Le Bernardin

155 West 51st Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues), New York, 10019-6019, United States

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Chef Eric Ripert made it to assistant chef de partie under Joel Robuchon at Jamin in 1985, so trained with the best.  He moved to the US in 1989, becoming head chef at Le Bernardin in 1994 at the tender age of 28 after the previous head chef died suddenly of a heart attack.  The large dining room has a high ceiling and extensive wood panelling, giving a slight Japanese hint to the décor.  Many pictures adorn the dining room walls and the lighting is very subdued in the evening.  Although there are a few token meat dishes, the emphasis on this long menu is seafood, with four courses the norm at USD 110.  The tasting menu is USD 185. 

The wine list stretches over 51 pages, and contains a range of mark-ups.  A relative bargain was Kistler Vine Hill 2006 at USD 145, which would cost you at least USD 100 in a shop.  By contrast Guigal La Mouline 2002 at USD 550 is around three times the USD 185 retail price at which it can be obtained. Vina Ardanza Rioja Alta 2000 at USD 100 compares with a shop price of around USD 28, while Krug 1995 at USD 650 is for a wine that will set you back around USD 210 or so in the shops.

Bread is bought in from the Tom Cat Bakery.  We tried whole-wheat bread, sourdough, grain bread and walnut and raisin; I enjoyed the sourdough most, but it was generally pleasant but unexceptional (15/20).  A mesclun salad of herbs and vegetables with vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar and shallot was nice enough, but far from dazzling, the dressing fine but the leaves ordinary.  I appreciate that this is not the Mediterranean, but I am surprised that better salad leaves than this cannot be sourced (15/20). 

I started with a simple dish of layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna with foie gras, served on a toasted baguette with shaved chives and olive oil. I was curious about the idea of combining tuna with foie gras, but the latter is smeared very thinly on the toast, and adds just a hint of flavour rather than competing with the tuna.  The tuna itself was good, though I am not sure whether the working of the ingredient in this dish really shows it to its best; still, a carefully executed dish (16/20). 

I enjoyed seared langoustine with a simple wild mushroom salad, shaved foie gras and Balsamic viangrette (pictured).  The langoustine was of good quality and very carefully cooked; it is such an easy dish to overcook, but here the shellfish had lovely texture.  The salad nicely allowed the delicate flavour of the langoustines to come through (17/20).  Curried crab with zucchini (courgette) panna cotta was served as two rolls, with a “vadouvan” i.e. lightly spiced broth involving Indian spices.  The dish was pretty and the crab itself stood up reasonably well to the quite subtle spice of the broth, though it was hard to get excited about the flavours (15/20). 

Striped bass was baked with corn “cannelloni” and served with a light Perigord suace.  The fish was timed well enough but I found the sweet corn too sweet to really be a good accompaniment for the bass (15/20).

I tried the “surf and turf” as my main course.  Kobe beef was apparently really from Kobe, not just wagyu beef raised somewhere else, and appears to have been carefully sourced.  When I asked about it I was told it was grade 12 (the highest possible) for marbling.  The Japanese grading system is complex, with additional scores for yield (A in this case), meat colour and brightness (1-7 scale) and firmness (1-5); Yet further measures can be found (lustre, fat colour, …) but I didn’t delve beyond the fact that the staff actually knew that there was indeed a grading system, which in itself suggested that considerable care was taken in selecting the beef.  Two small pieces of beef appear as part of the dish, and what I found bewildering is that the two pieces were cooked differently; one was rare and suitably buttery in texture, the other cooked for too long, and losing its lovely texture.  This was all the more careless given the obvious effort made to find beef of this quality and price. Escolar (sometimes known as white tuna but it is not albacore, and not strictly a tuna at all as far as I understand it) was excellent, with a slightly oily flesh. These main elements were served with a rather ordinary sea bean salad and aubergine fries, and a pesto and anchovy sauce (17/20).    

I enjoyed a pre-dessert of liquid chocolate flavoured with Maldon sea salt in an egg shell; this had pleasantly rich flavour, nicely balanced by the salt (17/20).  I was less enamoured with Oregon hazelnuts with Gianduja cream, honey, banana (very restrained) and brown butter ice cream, which was a pleasant rather than exciting dish (15/20).  Pistachio mousse with caramelised white chocolate, lemon and Bing cherry seemed to me to lack enough pistachio flavour to really go to a higher level (15/20). 

Coffee was excellent (18/20), served with some petit fours that included a simply poor, hard fruit jelly. My top-up of additional double espresso was charged at a full $7.50, which seems to me a pretty mean practice.

Service was very good indeed, with a couple of slips in topping up the wine but otherwise exemplary attention to detail.

This was the second meal I have had at Le Bernardin, my prior experience being a very mixed affair in April 1999 (which at least featured one really good dish).  The experience tonight was much more even, but also profoundly unchallenging.  Regular readers will know that this is exactly the kind of food I like: simple dishes, plenty of seafood, no jarring taste combinations.  It is therefore all the more disappointing to me that I found it such a consistently pleasant, yet somehow uninteresting experience. If this was in Paris it would have one Michelin star, in my view.


Below are my brief notes from an uneven meal in April 1999.

This mainly seafood restaurant gets stratospheric ratings in many reviews for the cooking of chef Eric Ripert. Yet on my only visit here I had an extremely mixed meal.  I found the service to have plenty of attitude also, though I suppose this is New York. Michelin gave it three stars so maybe I went on a really, really, bad night.

My original notes were as follows. Very erratic, with a beautiful truffled lobster bisque with celeriac being quite magnificent (19/20).  Yet this was followed by a dismal sea bass, overcooked, with a grotesquely acidic sauce (12/20 at best). My companion's cod with red wine sauce was better (15/20) but desserts were a disaster. A chocolate millefeuille had, within its layer, vast amounts of cocoa powder that overwhelmed everything else, making the dish almost inedible, while the mousse inside was of most odd consistency and tasted almost oily (0/5). A tart was burnt and had to be sent back.  There is a costly wine list.

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  • Name unavailable

    Just about worth one star by French/German standards. Desserts were the weakest component. While we were eating (this was a December night) a 60 second huge gale of freezing cold air blew in from the kitchen, dousing the conversation across the room. Kitchen fire maybe? Then five minutes the same thing happened again. Completely bizarre

  • Natalie

    I Xmas dinner here in 2010. Starters fantastic (lovely sea urchin), mains boring, desserts disappointing. Far too many diners who thought it okay to take phone calls at table during the meal. Also some small children - perfectly well behaved, but adds to the impression that this is not a serious restaurant or that the diners are not serious (not that I'm against children in restaurants, just that I don't expect to see them in this type of place). In case you think that these are just the downsides of eating there on Xmas evening, a NY friend said that our experience only confirms what she's heard about the behaviour of diners from other people who've been there, presumably not on Xmas day.

  • Craig Fisher

    I attended Le Bernardin at the end of 2008 and I must say that I found this to be a fantastic meal (the salmon carpaccio with toasted brioche and caviar being particularly memorable), although perhaps slightly let down by desserts which almost seemed like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the meal. I do however, agree that this restaurant would not be three stars in Europe (a common complaint about New York restaurants, Gilt, a 2 star restaurant, would be lucky to obtain any in Europe) - I had visited Pied a Terre in London just a few weeks previously and the overall standard was, in my opinion, comparable.

  • Paul Kim

    I've only been there once, and was greatly looking forward to it. Food was excellent, but not other-worldly. Service was crisp, but at the end we were hurried out from our table to make way for the next sitting. Compared to my five-and-a-half hour eating extraganza at French Laundry, I think three stars is over-rated.

  • alan fowle

    Well its been sometime since Andy went here and recently on business in New York using the Zagat guide which lists this as the third most popular restaurant in New york I tried it - concerned that it was going to be a pretentious faux french sort of place. In fact I walked in without a booking at lunchtime in late June , 3 people at the reception desk -yes big smile we can find you a table. large handsome room heavy wood enormous flower arrangements and packed. Imeediately I was offered a glass of champagne- this does put you in a good mood- then the prix fixe menu for 68$ -pretty good value - striped bass/crab/prawns wrapped in courgette cut so thin it was transparent in a beautiful sauce everything I had was delicious including the dessert a chocolate peanut concoction(much better than it sounds) Ok -the service was outstandingly friendly and welcoming - I felt it left most London restaurants standing on this score. I was knocked out ,so I returned the day after and had the same dishes again,this time with a reservation-and my goodness -the welcome back and the second time all was as good as before. Andy, if you go back to New York go here it must be Better than when you were here last.

  • Johnson Udi

    We also had a pretty poor experience at Le Bernardin. The service was poor and quite hurried. We have had much better food experiences at many other places in NY, including Daniel, Per Se, and Le Picholine. I would not even consider Le Bernardin in my top 100 food experiences.

  • Charlie

    Last week, I had a marvelous lunch at Le Bernardin. My previous two visits had been for dinner and all three meals were excellent. While I have found the food consistently fresh and well-prepared, I have been most impressed by the efficient and attitude-less service, which was significantly superior to the service I received at lunch earlier this summer at Grand Vefour. I was quite shocked to read Andy's comments (and others') about the attitude. I would suggest that Andy give Le Bernardin another try the next time he is in NYC. He should also check out Per Se again to see if he was a tad blinded by Mr. Keller's press clippings.

  • Johnny Tang

    I found the food there to be decent, but the service was horrible. It cannot be a rare occurrence. Look at how close together all the tables are. It's like a Chinese Wonton shop. I'm surprised they didn't stack tables too (which is fine when you have 1.5 billion people). When we sat, I wondered how they were going to serve me; I didn't realize they would serve me by reaching over my dining companions. Not a big deal really, but not something that shouldn't be happening at such a restaurant. We were rushed right from the get go. At first, I figured they had too many items on the menu and I just couldn't pick fast enough. But when I couldn't finish reading the six desert choices before we were hurried, I realized it wasn't us. The waiter stood there and waited for us to pick our deserts. I'm an eater, not a talker, but they acted like we were sitting around for way too long. Well under two hours for the tasting menu. What other three star restaurant offers two lunch services? I found their attitudes extraordinarily snobbish, but I have nothing to back it up, so I leave it at that.

  • Alan Weil

    Attitude is transmitted in both directions even in New York. As a regular to this seafood establishment I find the staff great although getting a reservation and the wait, even with one, can be trying. The food is worth it and the deserts are world class. I don't know if you had a bad night or not but if you look for a fault you can always find one. Even Tiger Woods is not perfect but currently don't look for someone better.It is the same with reataurants.

  • Suzanne

    I prefer Zagat's hearty recommendation to Andy's. We found March 2, 2007, lunch at Bernardin two of our best meals ever in New York. Great fish, wonderful room, fabulous wine recommendation at not top price; altogether worthy of three stars.

  • Marc Hodes

    I have to advise that, at least in my opinion, the comments by Andy on Le Bernardin must have been on accout of an off night. I have had some of the most marvelous food in my life at Le Bernardin. Chef Ripert's raw kanpachi appetizer with a coriandera/ginger emulsion and wasabi-flavored flying fish roe is one of the best appetizer's I have ever had. And a dessert involving fresh, seasonal sour cherries and goats cheese was equally fabulous. The salt-encrusted snapper that has to be ordered 24 hours in advance was perfectly tender though rather bland otherwise; so I would recommend skipping that. All-in-all I would have to rate this as one of the very best restaurants in the world. And I love the way the menu set-up with an "barely touched" starter, "almost raw" 2nd course and "lightly cooked" main! -Marc Hodes

  • Pierre

    I can only agree on that, this place is not worth more than one star. There are far better fish restaurants in Paris.