My Visit to Le Bernadin NYC Restaurant Review
Spectacular Food, Superb Wines, Attentive Service
Photographed with the #SonyAlpha a7s and Sonnar t* 55mm f/1.8
Its the only restaurant that I know of that got 4 stars from the NYT when it even opened 20 years ago in 1986 by Brian Miller. And 4 stars again in 2012 from the NYTimes by Pete Wells. Le Bernadin has upheld their standards for over twenty years and also earned 3 Michelin stars and kept them too.
Uptown, Le Bernadin was beckoning me to lunch. Before going I researched proper attire and found that jean are acceptable but a jack it required in the dining room but not necessary while dining in the bar – lounge area. With a blue pin striped seersucker jacket in hand I headed to 51st street for what proved to be a fabulous experience dining at the lounge. The restaurant has two parts: dinning room and lounge. The dinning room is sedate with well spaced tables and an elegant minimalist look. Gone is the open glass walled kitchen from twenty years ago when I first visited the restaurant. The lounge is more casual. Hushed red wood tones of, black leather chairs and white marble smallish tables for two, four and larger parties of six. I ate at the marble topped bar.
I was greeted by the bartender who asked if I was in for a drink or joining them for lunch. I was given the lounge menu and I enquired about full dining room menu which is also served at the bar. The lounge menu is both À la carte and a 3 course prix fixe menu for $49… a great deal. The dining room menu starts at $140 for a 4 course per fix menu and reaches heights of $205 for the Chef’s Tasting Menu and $345 with the wine pairing (per person). All of the menu items from both menus are available in the lounge for a supplement.
When you are paying big bucks for wine and food, $20 plus per glass of wine and $30 plus per appetizer nothing short of perfection is what you are wanting and looking for, and Le Bernadin doesn’t disappoint.
Here’s one thing that I love about top quality restaurant bar/lounges. Shortly after I ordered my wine my server brought me a sliver service containing three bar snacks. Japanese crackers wrapped in nori, candied walnuts and fresh popcorn. It was a great way to be welcomed to the bar.
NYC restaurants, unlike Southern California restaurants, have a bevy of excellent French wines by the glass. My first glass of wine was Chateau De Maligny Chablis, Premier Cur, 2006. The older vintage piqued my curiosity. White Burgundies correctly cellared get better with age. They darken in color and intensify in flavor. The ’06 Chablis, Premier Cru was perfection. Served at the perfect temperature, with a slight minerality, a wonderful chardonnay of golden color with a subtle vanilla and butter flavor with notes of peach.
Growing up, my father was a restauranteur. He owned a seafood and steak restaurant with a live lobster tank. I was raised on filet mignon, shrimp and lobster. So they’re no big deal to me. But I’m a sucker for fresh truffles. The lobster was cut into small perfectly cooked nuggets perfumed with pieces of black truffle and served “en Brioche.” Rich and decadent I ate it slowly nodding my head in acknowledgement of culinary perfection.
For a second course I ordered from the main dining room menu. Pan Roasted Langoustine; Foie Gras Soubise, Aged Sherry-Verjus Vinaigrette. I was surprised how diminutive the portion of perfectly cooked Langoustine was. But what it lacked in size it made up in flavor.
The 2012, Domaine De L’aigle A Deux Tetes, Côtes du Jura: A wonderful richly flavored Chardonnay, great structure and minerality with notes of slate, lemon and orange zest with a long finish.
Henri Le Roy farms a few tiny parcels of vineyards in the Cotes du Jura – an area just west of the Swiss border and Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), and just east of Burgundy. He’s an intense man – driven, and smart. In fact, his original career was as a Biologist, in Paris. He was drawn to the Jura by its incredible terroir, with ancient stones and seashells from its Jurassic period namesake. He’s pretty new at this – his first vintage was 2005 – but the results speak for themselves.
Lying as it does just to the east of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, with similar argille-calcaire terroir, it makes sense that the wines of Jura have the potential for greatness. The local palate of grape varietals is super interesting. It includes Chardonnay (locally called “Melon d’Arbois“) and Pinot Noir – brought from burgundy during the middle ages, and the Chardonnay can reach fantastic levels of expression and quality. Savagnin (locally called “Naturé“) is another local white grape with powerful acidity and character. Poulsard, a red wine, has so little color, but so much aromatic expression that it must be tasted to be believed, and is also a major component of the local Vin de Paille(“straw wine,” made from grapes dried into raisins on mats of straw and fashioned into a very sweet dessert wine). Some growers also work with a red grape called Trousseau, although Henri does not produce one at this stage, nor of course does he produce the nutty, super-oxidised Vin Jaune, though he does make another local curiousity, Macvin: unfermented, late-harvest grape must which is fortified with the local Marc du Jura (strong spirits).
Bourg-en Bresse is a stone’s throw away, and, naturally, the famous Poulet de Bresse (AOC) Bresse chicken is thought to be a divine food pairing with the white wines of the Jura. Or, if Bresse poulet is unavailable, it’s no sin to substitute a high quality free run chicken from a local farm. The red wines work beautifully with sausage and salumi.
Henri’s vineyards are in the most southern part of the appellation. His wines are produced with natural yeasts only, and are fermented in barrel where they go directly after their gentle harvest.~ Joe Kotnik
For desert, it was a no brainer: the Hazelnut Praline, Flourless Hazelnut Cake, Gianduja Mousse, Orange Curd, Praline Ice Cream. Each component melted in my mouth. The Hazelnut Praline desert was divine and sinfully rich.
Wine Service: 10/10 Excellent. Wines served at perfect temperatures and in lovely Spiegelau and Riedel stemware. Broad international selections of wines by the glass. World class wine list. Generous tastes when searching for wines by the glass and generous pours by the glass.
Overall Service: 10/10 Bar service, always someone to take care of all my needs. Offered house sparkling water, bottled waters etc. Bread service spot on. Perfect timing on courses. Always asked if there was anything I needed. The floor manager stopped by to check in with me to make sure I was enjoying everything. I saw 3 sommeliers on the floor. Very unusual for any restaurant. Bus service also excellent.
Food: 10/10 Each item was masterfully prepared with tremendous subtlety of flavors.
Verdict: The 3 course À la carte lunch detailed here cost me $153 before gratuity. Was it worth it. Yes. I felt that it was expensive but I got value for my money and a wonderful experience. Would I return. Heck yes. I’d like to go back with my wife and have the multi course Chef’s Tasting menu. I even made two friends at the bar. The gentlemen to my right was in from Korea and a wine novice. So I got share some wine knowledge with him and turn him on to some great wines. The woman dining to my left was in town to visit her son working next door at a Swiss bank. She had an ticket to the last taping of Letterman and and extra ticket to a taping for Seth Myers at Radio City Music Hall that she offered me. Unfortunately I had plans that night so had to pass. Le Bernadin is worth of the hype, the NYT 4 stars and 3 Michelin stars.
Le Bernadin, 155 W. 51st St. New York, NY 10019, 212-554-1515
Marc Weisberg is a photographer, educator, chef, former wine buyer, cellar master; and lover of wine. Marc owns and operates a successful Southern California based photography studio, founded in 2001, and is the founder of Wine Photo Workshops. His work is widely published and sought out by luxury brands. Wine Photo Workshops are for photographer-wine-adventurers and image makers. We’ll visit and explore wineries and food destinations throughout the world. Visit with Sommeliers, wine makers, vineyard owners and restauranteurs, with special behind the scenes access. You’ll have the opportunity to learn, make new friends, have fun and raise the bar on your photography skills. Contact Marc by phone 949.494.5084, or email.