After a thrilling, celebrity-stocked evening on Broadway, we were ready for some solid museum time the next day. We slept in to shake off walking through the downpours of the night before and our first stop was at Danny Meyer’s The Modern, the restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art. We were hungry and the food was so beautiful and delicious that it completely escaped our minds to write down or photograph what we ate.
I had a cream of artichoke soup to warm me up and it was fantastic! Interesting and velvety with pearl barley and nutty grated grana padano for texture. I’d had good luck with the skate the night before so I ordered it again, this time with grits. It was light enough for lunch, but hearty enough for a cool day and the creamy grits were in the same comfort family as my yummy soup. K started with a foie gras terrine and then tried squab for the first time. It was sublime — rich and gamey, tasted more like duck than chicken, but it was a lovely cross of all types of poultry. He loved it so much that he spent the rest of our time in New York telling every pigeon we came across they were delicious — even the birds eating trash and drinking from the gutter.
We wound our way through MOMA and it felt like a day filled with play, so fun! But then it was back to the hotel to get ready for our big dinner of the trip. Someone was kind enough to give us a gift certificate to Le Bernardin as a wedding gift and we were determined to take full advantage of that gift! Jackets are required so K put on his fancy pants suit and I went with a little green cocktail dress and yellow “snake-skin” peep toe shoes. We were off to celebrate my birthday, our fifth month-a-weddingversary, our one year proposal-versary and our 25 month-a-meeting-versary. Big night.
We’ve seen Eric Ripert on “Top Chef”, goofing around with Anthony Bourdain on “No Reservations” and on his own PBS show “Avec Eric.” He seems like a lovely, down to Earth, mellow guy. Le Bernardin was the opposite of what I imagine Eric Ripert to be. It was clubby and wood-paneled, with an “old boys club” vibe to it. It was extremely formal with heavy, classic “of the sea” art cluttering the walls. The place was full, but there seemed to be more staff members than diners. K was uncomfortable and felt like people were judging him, I just wanted anyone who worked there to crack a smile. Service was very efficient, but felt rushed and clipped. The food, however, was sublime.
We began with a shrimp amuse bouche in which a single shrimp floated in a butternut puree and sambal (a chili-based sauce) foam. It was perfectly cooked and had a great balance of sweet (from the butternut) and heat (from the sambal).
The menu is prix fixe so you choose an “almost raw” course, a “barely touched” course and a “lightly cooked” course as well as dessert. We had seen an episode of “Avec Eric” in which Ripert prepared the restaurant’s signature yellowfin tuna crudo so K ordered that for his “almost raw” course. The layers of paper-thin tuna were on top of a toasted baguette and drizzled lightly in olive oil and sprinkled with chives. This was tuna perfection. It was like eating raw silk.
I went “almost raw” with glassine slivers of scallop and “puffs” of mandarin orange in a scorched lemon and rosemary vinaigrette. The scallops were sweet and amazingly fresh and the mandarin puffs were like orange candy. Instead of overpowering the dish, as I thought it may, the rosemary provided a very slight, cool and evergreen background note. There were tiny little pops of chili that danced on my tongue. It was a dish you just melt into.
For his “barely touched” course, K chose seared langoustine (kind of like a cross between a small lobster and a big shrimp) with a wild mushroom and mache salad. It was lovely and fresh and green and nectarous and meaty all at the same time.
My “barely touched” course was a spiral of fresh Carolina shrimp with baby leeks in a Kaffir lime broth. The shrimp were crackling fresh with a lovely light lime tang to the broth.
The main dish was “lightly cooked” and K chose crispy black bass with a Lup Cheong (Chinese sweet sausage) and bean sprout “risotto” and mini pork buns. The bass was perfectly crusted and fresh and the pork buns were smoky and springy little pods of juiciness.
I was on the fence for my “lightly cooked” course and was trying to decide between skate and another dish. When I asked the gentleman taking that particular order (our servers seemed to rotate), he thought for a second and said, “I think skate.” Then walked away. In the seconds he deliberated, I was actually leaning toward the other dish, but I guess it was decided. To be fair, the skate *was* delicious — its layers fell away like petals into the umami mushroom and brown butter dashi.
We each chose a dessert — K went with the dark and slightly smoky black sesame panna cotta with gelled spheres of sour cherry juice that burst in your mouth and a cool, fresh and citrusy mandarin sorbet. It was dusky and bright at the same time.
My dessert was a lime parfait with avocado puree and a grapefruit tequila sorbet. It was sprightly and the cool, crisp textures were a light end to a multi-course, but light meal.
Our post-dessert were little bites: A house made chocolate truffle, a tiny custard in sweet puff pastry and salted caramel in a white chocolate cup. What a treat!
The dishes were many, but the dinner was over fairly quickly and it wasn’t the type of place in which you linger comfortably. So, now we’ve been to Le Bernardin. I don’t think we need to go back and it certainly isn’t on my top 10 list of must-eat places in New York City. Food is a serious business, I get that, but sometimes when you take yourself too seriously you lose your audience. Loved the food, but we both really wish they would have taken down the formality a notch … or eight.