Posts Tagged ‘Le Bernardin’

You’re a Shining Star, Batard

Every year, for the past five years, I select a Michelin two- or three-star NYC restaurant for my husband and me to celebrate our anniversary. It’s always a surprise to him, and I come off looking magnanimous and benefitting just the same. Having just returned from a California vacation, we needed to trim the expense this time, so I sought out a fine-dining establishment where we could experience high-quality, impressive dishes for maybe half of the cost.

Was this achievable? I was going to find out after securing a reservation at Batard in Tribeca. I had hope in that the restaurant received one Michelin star within its first year of business (opened May 2014). Additionally, Co-owner/Restaurateur Drew Nieporent has quite the resume in his Myriad Restaurant Group, including all the Nobus and Tribeca Grill. Chef and Partner Markus Glocker, of Austria, was most recently in the kitchen at Gordon Ramsay, which earned two Michelin stars during his time there. After doing my homework, I had comfortable expectations of the level of food we were going to consume. It was a different expectation than when we went to Jean Georges and Le Bernardin for example. With three stars, you walk in with one shining on you as the diner, who demands to get the best treatment, one on the server and one on the chef.

The menu at Batard posed some real first-world problems. We had to put a game plan in motion. First, there was the pre-fixe choices of two- ($55), three- ($69) or four-courses ($79)…now you see I’ve accomplished the price-cut challenge. We agreed to both do three courses, but now we had to decide which course..yes, you have a choice! After some algebraic equations, we figured the best combination would be if I ordered an appetizer, first course and entree and he ordered an appetizer and dessert. With this solution, we could share the first course and the dessert. After about 15 minutes – now you see why – we could rest our minds as two different warm, mini rolls were placed on our plates.image

I was torn between the pork belly and quail for an appetizer. When our waitress (is that a sign of a non-3 star?) answered, “No the pork is not crispy,” I was about to say “quail” until she said it was served cold. The pork belly was delectable! I would not have even known what I was eating. It was sliced like a paper-thin prosciutto with the center having a pressed cornbread and bits of blood sausage, happily draped over baby lentils. His OCTOPUS “PASTRAMI” had the appearance of head cheese without the gelatin. It was accompanied by bits of braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes.image

imageOur shared first course (are you keeping up with the plan?) was the scallops with leak confit, crispy potato strings, in a puddle of red wine sauce. During my first bite I felt both elated and guilty. I have always said my friend Rob Russo made the most tender and delicious scallops at the former Red Hen Bistro in NJ, but in that split second I felt bad to think these could even be a hair better. I absolved myself by believing it was imagejust because this was the more recent one. The “shared” course became 80% me, 20% him.

At a nice pace, and after a little time to process what we had, our entrees came. I was already completely convinced that this food was worth at least two Michelin stars in my book.

BRANDT BEEF SHORT RIB with grilled wagyu beef tongue, lovage polenta, pickled root vegetables. I had tongue only once before and in a Korean bbq style. I was a little nervous about rekindling that feeling of French-kissing a cow, but no; this tasted like a thin grilled steak. The short ribs barely required a knife.image

IMG_2059BRANZINO with roasted cauliflower, buerre noisette, and cannellini beans.

The fourth course rolled in with our shared dessert: DUCK EGG CRÈME BRÛLÉE spiced pineapple, verjus, yogurt sorbet. I’mIMG_2060 an extremely tough critic of desserts. It was good but not exquisite like every other dish. It wouldn’t have been my choice for dessert. I thank Batard for making a decent cup of coffee though…Your one star shines as bright as two!

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You Say Boulud; I say Bouley, Just a Matter of Taste

It was the evening of an annual surprise location dinner. We were walking on 65th Street, not quite sure how much further, until I noticed the number 210. We had to go to 60. “How much further?” he questions. “It is already 7:30.” I mumbled something about it being in the next block. I wasn’t confident. But then, looking up, I saw the name on the marquee. It is his name too, so I quickly called ahead, before he could notice, “Daniel, turn around.” I whipped out my camera and asked IMG_5862him to pose while I smirked at the label above his head. He irritatingly responded, “Like we have time for this. We’re already late.” I basked in the pleasure derived from the revelation of a surprise. “We’re here, Daniel!”

The revolving door that says ‘keep coming back’, the lounge, and at last the dining room, which appeared  to me as a Roman atrium – all were inviting and not too imperial. However, an aura of affluence surrounded me when the waiter handed me the menu and addressed me by name. That was the golden ring of ambiance. All the while, as exclusive as Daniel was making me feel, I reflected momentarily on David and Eric. I had already been unfaithful to my first love Le Bernardin with Bouley, and now I am cheating on the guy I cheated with. One always searches for the greener grass, but I can tell you from the second I was teased with the amuse bouches (yes, we got two plates), this Daniel guy was going to have to work real hard at winning my taste buds because slots one and two are already full. The chickpea theme was a clever beginning and got my attention.

Bread is just as sweetly satisfying as dessert for me, so I take it seriously. Four small roll varieties were presented: olive rosemary, garlic parmesan, five-seed whole green, and a butter roll – served with farm-fresh butter with and without sea salt. I thought back to the bread “cage” at Bouley as I was biting into the five-seed role, and the image evaporated. At that moment, I believed it was the best roll I had ever tasted, but sometimes that is biased because it is the most current memory. At this point, doesn’t someone always say, “Don’t fill up on bread.” To which my response would be: ‘Shut up! I am swallowing every crumb of both rolls that I selected and am sampling the other two he chose.’

Then came our first courses:

SHIMAAJI “AU VIN BLANC” – Poached with Riesling and Celery Mustard Salad; Tartare with Northern Lights Caviar

SICILIAN PISTACHIO AND LICORICE CRUSTED MAINE SEA SCALLOPS – Gourgane Panisse, Spinach, Sauce Diable

Then our second courses:

OVEN BAKED BLACK SEA BASS WITH SYRAH SAUCE – Aleppo Pepper, Caramelized Red Onions;  Roasted Parsnip, Yukon Gold Potato Confit

DUO OF SUCKLING PIG – need I say more? It went like this: crackle, crunch, soft fattiness, bursting flavor and juice, crispy crunch, oh wow, yum.578469_10200824087904726_1094870266_n

Our dessert course was a delightful end, and our stomachs squeezed the additional celebratory mini-dessert they brought us. The waiter announced: “We’re not done with you yet,” as he held a paper bag filled with warm, just-made madeleines. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to reach in with my fingers. I hesitated, and he continued to hold the bag and then placed it down for us to finish.

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The final ratings of Top 3 Food Loves so far are:

1. Le Bernardin – my true love

2. Bouley (maybe just because we had more courses to taste than at Daniel). Bouley is #1 in decor/atmosphere, which includes the bathroom (see my blog on Bouley)!

A very close 3. Daniel – If you treat me just as well next time, and I get to know you a little better, you could be my first choice to cheating on LB.

Bouley Affair

Sorry guys, but we women tend to take mental comparative notes in every aspect in relation to our true love. I wish I had met you first David Bouley because you are exquisite, but I went into this dining experience unable to put Le Bernardin (LB) out of my mind as the benchmark. There is nothing negative to say about Bouley, but with Eric Ripert leading the race, Bouley came in with a photo-finish second place. Perhaps I just wouldn’t allow my labeling of LB as near-perfect to be challenged.The scent of fresh apples in the foyer of Bouley awakened my culinary senses and prepared the eyes, nose and mouth for the journey. The lounge, although nobody in it, drew in and roused my sight with a large orchid painted on the side wall and fresh orchids along the windows on the opposing wall. It’s like the snooze alarm. Now I understand. First, the smell, then the sight; it was all building up to taste, wasn’t it? The dining room felt like home – not my home, but some rich, French lady’s home. It still earned a tenth of a bonus point in the Bouley column under ambiance versus LB.

While waiting for our appetizers, the waiter presented two dishes from the chef: a tomato infusion with a dollop of ricotta at center and truffles; and an amuse bouche. He stood there holding the first bowl looking at me and said, “Your napkin.” My quiet voice spoke to me as I had an instant recollection of the French waiter at LB gracefully placing the napkin from the plate onto my lap. Food snobbish self (and one is allowed to be so at these prices) said to self: “He wants me to move my own f%*$ napkin? Aren’t I supposed to feel like a princess?” Mental pen to paper scribbled a minus tenth of a point in the service column. The house-made bread warden arrived with a cart that appeared to have imprisoned loaves of bread. We sampled five of the eight variations available.

Tomato infusion with ricotta and truffle

 

Forager’s Treasure of Wild Mushrooms, Sweet Garlic, Special Spices, Grilled Toro, Black Truffle Dressing

North Carolina Pink Shrimp & Cape Cod Sea Scallops, Alaska Live Dungeness Crab, Point Judith Calamari, Ocean Herbal Broth

Oh but as you can see by the photos, dish after dish racked up many tasteful points, and each one was absorbed into my digestive system from lips to stomach as slowly as humanly possible. Like the fine French art with the velvet frames on the walls, I wanted to appreciate and savor every morsel.
To do so, a ten-minute break was required before dessert so I could allow the food to somehow flatten and make room in my belly for a few more bites. A trip to the ladies room was mainly for observation: this restroom was like a royal master bedroom. I wanted to party inside the maroon-velvet walls.

“What do you recommend for dessert? They all sound good.” Waiter: “I like the chocolate soufflé and the pear tart. The rest I don’t like at all.” Yes, it came out of my mouth…”You’re not supposed to say that!” For a moment, I forgot I wasn’t Mrs. Bouley or the manager, so I followed it with laughter. The pre-dessert of blueberry sorbet challenged the little remaining space I had left, and the post-dessert of mini cookies was sadly neglected for lack of stomach space. There was barely room for the actual dessert, but I survived happily full. Upon exiting, we were handed a white bag from the hostess with “a lemon pound cake made in house”. I couldn’t think of anything that resembled food at that moment, and it seemed so inferior to everything we just ate, that I offered an insincere thank you that she probably didn’t detect. I’m usually much more appreciative, but tonight I was an epicurean princess and was pressed in my head to declare a winner over last year’s anniversary dinner at LB. My heart still belongs to Eric, but I would rendezvous with David any time.

Le Bernardin: the Epicurean Apex

Let me just warn you that my initial blog begins at the summit, and it’s all downhill from here. My gastronomic love for everything Eric Ripert sprouted at Chef Central in Paramus, NJ. It wasn’t just his hypnotic French accent; it was his answer to my question on how he manages to remain at the top – in short, “train my staff well and treat them with respect.” (At 8:19 YouTube link

And so my tryst occurred less than a month after Le Bernardin was renovated. When dining out, I am generally lenient with my personal critique of a restaurant. I am forgiving and understanding of certain errors, so I let my taste buds and my standard of work ethic and respect decide whether I will return. This time, however, I went in wearing a Gael Greene hat. If Michelin is going to flash three stars and national publications are going to splash “best” (I dislike pretentiousness), then by-golly, it better be just that.

We decided on the 5-course prix fixe and made sure to each order a different selection. Once the amuse bouche came out, there was very little conversation. It was mostly hushed orgasmic-like “mmmm”s and “wow”s as each forkful of flavor danced along our palettes.

I then knew that I wouldn’t find any fault from the kitchen, so I looked toward the server – was he hovering? No. Was he rushing us? No. He had an inviting French accent (almost as charming as Eric’s) and offered us every bit of menu knowledge he had to help us in our decisions. The one thing that I thought was a bit over the top – and wasteful – was the changing of our silver butter dish every 10 minutes or so with merely a small dent in the surface. It was really unnecessary and didn’t contribute to the royal treatment for me. Alas, I found a flaw. There were a few pulls in the brand new carpet already. It’s ridiculous I had to resort to that to find any demerit. I glanced at my slightly worn boot heels to make sure I was not to blame.

Describing each dish would be an injustice, so the photos will have to speak for themselves. If you click on a specific photo, hit Permalink, and you’ll receive the full menu description.

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