Last night Alex and I braved the tourist trap that is Midtown this time of year (fraking Radio City Music Rockettes and Rockerfella Center skating rink and tree) to eat at Le Bernardin. This was meant to be our only meal out this month — something special to celebrate our birthdays and round off the year. Of course what actually happened was that we got a table at Momofoko Ko two weeks ago, and then because I had family coming into town for Christmas we booked a table at Barbuto (as I didn’t feel up to cooking for six) for the 27th. Then my aunt’s flight get canceled to we end up having Christmas dinner at a French bistro with my snow orphaned cousin. We’ve eaten out way more in the last two weeks then we normally do; so much so that our dining out budget has been blown for the next few months, and the thought of eating at Le Bernardin was feeling less special by the minute. Especially since I still have the divine taste of gnocchi with walnut pesto and a shaved brussel sprout salad (that should not have been as awesome as it was) haunting my dreams in a good way.
Anyway, that was how I was feeling until we started to get ready. Since it is French fine dining then it was a suit for Alex and a dress for me. Getting dressed up can’t but help make you feel excited about the night ahead – even if you are feeling a little gastro-fatigued, having to hunt through your closet for a warm frock because it is chilly outside, and the thought of having to navigate snowbanks in something other than wellie boots makes you sad. I should probably explain why we picked Le Bernardin as we don’t normally go in for French fine dining. We had heard lots of good things about it (it’s an outstanding fish restaurant with awards up the wazzoo), there is a whole chapter devoted to it in Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, and Eric Ripert, chef, is a frequent judge on Top Chef (and we are so obsessed with Top Chef it’s scary).
So we gastro ninjas headed out in a best clothes to dine on the best fish in Manhattan, and oh-my-word we were not disappointed. Fine dining can be a little overwhelming. There are just so many staff buzzing around, and funny little touches that throw you off. For instance, there was a tiny leather stool in between our chairs for me to rest my handbag on! The staff at Le Bernardin were wonderful, and make even the most fishiest fish-out-of-water feel at home. The dining room is gorgeous and feels like it is channeling Frank Lloyd Wright in all his art deco loveliness. I think Alex was a little disappointed that I wasn’t in the mood for the tasting menu but the dinner menu was four courses, and gave us a good variety of dishes. I started with the tuna tartar, then a grilled salted cod, for mains a poached halibut with daikon, baby radishes and turnips, and for pud a pistachio mousse with caramelized white chocolate, lemon and bing cherries. I wish I could have taken photos of every course because the plates were like works of art but it didn’t quite feel like an Instagram environment so the only photo I took was in the bathroom.
It was an amazing experience, and the tuna tartar knocked my socks off. It also, didn’t hurt that we spied Eric Ripert, the silver fox himself, making a couple of tours of the dinning room. It was a good way to round-off what has been the most challenging of years.