Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Case You Haven't Heard, Le Bernardin, We Have a BLOG

Black Bass -- Le Bernardin
Le Bernardin

If past experience is any indication, we do not have a great track record when it comes to squelching our foolish tendencies in hoity-toity restaurants.
There Is Just So Many Plates to Contend With!
We are therefore rather shocked when Le Bernardin allows us to dine in their Michelin-starred establishment, and we try to present our version of "good behavior" as no less than three staff members escort us towards our table (Eric Ripert is clearly doing his part in solving the unemployment crisis).
Le Bernardin: America's Answer to Economic Woes
Instantly, there is confusion, as the swarm of hosts and hostesses is replaced at once by multiple servers -- even by the end of our meal, we are uncertain as to which one is our designated waiter (when it comes to our table, Le Bernardin apparently knows it takes a village).
Here's a Tip, Le Bernardin: Hand Us a Cocktail Immediately and We'll Be Happy With Just One of You
After about a decade of confusion over the massive wine list, one of the multitude of waiters presents us with food menus and explains how we are each to choose one item from the "Almost Raw," "Barely Touched," and "Lightly Cooked" lists (plus a dessert) to create our $125 prix fixe meal.  Dutifully, we select our choices, including Ted Allen's favorite black bass entree from the CRUNCHY episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, and return to downing our glasses of Sauvignon Blanc at a rate we are certain Le Bernardin disapproves of (in truth, every time the designated wine pourer disappeared with our (screw top, naturally) bottle, Ginger could be heard calling, "Where is he going with that?  I need that back!").
We'll Handle the Wine Allocation Around Here, Thanks
Before we have made it to the right side of tipsy, yet another staff member (Eric Ripert must hoard them in the basement) presents the complimentary amuse bouche: a trio of lox, lobster, and tomato salad.  The moment he disappears, we prepare to dive in, only to discover that we have no idea how to properly utilize the utensils Le Bernardin has provided.  A miniature spork and spoon sit on either side of the dish, and we stare at each other blankly before collapsing into uncomfortable laughter at our own idiocy.
Clearly, Our Parents Should Have Sent Us to Charm School to Prevent Such Debacles
"We don't even know how to use the silverware," Vodka bemoans.  "We don't belong here."  As it turns out, this silverware conundrum proves to be an issue throughout the meal, as Le Bernardin is insistent that new (not to mention, different) flatware be provided with each course, just as we had figured out how to get food into our mouths with the old ones.  Additionally, they are horrified when, say, a patron who shall remain nameless uses her dinner knife to butter her bread, and they replace the tarnished utensil immediately).
Sorry to Offend You, Le Bernardin, But This Dinky Little Knife Isn't Enough to Spread Our Desired Amount of Butter
When we finally manage to wrangle the amuse bouche items onto our tongues, we are delighted.  The lox sphere is smoky and light, the lobster meaty and rich, and the tomato salad refreshing.  We are off to a fortuitous start.
Things Tend to Be Fortuitous When the Courses Are Free
That is, until we discover that the bread boy hates us.

As this blog has made clear, there is nothing that influences our opinion of a place more than its bread basket.  We would venture to say it can make or break our star rating, if only because the carb-laden rolls it provides decide what kind of mood we are in for the rest of the meal.  Therefore, when table after table is served bread and we are left with no vehicle with which to consume our butter, we grow increasingly hostile and convinced that the bread boy has it out for us.
Hey Mister, Here We Are!  Over Here!  Breadless!
When he eventually appears, it is all we can do not to leap out of our seats and begin stuffing the assortment of rolls into our bras.  Trying to maintain a level of decorum, Vodka asks for a brioche and a garlicky olive bread, and Ginger for a brioche and a pretzel roll (to be fair, she only chooses said pretzel roll because Vodka could be heard whisper-yelling across the table, "GET A PRETZEL ROLL").

Diving deeply into the butter dish (with the wrong knife), we slather it on our respective breads and bite in.  While all of the choices are appealing enough (read: we finish them in seconds), the pretzel roll is the stand-out here, tasting vaguely of coarse sea salt despite its smooth exterior.  As we mop up the last of our bread plates, we can't help but note that the rolls are all room temperature, and frankly, we'd prefer them hot out of the oven.

"Would it kill them to warm their rolls?" Vodka quips.

"They don't know who they're dealing with," Ginger agrees.  "We know our bread."

Before we can dive any further into the depths of self-important carb knowledge, yet another duo of mysterious Le Bernardin staff members presents our first courses: the tuna for Vodka and the striped bass for Ginger.
At Le Bernardin, One Pays Extra to Get the Plate to Match the Shape of the Tuna
A Striped Bass Wearing Polka Dots
Knowing that the tuna is supposed to be served on a "crispy baguette," Vodka confiscates the rounds of toast which have been placed next to Ginger's plate before discovering that her own baguette is actually hidden underneath the tuna.  Sliding her fork through the uber-thin slice of tuna sashimi, she eventually finds the promised foie gras and rectangle of "baguette," all of which has been sprinkled with chives and olive oil.
Note: Despite Months of Practice, Vodka Still Cannot Properly Pronounce "Foie Gras"
This tuna proves to be a highlight of the entire meal, as it is refreshingly light and perfectly displayed, and it later causes Vodka to wonder whether she likes her fish cooked at all.
Can We Reorder And Only Have Dishes From the "Almost Raw" Side of the Menu, Please?
On the other end of the table, Ginger tastes the striped bass tartare, which comes with fennel, artichoke, lemon, and olive oil (and, apparently, toast).
In Keeping With the Theme, This Plate Should Have Been Rectangular. Really, Le Bernardin - Get It Together
This dish, too, is unexpectedly more flavorful than it looks, especially when smeared onto the thin layers of baguette.  Halfway through each of our dishes, we perform a swift switch across the table ("You go over, I'll go under, you go over, I'll go under!").
And Whatever You Do, Don't End Up with Fish On Your Lap!
When one of our assortment of waiters notices that we have done this, he offers Vodka additional toast for her portion of the striped bass.  She declines, pointing to the rest of her piece which is resting on her bread plate, and murmurs the second he's out of earshot, "Don't worry -- five minutes ago, I didn't even know this came with toast."
Though Come to Think Of It, It Would Have Been Preferable for Them to FILL Each Of Those Toast Slots!
In between courses, we attempt to track down the elusive bread boy, who eventually deposits an additional baguette and pretzel roll onto our plates, albeit reluctantly.  As we systematically manage to devour an entire tub of butter, Ginger regales Vodka with her tale of losing her shoe (singular) in Vegas, and we debate if it's classier to pay in cash or credit ("Credit -- cash would expose that we don't know how to figure out the tip").  Our "Barely Touched" courses arrive, and we immediately start shoving octopus (Ginger) and scallops (Vodka) into our mouths.

"I'm still so hungry," Ginger complains between bites.  "I've been fasting since lunch."  (Thankfully Vodka secured us a "highly sought after" 5:30 seating).
Octopus Riding a Pirate Ship
Scallop Soup?
Of the two, we prefer the octopus on a grand scale.  Topped with an olive oil and garlic emulsion and sprinkled with a sundried tomato sauce, the octopus itself is ideally cooked -- the consistency of roast chicken, thus preventing the tentacles from becoming too dry and crunchy (a texture we hate).
We Only Count Five Pieces - Where Are the Other Three Legs?!
In contrast, the scallop dish is just... bizarre.  Thinly sliced rounds of scallops are arranged delicately around the plate, and a lime-shiso broth has been poured over them (by yet another eager staff member).  Snowpeas and shiitakes are allegedly there, too, but we never find them.
So Just to Confirm, This Is Supposed to Look Appetizing?
The scallop slices themselves are stuck -- literally stuck -- to the bottom of the plate, and once we manage to pry them up, the broth tastes so overwhelmingly of lime that it makes the entire dish a bad experiment in citrus.  Even more unfortunate is that the scallops live up to their "Barely Touched" name, sitting luke-warm in their lime bath and giving the disconcerting impression of a ceviche that was left out in the sun too long.
Throw These Scallops Some Sunblock
Finally, for our last courses we have the black bass (Vodka) and the red snapper (Ginger).
We're Beginning to Think Eric Ripert Is a Tad Too Into His Sauces....
Is That Smattering In the Middle Supposed to be Pasta?  Cause We're Going to Need Another Bowl Full
Now, it should be noted that the black bass was on the CRUNCHY episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate -- CRUNCHY.  We mention this word multiple times because said bass is decidedly NOT CRUNCHY.  Indeed, unless Ted Allen has become toothless, we are incredulous as to what he found to crunch upon in this dish.
Black Bass That Even An Infant Could Chew Through
Rather than having a crackery crust, this fish is the same texture throughout.  Now, is it a bad texture?  No.  Is the whole thing tasty enough (if, again, HIGHLY citrusy from the sauce)?  Yes.  But this black bass is anything but crispy.
Are The Vegetables Purposely Arranged to Look Like Sliding Boards?
Someone Give This Bass Some Doritos and Teach It How to Crunch
On the other side of the aisle, Ginger is making a series of facial contortions about her red snapper, which has been laden with a smoked red paprika and chorizo sauce.
We Should Have Known - We Don't Have the Best of Luck When It Comes to Chorizo
"This tastes like Campbell's soup," she repeats to Vodka at least three times.  Unfortunately for Le Bernardin's massive cult of a waitstaff, one of their members chooses to appear at our table at just this moment to ask how everything is.

"It's okay," Ginger says with a level of enthusiasm that would verge on hatefulness.

"Is there something wrong with your dish?" he persists.

"It's fine," Ginger answers, biting her tongue hard to prevent any reference to Campbell's soup from escaping her lips.  We switch plates, and Vodka confirms Ginger's suspicions about the red snapper: "They essentially poured Campbell's tomato soup over fish sticks and charged $35."  Indeed, the red snapper itself is virtually tasteless with a thin piece of white bread toast literally adhered to the top, and the sauce is without a doubt reminiscent of something we could pour out of a can.
In Other Words, Le Bernardin: NOT IMPRESSED
Even more egregiously, Ginger's venture into the black bass has led to the discovery of a rather large bone (is this what Le Bernardin means by "crunchy"?!).  Of course, yet another staff member (we assume this is a manager, though we never receive confirmation), arrives at our table just as Ginger is busy picking bones from her teeth, and he does his best to appease us.
Does It LOOK Like We're Enjoying It?!
After All, We're Usually Members of the Clean-Plate Club
When Ginger points to the bone resting on the periphery of her plate, however, he seems to determine that all hope is lost in removing the sour expressions from our faces, and the staff removes our half-finished dishes without further commentary.
Maybe We'd Look Less Sour If You Stopped Inundating All of Your Dishes with CITRUS
"We don't know if you've heard, Le Bernardin," Vodka whispers to Ginger with fanfare the minute the staff is out of our presence.  "But we have a BLOG."  She says this as if our ramblings could ruin this New York culinary institution, rather than the reality of the situation: our only reader, Vodka's mother, will certainly never patronize the place now.  You lost one, Le Bernardin!

For dessert, we order the Hazelnut-Marshmallow (chocolate ganache, vanilla marshmallow, and hazelnut ice cream) and the Chocolate Peanut (chocolate ganache, peanut mousse, and salted caramel ice cream).
In Case You Haven't Figured It Out By the GIANT HAZELNUT, This Is the Former
We Really Think The Individual Dots on the Plate Make a Difference, Don't You?
In a show of goodwill, Le Bernardin also presents a complimentary dish of something involving strawberries, gelatin, and foam (which one waiter informs us is his personal favorite).  Obviously, they're terrified of losing Vodka's mother as a potential customer.
Frankly, Le Bernardin, You'd Succeed More If You Gave Us a Free Cocktail
We thank them sans any genuine gratefulness and begin to eat our desserts in a much-less gung-ho fashion than we had approached our amuse bouches so many courses before.  We have essentially given up on Le Bernardin, and admittedly, our plethora of waiters are also decidedly over us (at least they finally stop asking how everything is).
Here's a Hint: We Didn't Finish This Dish Either
Of the three desserts, the chocolate peanut is by far the best -- essentially an overgrown Kit Kat accompanied by a miniature scoop of salted caramel ice cream (really, Le Bernardin, your ice cream portions leave something to be desired).
Have a Break - Have a $30 Kit Kat
Please Send the Pile of Salt Directly to Vodka's Side of the Table
Ginger enjoys the strawberry concoction , though Vodka, who hates fruit in her desserts, does not (it also fizzes with each bite -- the Michelin star version of Pop Rocks).
Does the Dessert Fizz In Order to Terrify All of the Complaining Customers?
Enormous Plate, Much?
And finally, the chocolate hazelnut is a grand disappointment, as the mousse has a decidedly odd taste and the combination of hazelnut and marshmallow, in retrospect, is anything but a successful one.
Goes to Show - You Can Squirt the Mousse Out Into a Pretty Ribbon But It Doesn't Make It Taste Good
Our bill arrives, and the waiter reveals that they have charged us a la carte for Vodka's portion of the meal, eliminating the bone-ridden black bass from the total (this happenstance will historically go down as the day Ginger, the far less complaint-driven of the two of us, procured her first discount -- and at Le Bernardin, no less!).  By some miracle, we manage to figure out our totals without mathematical incident and stumble through the dining room towards the restrooms.
And Before We Forget, Le Bernardin Provided These Doo-Dads as a Final Course...
...Though Clearly, We Weren't Particularly Fond of Them
"Let's be real," Vodka begins.  "This place is in the Theatre District -- how good could it be?"

"We should've just gone to Steak 'n Shake," Ginger agrees.

As yet another four workers hold the front doors for us on the way out, we figuratively roll our eyes at the proceedings.

And if there is one thing we can say for our Le Bernardin experience, it is this: we guarantee that no other "review" of their highfalutin premises has ended with the "critic" traipsing away from its residence while murmuring under her breath, "Ugh, this place is stupid."

Le Bernardin's Black Bass: 3 stars

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering where you girls were?! I am so glad you are back and you made me spit out my drink.

    Vodka's mother isn't your only reader! Love you girls.