The culmination. Years of loving food. Countless places and meals; good, bad, and everything in between. From tiny plastic stools in Vietnam with overflowing, beautiful Pho, to gargantuan Texas beef, to Moroccan Tagines and regrettable late night McDonalds escapades, to Peruvian Guinea Pigs washed down with Coca Sours, and Maldivian meals fit for a king.
It’s easy to call someone a master chef. It is not easy, however, to reach the level of a man like Eric Ripert. His flagship and masterpiece, Le Bernardin, is on the agenda for tonight… and we’re late. Eleven minutes late to be exact. Ben’s flight was delayed several hours, but we finally arrive at the restaurant. I’m nervous, waiting on the phone call canceling our reservation. A reservation that I made exactly one month in advance. And with a sigh of relief, we’re greeted warmly and seated right away.
Running across town hasn’t prepared either of us for what’s to come. We take a minute to breathe as we’re seated. It takes a moment to take in the beauty of the restaurant. The décor and perfection of the room is mind-blowing and elegant. It’s easy to see where Le Bernardine’s monthly flower budget of $12,000 goes. A stunningly painted seascape by artist Ran Ortner hangs proudly on the wall as a reminder of where our meal truly began. I’ve never felt so comfortable and welcome in somewhere so clean and beautiful.
We’re going all out tonight. The chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings. My wallet can cry later, my taste buds will not. I haven’t eaten much today in preparation for the 8+ course meal. I start off with what is immediately the most interesting and refined cocktail of my life. The Blossom Dearie (Rittenhouse Rye, Yuzu Sake, Bonne Maman Orange Marmalade, and Shiso Leaf). It warms and sets the mood. This is what a 3 star cocktail tastes like. Even better than expected.
The service is, without a doubt, the best that I have ever experienced. Everything is timed perfectly. This is a well-rehearsed dance that has been done a thousand times. There are no dropped plates here. Nothing is spilled, no crumbs are on the floor, nothing is dirty, the wine is poured to exactly the same volume in every glass. An entire sommelier department, signified by the tastevin’s donned around their necks, give an expertly crafted selection of wines to accompany each successive dish. We’ve made a good decision taking on the pairings.
The first course arrives. A Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio with Iberico ham, sea beans, and Lemon- extra virgin olive oil. It’s paired with a Gelber Muskateller, Steirische Klassik, a beautiful Austrian wine from 2013. The tender fish melts in my mouth, the lemon olive oil pulls the tuna flavor to the forefront. The texture and presentation; simple and perfect. Everything starts to come together as the courses continue. Every detail is painstakingly important right down to the custom plates and bowls.
The second course is a King Fish Caviar served with Yuki No Bosha, Yamahai Junmai Sake. Three pieces of King Fish topped with Osetra Caviar swim in a bath of Marinière broth. The broth steals the dish. It’s nothing short of amazing. Every drop disappears. The sake is a fantastic complement. Its subtle flavor mixes expertly with the fish.
The third dish is a pan-roasted langoustine with shaved foie gras and aged sherry-verjus vinaigrette, served with a glass of French Chardonnay. Already one of my favorite crustaceans, this dish steals my heart. I’m already jealous of myself. The texture of the shellfish makes the dish.
Next, we’re served a lobster tail with herb spring roll and lemongrass consommé with a glass of Krug Brut. The dish is heavily influenced with Asian flavors and style. The tastes are vastly different than the rest of the meal and bring a nice juxtaposition to what we’ve already experienced. By now, the bubbly champagne starts to bring on a welcomed swimming feeling. I would never have guessed to pair champagne with lobster. By now, I’m floating in heaven.
Next, the monkfish arrives. A pan roasted monkfish with sautéed cepes, pearl onions, a la crème, and a paprika sauce served with a Fleurie, Clos de la Grand’Cour, Jean-Louis Dutraive, Beaujolais from France (2014). I’m feeling quite fancy now as I have no idea what most of that means. I’ve heard of monkfish! And paprika! It looks like I’m getting somewhere! As expected, it’s fantastic, light, airy, and perfect. I wish these dishes would just keep coming forever.
If we hadn’t been treated well enough, the White Tuna and Kobe Beef arrive with a 2009 Italian Barbaresco, Valeirano, Ada Nada, Piedmont. I looked at the wine and had to stop. I’ve never seen a wine like this. The color is unreal, almost orange. The evening sunlight glistens through the stems after an aerating swirl. The steak is perfect. There is no other word to describe it. The tuna complements it intensely. The wine is heavenly. This wine steals the entire evening. I’ve never tasted anything like it. I’m currently looking for a bottle of my own.
I guess it’s time for dessert. First a Matcha Green Tea custard with preserved Lychee and Jasmine ice cream and Nanbubijin, Koji Junmai Sake. I’m typically not a big dessert fan. Today, that’s put on the back burner. It’s followed by Marinated “golden blueberries” with frozen sweet corn meringue and a Hungarian Oremus Tokaji dessert wine. The meal finishes exactly as it should, with these two excellent desserts.
We sit and look at each other. The meal has been all consuming. I’m barely aware that I’m right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of New York City. We’ve accomplished our goal. We’ve just had one of the best meals on the planet. It’s easy to see how Le Bernardin has three Michelin Stars. Every detail, every single thing, is absolutely perfect. Period.
It’s time for us to head to New Haven. Our best friends are about to be married, so tonight we celebrate. But first, the check…