Like most people I find change to be difficult. That’s why it is so refreshing to find Le Bernardin so unchanged after all these years. The room, the service, the food and the thoughtful attention to details are thankfully, reassuringly the same every time I visit.
This last visit to 155 West 51st street in midtown Manhattan was for lunch - a Valentine’s Day lunch to be specific, but that was simply an excuse for an indulgent midday meal. Chef Eric Ripert and his staff do not disappoint. It is very clear from the start of our lunch that every star (four from the NY Times, three from Michelin) and every James Beard award (seven) is well deserved.
Champagne and salmon rillettes were brought to table first and nothing could have been more perfect. The champagne - toasty, cold and crisp - was terrific with the delicate creaminess of the salmon. The wait staff could not be more thoughtful and suggested we go off piste from the standard menu offerings and we decided on a four course tasting menu – chef’s choice, for today’s lunch. Remember at Le Bernardin the fish is the star of the plate!
The wines would be paired by the wine director, Aldo Sohm. Aldo has about 15,000 wines to his disposal representing twelve countries with vintages dating to 1875; we were in very capable hands. A caviar tartare came next – filet mignon, kampachi and Ostetra caviar paired with a chilled sake – HEAVEN. Next was the halibut with truffle paired with an Austrian white and then black bass “surf and turf” with a braised veal cheek (French red). Finally came the dessert: a Mont Blanc with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Valentine’s Day or not this was true love.
The restaurant was filled with a classic NY crowd - from casual diners to celebs and businessmen. Chef Ripert and his partner Maguy Le Coze have created such an elegant atmosphere that is unpretentious and simply put a joy to be in. All the staff are engaging and pleasant and you really can’t believe that the dishes that they are serving can be more delicious than the previous.
I can only hope that every time I visit Le Bernardin that these fine standards continue to go unchanged. The optimist in me says I can expect that - and so far so does the test of time. Le Bernardin provided me with a Valentine's Day to remember. Thankfully absent of heart shaped chocolates and red roses.