Last month I went to New York City. While in Manhattan for five days, my food-loving friend, Jon, and I agreed to go to at least one world-class super schmancy restaurant and spend a ridiculous sum of money on food. Mission accomplished: we went to Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin. Please let me describe to you the most expensive meal I have ever eaten.
Inside Le Bernardin — from website le-bernardin.com
Le Bernardin is a seafood restaurant. Their motto is “the fish is the star of the plate”, which, imho, could use some work, but they seem to be doing fine even with a sorta cheesy tagline. In 2009, Le Bernardin was voted 15th best restaurant in the world in the Restaurant magazine Top 50. Le Bernardin is one of only seven restaurants in New York awarded three Michelin stars, and is the restaurant which has held four stars from The New York Times for the longest period of time, having earned the ranking in early 1986. In 2013, Zagats ranked it the #1 restaurant in New York City*.
Needless to say, our hopes were high.
Hopes = High
You can order a la carte or you can order a tasting menu. As I didn’t feel up to making all kinds of decisions, we ordered the Le Bernardin Tasting Menu. $150 each. BAM. Or $241 if you were to get wine pairing, which we did not. (Just FYI, the alternate Chef’s Tasting Menu is $195 per person, or $333 with wine pairing. Good lord.)
Our tasting menu included five dinner courses, two dessert courses, and complimentary bread, appetizer, and additional dessert. I was thinking I may make it out of there still hungry due to the nature of the uber-fanciness (and hence small plates of food), but I was wrong. We were totally stuffed when we left. Here’s how it went down. I will be descriptive; prepare your scroll wheel.
We started with a glass of Reisling each. It was delicous, one of the best I’ve ever had. It was $13 a glass, which isn’t nearly as outrageously priced as the food, really. We each ended up having two glasses over the course of the meal (insert cash register “cha-ching” noise).
Complimentary Appetizer: A trio of tasties including an oyster, a lobster bite, and a shot of warm gazpacho puree. I don’t typically like oysters. But when it’s some fraction of my $150 meal, I’m not going to pass it up. It was surprisingly delicious. It was very tender, not chewy and upsetting like they normally are, and it was in some sort of broth that made it very savory and delicious. The lobster was in a nice butter sauce, and the gazpacho was also quite good.
First Course: Tuna - layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras, toasted baguette, chives, and extra virgin olive oil. This was really like a tuna carpaccio-type thing — the tuna was raw. It looks weird, but it was delicious. Big faux pas for a such a fancy restaurant, however — when we sat down, the waiter asked if we had any dietary restrictions. I explained that I didn’t eat meat other than seafood. And so, when we ordered the tasting menu, I didn’t make a point to say “no foie gras” on this particular dish.
When they delivered the plates, they recited the ingredients to us again. Since our waiter had a strong accent (French?), I didn’t entirely understand him. “Did he say foie gras?” I asked Jon after the waiter had left. Yes, he definitely did. I flagged down a waiter and told them this. They apologized profusely and took my plate. They returned it a few minutes later with no foie gras. Normally, I’m totally forgiving to wait staff, mistakes, etc., and I almost never send anything back. But when I’m paying this much, I expect more. At least they corrected it quickly and didn’t serve me any other non-seafood meat.
Second Course: Scallop – barely cooked scallop, brown butter dashi. This was delicious. They say you cook a scallop for two hours or two minutes, otherwise it’s super tough. This was a very, very tender and flavorful scallop, and the waiter said it was cooked for two minutes. My only wish was that I had had ten of them instead of one.
Third Course: Lobster – pan-roasted lobster, charred baby leeks, sea bean and mango salad, lobster-lemongrass broth. This was definitely good, but not as good as I expected, oddly. I guess I don’t have a lot of lobster experience, but this dish didn’t totally blow me away like some of the others. The leek was really good though.
Fourth Course: Monkfish – pan-roasted monkfish, tarragon scented pea puree, morels, Armagnac-black pepper sauce. This one was definitely yummy. The pea puree beneath the fish was very flavorful. The fish was very tender and meat-y.
Fifth Course: Striped Bass - wild striped bass, Bhutanese red rice, green papaya salad, ginger-red wine sauce. Good lord this one was tasty. That Bhutanese rice was amazing. So much so that when the waiter came over, we asked, “What is this rice?!” like the middle-class turds that we are. It was delicious. And the bass was as rich and tender as I’ve ever had.
They put my sea bass in a different sauce since the regular sauce was beef-based. Thanks guys.
First Dessert: Raspberry - olive oil emulsion, swiss meringue, raspberry sorbet. Let me decode: this was a scoop of raspberry sorbet, a couple syrup-y raspberries, some raspberry foam stuff, and a couple pieces of raspberry meringue all in a tiny bowl with a gigantic rim and in a pool of olive oil. That’s right, olive oil. Jon was not a fan of this dish, particularly the olive oil. I really liked all the flavors (even the olive oil was fine); the raspberry-ness of the sorbet was very intense. I thought the whole thing was a nice, light, and refreshing after dinner dish.
Second Dessert: Dark Chocolate Parfait – candied Marcona almonds, dulce de leche, milk sorbet. Now, I wouldn’t have been quite as excited about the previous dessert if it hadn’t been followed by this one. Chocolate! Absolutely necessary. This dessert was great. The candied almond-covered thing is the parfait — like a dense chocolate mousse. The ice cream was amazing — how was it just milk flavored? The scattered brownie bites, caramel syrup, and candied almonds made the whole thing super interesting and dynamic.
Parfait and friends
Third (Apology) Dessert: Chocolate Popcorn - Madagascan chocolate ganache, candied peanuts, popcorn ice cream. To apologize for messing up my tuna carpaccio, they gave us yet another dessert. They must know me. Apology accepted. This was also delicious and extremely rich and smooth.
Complimentary Dessert: Last but not least was the complimentary dessert (we obv hadn’t had enough dessert already), which was an assortment of bite-sized sweets. We ate them carefully in a strategic order, trying to save the best one for last. They were cute and fun and tasty and a nice end to our billion dollar meal.
The whole meal took about an hour and a half, and I was actually a bit nervous through it. I was always just mildly self-conscious that I wasn’t going to know some protocol or do something inappropriate, so I was a bit more sweaty-armpitted than normal. But, we made it through.
And then they gave us the bill.
Final tally: $380. $150 each for dinner, $26 each in wine = $352 + tax. Then we had to obviously pay 20% tip on that, so we were up to $460. And since Jon is trying to empty his Chinese bank account, we paid in cash like pathetic drug dealers. Good drug dealers would have paid in c-notes. We paid in twenties. Good show, Hayward, good show. Anyway, they couldn’t kick us out ’cause we were leaving anyway, so we took our leave of the most expensive dinner I’ve ever had, and moseyed back to our hotel like it ain’t no thang.
My final conclusions are that it was good. It was really good. I’m glad we went. I’m glad we spent all that money for a (nearly) once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was fun and exciting and interesting. And the food was good. But. I live in SF. We have damn good food here. I would say, in my totally unprofessional opinion, that our billion dollar dinner at Le Bernardin could be easily rivaled in quality and taste by any number of restaurants in SF for about a third of the price. Which is a conclusion that might irritate some people after paying so much, but since there was no way for me to really know than to try it, I’m happy that I did. Now I’ll happily go back to my Wayfare Tavern, The House, The Corner Store, and State Bird Provisions, thankyouverymuch.
*All stats per the Wikipedia page.