Frank Bruni describes Le Bernardin a "miracle" and "nearly perfect." New York Magazine has named it the city's best restaurant. Alain Ducasse calls it the best seafood restaurant in the country. GQ, not to be outdone, compared Le Bernardin to the Statue of Liberty and hailed it as the best restaurant period in the United States. Could any restaurant survive such an avalanche of praise? There for a special occasion recently, we found out.
The long, cool space manages to hint at the nautical without throwing itself overboard into Long John Silver's territory, and the menus are so cheaply produced that it almost seems the restaurant is being deliberately indifferent to its grande dame status. But then the impeccable service starts and the amuse bouche arrives--a velvety salmon tartare that has us requesting more bread before the waiter has even left the table.
We followed that with delicious slices of pounded tuna drizzled with a fig compote and crab cakes wrapped in zucchini blossoms and truffle butter.
In a final gasp of summer that was especially welcome on a cold and blustery day, our main courses were lobster with asparagus and gribiche and red snapper in a tomato broth. Le Bernardin divides its menu into categories of cooking style--almost raw, barely touched, and lightly cooked--and the main courses tend to fall in the latter, which is a perfect description for the tenderness with which the fish is handled.
After such piscatorial delights, we were too full to try more than one dessert, a good-but-blown-out-of-the-metaphorical-and-literal-water chocolate-peanut tart. The petits fours were great, however, and followed by a parting gift that will come in handier: a 2008 Zagat's guide, with Le Bernardin's entry embossed on the front. The first comment? "Accolades are well deserved." We can't go so far as GQ, or even as far as New York Magazine, but this is a meal we'll remember for very long time.