Le Bernardin is rated as one of the best restaurants in the world and specialises in seafood with a focus on using the freshest produce and the key ingredient being the star of the dish (similar to Alain Ducasse). I make my way to the restaurant through the New York traffic (which is a nightmare) on a Saturday night and get there just in time for my reservation. Reservations need to me made well in advance and they are very difficult to attain, so it is with relief when the taxi pulls reaches the front door of the restaurant.
I am seated and I opt for the Tasting Menu with Matched Wines. I am presented with some complimentary canapes to kick of the evening:
I will start from left to right:
The fluke sashimi is served with a ponzu vinaigrette which provides the palate a little awakening with the bite of the ponzu and the fluke’s jelly-like texture.
The scallop ceviche is full of its natural flavours with a mild dressing and is a decent way to kick-off proceedings.
The circle of bouillabaisse is the epitome of molecular culinary skill. The bouillabaisse uses reverse spherification (a process where sodium alginate is mixed with calcium lactate to create an outer membrane with the liquid remaining inside). It looks oh so inviting like a little yolk porn sitting gazing at you. On the tongue the outer skin is like jelly and eventually it bursts giving way to the beautiful full flavoured shellfish flavours.
A lovely start to the evening indeed. Then its onto the Tasting Menu:
Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio; Iberico Ham “Chutney” Sea Beans, Lemon-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The oily richness of salmon mingles effortlessly with the citrus bite of the lemon and tang of the capers. The Iberico balances the dish and injects a lovely intense salty minerally flavour to the experience. The crunch of crouton and sea beans add a wonderful textural contrast to the other elements of the dish.
This is matched with the:
Gelber Muskateller, Gamitz, Lackner-Tinnacher, Sudsteiermark, (2013), Austria
The wine has an aromatic nose which has almost a deep perfume flair to it which flows into the palate with a sweet citrus flavour with plenty of acid before it flows into a dry finish. There is an element of super sweet candied fruit which appears at the end and lingers on the palate.
The sweetness of the wine with its dry taste which lingers wonderfully in the palate works well to contrast with the salt of the Iberico and cut through the rich oiliness of salmon and fat of Iberico. A solid pairing indeed.
King Fish Caviar
Warm King Fish “Sashimi” Osetra Caviar, Light Mariniere Broth
The king fish has a jelly like texture and is a touch warmer than room temperature. The Mariniere broth has a beautiful saline streak, wonderful consistency (finely balanced between a thick sludge and a watery soup). The saline touch in the Mariniere broth paired well with the caviar which had its own distinctive flavour. I thought the king fish actually worked well in the dish as its milder flavour balanced some of the intensity of the other flavours in the dish.
This is paired with a Sake:
Yuki No Bosha, Yamahai Junmai Sake
The sake was clean and pure with what appeared to be less alcohol than normal. It is soft and light on the palate and doesn’t seek to interfere with the natural flavours of the dish. Some light touches of stone fruits are evident but a real purity of taste allows one to enjoy the flavours of the dish to best extent.
Pan Roasted Langoustine; Truffled Foie Gras and Aged Sherry-Verjus Vinaigrette
The dish is a real triangulation of decadent flavours – seafood, foie gras and truffles. The sweet tender langoustines, the sweetness of the sherry and grape juice vinaigrette, the fat of foie gras and of course pungent earthiness of truffle. The contrasting flavours integrate well and display a touch of grandeur through the tastings. The experience is quite overwhelming as one enjoys the ingredients together.
This is paired with a glass of:
Savagnin, Domaine Frederic Lornet, Arbois, (2013), France
A very interesting wine. On the nose the wine exudes beautiful floral aromas (jasmine) with some notes of pears and honey. On the palate beautiful sweet fruit flavours take hold with some nice zesty lemon and mint notes which linger in the finish.
The sweetness of wine pairs wonderfully with langoustines and the sherry vinaigrette for a well integrated pairing. Again in a similar dynamic to the first dish, the sweetness also cuts through the fat of foie gras to provide for a wonderful tasting experience.
Lacquered Lobster Tail; Herb Spring Roll, Lemongrass Consommé
This is paired with a Champagne:
Krug, Brut, Grande Cuvee, France, NV
The Krug was as one would expect. A lovely sparkling zest of fruit, with a symphony of notes drawn in complex composition and well balanced with the acid. This champagne has the flavours of citrus fruits which enliven the experience. They do make way for hints of apples, toasted nuts, candied fruit and brioche with even a touch of sweet spice which lingers in the finish. A wonderful array of flavours indeed.
The citrus and sweetness goes hand in hand with the lobster and the three (lobster, lemongrass, Krug) battle each other to accentuate their strong flavours for an wonderful pairing. They are all definitely able to stand their ground and showcase their flavours in full.
Poached Halibut; Manila Clams, Wild Mushroom Casserole
This is yet another dish bathed in a sauce… true to the Le Bernardin style. The halibut is succulent, flakey and tender with a very clean and delicate taste. The sauce does the heavy lifting, harnessing the taste of the mussels and the distinct earthiness of the mushrooms to drive the flavour – its a unami overload almost. The crunch of the vegetables also provide a much-needed textural contrast to the dish.
This is paired with the:
Pinot Noir, Pence Ranch, Santa Barbara County (2014), California, USA
The notes of berries and floral aromas exude from the glass on the very first pour. The wine has this kind of jammy strawberries, raspberries and cherries (its like a preserve is some ways) flavours with a beautiful texture and some good acid to balance the fruit with a touch of spice in the finish. It is quite sweet and very drinkable.
I didn’t quite get the pairing. I don’t think the wine conflicted with the dish, its sweetness and easy to drink nature was probably made it better suited to the dish, however the distinct flavours of the clams probably craved something a little different. If it was just the halibut, the lovely sweet flavours and texture may have worked a little better.
Black Bass “Surf & Turf”
Crispy Black Bass and Braised Veal Cheek, Parsnip Emulsion, Ginger-Five Spice Reduction
The dish is all about the mix of some pretty strong flavours. The sea bass has the rich natural flavours and seasoning embedded under its skin, there is the saline sticky fat of braised veal which seeks to assert itself. The strength of the ginger and versatility of the five spice blends effortless with an oriental integration with the sea bass while the five spice does follow-up with a nice aromatic and sweetness to dance with the veal. Texturally the dish has it all, the crispiness of the sea bass skin, the soft flesh of the sea bass, the “fall-apart” slimy braised veal and the liquid of the ginger spice reduction. A good balance of different flavours and textures.
This is paired with:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Domaine Eden, Santa Cruz Mountains, (2011), California, USA
The wine is predominately Cabernet with wonderful wafts of cherry, sweet plums and a touch herbs and floral notes on the nose. On the palate the wine exudes rich blackcurrant flavours, mild hints of tobacco. There is good acidity and mild tannins to balance the fruit. The wine is well-balanced and very alluring.
As far as the pairing goes, it is a tough one given the nature of the dish. The veal and wine just goes hand in hand with a with the tannins and good fruit flavours mingling effortlessly with the wine. The five spice reduction does its little dance with the wine however the sea bass probably felt a little left out with the pairing but I wouldn’t say it was completely lost in the pairing.
Green Tea Custard, Preserved Lychee, Jasmine Ice Cream
This dessert is real assortment of flavours. There is the inherent green tea bitterness of the custard which has the very unusual pairing with the sweet aromatic floral jasmine ice cream. The chocolate branches have a mild sweetness which is somewhat trumped by the super sweet streak of the preserved lychees. A mix of creams. juiciness, bitter and sweet – its almost like a song.
This is paired with:
Bugey-Cerdon, “La Cueille” Partick Bottex, Savoie, France, NV
The wine a non-vintage sparkling red wine from the Savoie in eastern France. A blend of 80% Gamay with 20% Poulsard. The colour is a light red with has an allure to it and wonderful sparkling texture wakes up the taste buds from their little slumber. The wine has the lovely taste of strawberries with a dry crisp finish. It is not overly sweet and is super fresh.
Given the nature of the flavours in the dessert a fresh, crisp wine which would have limited interference was probably needed and this one certainly did the trick.
Ginger-Scented Apple “Bomb”, Warm Ricotta Financier
So the dish really ticks the box on aesthetics, some nice colours and then the view when you break the shell open to reveal the apple puree.
The dish is dominated by the sweetness of the and texture of the apple. The light chocolate shell is beautiful in its own right and the dulce de leche ice cream has a beautiful sweet milky, smoky flavour. There is kind of crumbly texture on the base of the dulce de leche which forms a good textural contrast.
The financiers are moist and with the creaminess of the ricotta interwoven in them and make for a nice finish to the dessert. Full marks for this dessert!
This is paired with:
Weinleibenhof Kracher, Beerenauslese, Cuvée, (2012) Burgenland, Austria
I am not normally a fan of dessert wines, but I do make exceptions. I do not know where to start with this wine, but on first experience there are wonderful aromas of stone fruit, honey, vanilla and spice. The wine has a nice creamy, custardy (almost Sauternes-like) body with notes of stone fruits (apricots and peaches) and some tropical flavours (pineapple) which make way of a honeyed like finish on the palate. The sweetness is not overwhelming at all. A lovely dessert wine that one should treasure.
The stone fruit flavours favour the apple and the custard and honey like body integrates oh so well with the dulce leche and financier for a fantastic pairing.
Petit Fours and Coffee
The coffee in New York never fails to leave me unimpressed and this is no difference. I simply sigh!
On a brighter note the petit fours show so much promise.
Green Tea Bon-bon, Pistachio Macaroon, Apple Cider Jelly Candy, and Cherry Financier
I finish up and head-off into the New York night where the street lights shine, the taxi glows and the streets never tire of the crowd and roads cling to the chaos and traffic that defines this beautiful city.
Le Bernardin definitely show cases top seafood produce, with interesting culinary presentation and the wines were interesting with a some well executed pairings. A nice solid dining experience.