You can eat something delicious almost anywhere in New York City if you know where to look, and there are more restaurants with Michelin stars (and a bunch of dollar signs on Yelp) than just about anywhere.
There’s a difference, however, between eating and having a meal. More than that, there’s a difference between having a meal and having a dining experience.
So when Peter and I decided to give each other the gift of an “experience” for our birthdays (we have the same birthday oddly enough), we knew there was a short list of the best restaurants in the city (and the world) for us to pick from.
Le Bernardin makes it easy. If you care about food metrics, it’s almost impossible to beat. Top Zagat ratings — and we have the custom Le Bernardin Zagat guide to prove it — and one of just four restaurants to earn the New York Times‘ highest rating.
We had been there before, but only for dessert and drinks. Chef Eric Ripert is famous for his fish preparations, taking influences from Japan and parts of Asia, while coming up with innovative ways to present food.
His food is not heavy-handed, or in-your-face with gimmicks. No crazy foam, or flashy plating; just the best meal you’ve ever had … ever.
What truly stood out from the meal was the variety of places Chef Ripert takes you. The influences came from all over the world … from Italy and France, to the Far East.
There are three ways you can eat: the Chef’s tasting menu, an eight course affair, the Le Bernardin menu with seven courses, or a four-course pre-fixe selection. We decided ahead of time to go with the Le Bernardin tasting menu, the middle-priced option (although every option will set you back a pretty penny), and get a glass of wine rather than splurge on the wine pairings.
To start, they brought out a little “amuse bouche” … little bite-sized hoers d’oeuvres to ease you into the meal.
The first course was a tuna dish. Layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna and foie gras on a toasted baguette, seasoned with chives and extra virgin olive oil. I’d never had foie gras before … in fact I didn’t even know I was eating it until a few bites in. This dish was the perfect way to start an incredible meal, full of surprises.
The tuna was followed by a scallop course. Barely cooked scallop, with a brown butter dashi. I loved the presentation of this dish. And we spooned every last drop of the brown butter dashi that they poured over the scallop into our mouths. No shame.
Lobster was the third course (and my favorite course). Lobster “lasagna” with celeriac, drizzled with a truffle butter reduction. Put truffle on anything, and I am sold. But this sauce was so savory I literally wiped the plate clean with my baguette.
Next came the salmon. Barely cooked wild salmon, with sweet and sour hon shimeji mushrooms and lotus root, served with a maitake broth.
The final fish plate was a striped bass. Wild striped bass, served over Bhutanese red rice, covered with green papaya salad and ginger-red wine sauce.
The “palate cleanser” was a cranberry dish. Lightly poached cranberries, spiced squash, and cranberry sorbet drizzled with maple syrup. This was the perfect way to reset our taste buds. The cranberries were tart, paving the way for the sweet dishes to come.
Last, (or so we thought) was our dark chocolate parfait. Served with candied marcona almonds and milk sorbet, covered in dulce de leche.
Much like we began the meal, the waiters brought out a few sweet little bites to have with our coffee…
As we waited for our check, sufficiently full from the eight rounds of food that came through, Le Bernardin presented us with one last culinary surprise … flourless chocolate mousse … for the birthday couple.
Every course was fantastic, with rich diversity of textures and flavors. Although there were items of connection, you never felt like any course was redundant. And somehow each offering got better with every bite.
It became clear by the end of the night, Chef Ripert had taken into account every piece of the plate. The food was enhanced by the simple act of eating it, as the flavors melded together one bite to the next.
I can’t imagine a two hour meal flying by any faster … although the food never quite stayed on our plates for very long. When you have someone special to share an experience like that with, someone who doesn’t care if you moan over a black truffle sauce or a chocolate caramel bon bon, you have a truly wonderful gift to give and receive.
Here’s to many more birthdays with this guy!