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Le Bernardin (Manhattan, NY) – A Fishing Story

December 17, 2009

Seeing that Le Bernardin is arguably the best seafood restaurant in the nation, it seems fitting to begin this review with a fishing story of my own. Like most stereotyical fishing stories, my story starts with an outrageous claim and ends with no proof that what I claim ever existed…but trust me, it’s true.

I was at Le Bernardin on Saturday night and was *THIS CLOSE!* to…*dramatic pause*…ERIC RIPERT.

Yes, you read that correctly, I SAW ERIC RIPERT. I watched him wander from the bar to the dining room, stopping by and chatting with the patrons at each table. I watched him walk from the dining room to the kitchen, disappearing behind the swinging doors. However, I did NOT see him drop by my table and, by the time I thought of asking to meet the chef, he had left for the night. No picture, no proof…all I have is disappointment and regret for not jumping him when I had the chance.

*sigh*

Luckily, that was my only disappointment that night.

———-

It’s times like these that I absolutely hate my inability to write eloquently. How do I describe my 3-star experience at Le Bernardin beyond “Just…WOW.”? Where do I begin to describe the dishes we were served, how can I convey to you the thoughts that ran through my head with every bite? I can only hope that pictures do more justice than words – there are so many words one can use; I can only use the ones within my reach.

Of the three prix fixe options at Le Bernardin (4-, 7- or 8-courses), my dining companion Jenn and I both ordered the 8-course Chef’s tasting menu, complete with wine pairing. After completing our meal, both of us agreed – the wine pairing was a MUST. Some dishes were amazing with or without the pairing but others were elevated to that next level (to the level one would expect from a restaurant like Le Bernardin) because of that one sip. Highly recommended.

Amouse-Bouche: ?

Unfortunately, I forgot to write down what we were served for the amuse-bouche but it wasn’t a standout dish in any fashion so I’m not sure if it matters. There was something odd about the texture of the dish – it was little mushy and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from the seafood or from the accompanying puree underneath. The foam (made of mushrooms, if my memory serves me correctly) complemented the other flavors well; however, the texture was still very distracting.

Course 1: Smoked Yellowfin Tuna “Prosciutto”; Japanese Pickled Vegetables and Crispy Kombu (Pairing: Muscadet ‘Clos des Briords’, Pepiere, Loire 2008)

The smooth smokiness of the tuna played well against the crisp sweetness of the Japanese pickles. I admit, I did without the crispy kombu (a type of seaweed typically used in Japanese cooking); it may have added a hint of saltiness to each bite but it was also a battle to break it into pieces.

Course 2: Poached Pastured Egg; Osetra Caviar; Mariniere Broth and English Muffin (Pairing: Krug, Grande Cuvee)

When first looking at the menu, there were three dishes that caught my eye and ultimately resulted in my choosing the Chef’s tasting over the Le Bernardin tasting, this being the first. The egg, perfectly poached, floating in a pool of broth, rich with the flavor of white wine and mussels – it was divine. The dish just asked to be sopped with the two strips of lightly toasted English muffin (and I, of course, gladly obliged, sopping the running yolks and the broth as daintily as I could).

Course 3: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad; Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette (Pairing: Gewurztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige 2007)

The second of my three must haves, this was a prime example of a good dish elevated by an excellent wine pairing. The course, by itself was a solid dish – the langoustine was tender and the there was just enough foie to add a hint of flavor to, but not overwhelm, the other components of the dish. However, the wine brought out the sweetness of the langoustine, creating a very pleasant taste all together.

Course 4: Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip – Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth (Pairing: Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Chenevottes, Bernard Moreau 2006)

Typically, I’m not a huge monkfish fan – I enjoy some of the flakier fishes and monkfish tends to be a bit too dense for me. However, I polished off the fish, along with everything else, in order to taste as much of the sake and miso broth as possible. (Le Bernardin may be known for seafood but their sauces and broths are what really make the dish and compliment the natural flavors of the seafood.)

Course 5: Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham – Green Peppercorn Sauce (Pairing: Rioja, Reserve ‘Vina Ardanza’, La Rioja Alta, Spain 2000)

A psuedo Top Chef groupie (I’m not a true groupie as I missed most of seasons 3-5), I was excited to see a dish featured in the Le Bernardin challenge of season 5. It was suggested that we enjoy the creaminess of the parsnip custard (served separately) in between bites of the bass, a welcome change from the saltiness of the ham and peppercorn sauce and the braised celery.

Course 6: Baked Lobster on a Bed of Truffled Foie Gras Stuffing; Brandy Red Wine Sauce (Pairing: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Pauillac Bordeaux 2001)

Lobster with foie and truffles – this could be the definition of luxury. The fattiness of the lobster against the foie was fantastic, although I actually could have done without half the lobster (the portion size was rather large in comparison to the other courses and it just got heavy after a while).

Course 7: Creamy Goat Cheese Spheres, Concord Grape, Candied Walnut, Black Pepper (Pairing: Torrontez Sparkling-Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia Argentina)

The third of the three, this was easily my favorite course of the night. The goat cheese popped in my mouth and mixed in with the sweetness of the walnuts and grape – not quite a sweet and savory but more something perfectly in the middle. With a sip of the paired sparkling wine, I was in heaven.

Course 8: Caramelized Corn Custard, Hazelnut Praline, Brown Butter Ice Cream, Popcorn Tuile (Pairing: Ron Zacapa Rum, Guatemala)

Another not quite sweet, not quite savory but perfectly in between dessert, this was another favorite, partially because of the novelty of the popcorn tuile. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple piece of sugar; however, it tasted exactly like a freshly popped kernel of corn.

———-

…There’s really nothing left to say besides that.

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
Manhattan, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515
Website: http://www.le-bernardin.com/

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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas, NV) – A Homecoming

November 25, 2009

I love Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is like my second home. I enjoy every moment when I’m there and I miss it when I’m gone. Recently Vegas has become my escape – a place to forget about work and Corporate America, a place to pretend I’m someone I’m not and immerse myself in the little pleasures in life.

L’Atelier is one of those little pleasures. When Vegas calls me home, L’Atelier is there to meet me at the door.

(Welcome home.)

I’ve been to L’Atelier twice now and I see no signs of stopping. My first time, I ordered the L’Unique menu (a three course meal that is brought out all at once) with an order of the foie gras ravioli a la carte. Surprisingly, it was not the ravioli but the chicken broth in which they were swimming in that blew my mind away. It was comforting and familiar, rich and exquisite…

I knew I had to return.

This time around, I splurged. I knew what L’Atelier was capable of and I wanted to try its best! I found myself ordering the Discovery Menu – a nine course degustation that I hoped would both exemplify its strengths and, at the same time, soothe my tired soul.

The menu started off strong – you can never go wrong when you start with foie. Our amuse bouche, a foie gras parfait with a port wine and parmesan foam, was a spoonful of bliss.

Course 2: King Crab on a Turnip Disc with a Sweet and Sour Sauce

Our next course, le crabe royale, was delicate and fresh.

Soon after, the courses wavered a bit. The scallop, although perfectly cooked, only had that *wow* factor if you were greeted with the crunch of sea salt in that same bite. The white onion tart with bacon and mushrooms was good but with the time-tested combination of bacon, mushrooms and onions, how could it not?

Course 5: Duck Foie Gras with Confit Quince and Yuzu

The fifth course was another foie dish: buttery foie gras in an unadulterated form…Mmm. However, the richness of the foie overpowered the dover sole in the sixth course, smothering it with the taste of the past. By the time the seventh course arrived (yet another foie dish – a foie-stuffed free range quail), I was full.

(As a side note: You know you’ve spoiled yourself when you’re bored with the taste of foie.)

Course 7: Grapefruit Infused with Prosecco with Lychee Sorbet

Luckily, L’Atelier had a trick up its sleeve to perk up my palate. The menu simply said “grapefruit infused with Prosecco with lychee sorbet” but what it failed to note were the Pop Rocks that lined the rim of the bowl and the Rice Krispies that lay hidden below the sorbet. The crackling of candy and cereal against the cold lychee sorbet sparked just enough appetite to finish the last course (a chocolate cake with espresso ice cream).

And thus the meal was complete. I sipped my cappuccino, gathered all my strength, then threw myself back into the world. Who knows if I’ll survive the next battle in life but if anything happens…well…at least I can always go home.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-7358
Website: http://www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/
Twitter: @robuchonlv

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Hatfield’s (Los Angeles, CA) – The Meal that Started It All

November 22, 2009

This was a during a happier, simpler time. A time when a nice dinner out was a still a novelty and the taste of foie gras still a luxury. A time when my stable accounting gig still gifted little bonuses for jobs well done. A time when I still had a boy by my side.

My memory of this meal is so vivid, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it.

I first heard of Hatfield’s in September of 2007, but I didn’t have the opportunity to try it myself until the following May. I had just finished my first year in public accounting and – like I had expected – I worked hard that first year. Hard enough that, at the end of it, I got a nice little bonus to make up for those twenty-one 14-hour days I worked in a row in February and those long 8AM to 3AM days I worked in April. The boy had been working hard too – he had been studying for his CPA exams all spring – and both of us deserved a little treat.

My little bonus paid for our meal to Hatfield’s.

I can still remember the name of our waiter – not because I documented it in a review the day after – but because I’ve still never had a waiter as good as Hans. Just to give you an idea of the quality of service we received: The boy and I ordered the tasting menu and wine pairing – 7 courses for each of us (14 different dishes in all) and 6 glasses of wine. We asked for a copy of the menu to remember the meal – Hans wrote every single course down on the menu by hand. Like I said, to this day, I’ve never received service better than I did that day at Hatfield’s.

I’ll admit, Hatfield’s was my first real fine dining experience. Yes, I had been to a couple fancier restaurants before but they were typically steakhouses that focused on meat. Hatfield’s was different – the focus wasn’t meat but rather the components of the dish and how they worked together. Some dishes were average, some were amazing and one left me absolutely speechless. It was an eye opening experience. The boy and I said it was the best meal we had ever had.

I never went back to Hatfield’s after that. I was afraid that, if I went again, it wouldn’t live up to expectations so I never returned. But, I’ve always remembered the meal – This is the meal that started my love for fine dining. This is the memory that I think of when I think of a perfect meal.

Good food… Good wine… Good company… I’ll never forget it.

(Read my original review on Yelp.)

Hatfield’s – MOVED
(new location information)
6703 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 935-2977
Website: http://www.hatfieldsrestaurant.com/

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