Friday, April 25, 2014

Simply the Best

by Sheila Connolly

Here at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen we write about food, because we enjoy cooking and we hope that other people enjoy our recipes. We try to provide a range of recipes, from simple to elaborate; we offer options such as gluten-free, low fat and sometimes vegetarian. We might lean just a bit toward desserts.

But this week I want to share the extraordinary experience of visiting one of
New York’s finest restaurants, Le Bernardin, for lunch. That august source Wikipedia says “Le Bernardin…has been ranked among the best restaurants in the world by culinary magazines and S. Pellegrino's annual list of "The World's 50 Best Restaurants". It holds the maximum ratings of four stars from The New York Times and three stars from the Michelin Guide.” The place has been on my bucket list for years, and I think you can see why I wanted to go.  

But I seldom get to New York, and I rarely indulge myself in high-end restaurants, beyond pressing my nose to the window and reading the menu and drooling. Blame this on my sister: she decided she was treating herself to a Birthday Bash in the Big Apple, and I went along for company. She picked some of the stops, like the New York Public Library (mostly because of the scene I’ve forgotten in Sex and the City)—and I picked the restaurants. Worked out just fine, once she got past the idea that the restaurant of my choice serves only seafood, and that in most cases it is barely cooked (the menu categories are: Almost Raw, Barely Touched, and Lightly Cooked). To our mutual surprise, she liked it!

It doesn’t hurt that the master chef, Éric Ripert, is a grown-up (although just a bit younger than I), not some weedy kid playing with molecular gastronomy. He’s also written a wonderful book, On the Line, which explains how a restaurant works, and I’ve read it cover to cover. Oh, and he has a killer French accent. No, alas, I did not meet him, but I met his food. Close enough.

The interior (small, isn't it?), with my sister.
Notice we cleared the place.
If this were a restaurant review, I would analyze the ambiance, the service, and the dishes (presentation, flavor, creativity and so on). They were all amazing. Incredible. Exquisite. Words fail me. Luckily I’m not a reviewer, and I was there to enjoy myself, not to take notes. But I could not resist taking pictures, and of course I have to share them. (If you wish to torture yourself with the menu, click here.)

My appetizer: octopus!

My sister's appetizer: risotto on a bed of
thinly sliced artichoke heart, topped with
a slice of truffle

Most people will never have the chance to eat in a restaurant like Le Bernardin. Heck, for the cost of a meal there you could probably feed a small village in a third-world country for a week. But it’s nice to know what we’re aiming for when we cook, or at least what it is possible to do with food to make eating a memorable experience. In hindsight I realized I’ve been saving my pennies and taking myself to renowned restaurants for most of my life—at the rate of one per decade. The Russian Tea Room in New York when I was in high school; The Ritz in London for high tea, and the Tour d’Argent in Paris; Le Bec-Fin (closed) in Philadelphia; Lutèce in New York (alas, now gone), with my husband; Chez Panisse in Berkley (we took our daughter to the café there for her first birthday). And that’s the whole lifetime list. But each lived up to my expectations, and I cherish the memories. It was worth it each time.

My entree: skate
(my sister's entree picture never happened,
since we were so busy inhaling the food)
There is no earthly way I will attempt to recreate one of Éric Ripert’s dishes, so no recipe. But here are the pictures. Each dish is presented as a work of art (almost but not quite too pretty to eat). The server brings a small pitcher of the appropriate sauce and adds it only when the plate is set in front of you, so nothing gets soggy. Each component in a dish is carefully placed. Everything is wonderful: the flavors, the textures, the colors, the napkins, the butter, the guy who shows up with a tray with nine (yes, really) kinds of bread (I tried the sundried tomato with fennel, if you want to know), the French accents of the wait staff, the little black dresses on the women patrons and the suits on the men, the towels in the ladies’ room…  All right, I’ll stop now. And start planning for the 2020’s treat! (Suggestions welcome!)

And of course I didn't forget dessert:

I have no clue what this was, but it was delicious.
The cute little cubes are thyme-infused gelatin.

My sister's dessert (no, I don't know what this is
either, but they both disappeared very fast!)

And then there was the sink in the ladies' room:

 Such wonderful attention to detail!

I will not sully the Le Bernardin experience with promotion, save to say that while my Museum Mystery protagonist doesn't do much cooking, she does visit some very nice restaurants in Philadelphia.

Coming June 2014


  1. what a great experience Sheila, thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. Good for you. Looks and sounds like a marvelous celebration.

  3. You forgot to mention how handsome Éric Ripert is! Love watching him on shows and that French accent – oh la la! I feel almost as though I was there with you, Sheila. Thank you so much for sharing. The dessert creations are stunning! Can't wait to see where you go next.


    1. I know, I know (I restrained myself from including his picture here). And he's tall, too. My secret fantasy is to hang out with him and Anthony Bourdain and do a late night bar/restaurant crawl in New York (or maybe Paris). Are you listening, guys?

  4. Sheila - Thank you, thank you for taking us with you to such a special dinner. I agree with you on the "bucket list" idea of saving up and experiencing the culinary arts at their very best! La Dolce Vita! To a sweet life!

    ~ Cleo

  5. Thanks for the big night out, Sheila! What fun and great pix too.

    My mouth is watering as well.



    1. I have to add (lest I seem a truly gauche tourist) that I was not the only one taking cellphone pictures there!

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.