Ripert walking around introducing himself. Not to us, mind you. But it was fun to gawk.

Next was the baked chocolate dessert. I did not record any information about this one because I had to eat it really quickly because the opera was going to start in like ten minutes and if we did not make the final bell then we were in trouble. I'm really not a fan of these types of heavy desserts but somehow it was perfect, the creamy hot and melty chocolate in the middle was heavenly. It was accompanied by some sort of coffee/hazelnut ice cream which was soft and melty and luckily a lot easier to gulp down than the delicious chocolate mess. By the time the petit fours came out, a car was outside and waiting for us. I was able to grab a tiny chocolate truffle and pistachio mousse -- it surprised me how good it was -- but at this point I was the only one left at the table and had to grab my coat and run. I regret not snatching the last two of the petits for the road.

We made the opera, but just barely. Once we opened our private door to our box seats and sat down, the opera started as if on cue. The Sicilian set of Cavalleria Rusticana was amazing. I was slightly tipsy from all the wine.

The entire evening was absolutely exquisite. And I'm not the type to use that word.

Le Bernadin
155 W. 51st St.
New York, NY 10019

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