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 ofLe 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