155 West 51st Street, New York (map)
When best-friend-K and I were in New York, we were put in contact with the charming and debonair T, whose prompt offer to take us out for lunch we gladly accepted. The day before, T rang to let me know that he and his colleague B would be taking us to lunch at Le Bernardin (and to make us aware of the dress code).
Le Bernardin? Le "three-Michelin-stars-four-NYT-stars-fish-demigod-Eric-Ripert" Bernardin? Nom de Dieu, oui!
B-f-K and I made sure we looked presentable and caught the subway to Midtown. Upon arrival at Le Bernardin we ushered to our table by two waiters who materialised out of thin air, seated us and then glided off, Jeeves-like. As we waited for our dining companions to arrive, b-f-K and I admired the nautical-themed paintings lining the walls and the serene-but-not-stuffy ambiance of the restaurant.
Once T and B had arrived, a waiter shimmered over with a shared amuse-bouche to start us off: wondrously soft salmon rillette with toasted flatbread (unphotographed, alas).
My first course, from the "Almost Raw" section of the menu, was the kampachi tartare with marinated Japanese cucumber and aged citrus vinegar. Apart from looking amazing, the buttery texture of the raw fish and the piquant flavour of the vinegar was a heavenly combination. I loved it.
My three dining companions all went with the tuna appetizer, which looked equally amazing. It consisted of delicate layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, draped to form a mound over a thin slice of toasted baguette and foie gras, then topped with shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil. Why oh why didn't I say yes to b-f-K's offer of a taste??!
For our main courses b-f-K and I both ordered the salmon. A shadow of a doubt had crossed my mind when I'd ordered it, given the ubiquity of salmon, but I convinced myself that if anyone could reinvent salmon, it would be Eric Ripert.
I was not disappointed. Barely cooked Scottish salmon (just look at the two-tone colour of it!), with a sweet pea-wasabi purée, a smattering of spring vegetables and a citrus-yuzu emulsion. The white Burgundy 1er cru that B had selected (after due consultation with the tastevin-adorned sommelier) to match our fish was so delicious that b-f-K and I got almost misty-eyed after lunch just thinking about the memory of the wine.
B ordered the poached halibut with braised daikon, baby radish and turnips, served in a sesame court bouillon, and T ordered the crispy black bass served on a bed of braised celery and parsnip custard, with an Iberico ham and green peppercorn sauce. The dishes both looked lovely, especially the crispy bass.
Before our desserts, we were each brought a "gift from the kitchen": the Egg, Le Bernardin's signature dish. Milk chocolate pot de crème, caramel foam, maple syrup, a dab of caramel liquid and Maldon sea salt, served in an eggshell. It's difficult to choose, but I think I can honestly say that this little jewel was my very favourite dish at Le Bernardin (the recipe can be found here).
That said, the chocolate-sweet potato dessert was pretty damn incredible, both in terms of texture and flavour: dark Amedei chocolate ganache, served with sweet potato sorbet and topped with sweet potato pearls, pistachio, palm sugar and vanilla salt. Bitter + sweet + salt = WIN.
B unfortunately had to leave before dessert, but T and b-f-K both had the grapefruit dessert (which I believe was vanilla cream, grapefruit sorbet, tarragon coulis and a crisp meringue).
And if that wasn't enough, a selection of mignardises - wrapped in a linen napkin and still lovely and warm from the oven - were brought out with our excellent coffees. There were two kinds of mignardises: pistachio financiers and coconut madeleines.
It goes without saying that the service was impeccable. Upon hearing our evident interest in New York dining, our waiter not only brought me a copy of the menu to keep as a souvenir, but gave me a complimentary copy of the 2009 Zagat Guide to New York Restaurants. Such a pity we only had two days left in New York!
Thank you to Rumpole for putting me in contact with T in the first place, and a big big thank you to T and B for your most amiable company, for fitting us into your very busy schedules and for treating us to such an amazing culinary experience!