Mies van der Rohe and Eric Ripert have a lot in common. They're exacting about their respective crafts, uncompromising in vision, and dedicated to the honest yet inventive use of materials/ingredients. Philip Johnson, too, to a limited extent.
So it made sense to kick off our big Date Night with drinks at the Four Seasons. A dream come true for me. I got to sit with the old guys who were knocking back a few after managing their hedge funds. Or so I assume. I mean, they were wearing bow ties. Otherwise, who could these people be?
The space has aged a bit more than I would think, sort of in that midcentury modern institutional way. But it's still a timeless classic, and I had the feeling of standing on hallowed ground. If only the sublime Rothkos were actually in their intended home.
I can't vouch for the food, but the restaurant is still meticulous about every detail. The toilet paper in the women's restroom bathes in soft incandescent glow underneath custom marble light fixtures. Never seen that touch before. Drinks come from the old school boy's club of Manhattan bartending; no freshly squeezed juice cocktails found here. Then it's on to the new wave of perfection...
Thanks to recent episodes of Top Chef, the general public is more familiar than ever with he of the resplendent silver mane, steely sexy gaze, and the thick French-accented gentle voice. While not quite yet at Mario levels, the revered Eric Ripert seems to maintain a very busy media schedule.
The Le Bernardin tasting menu is a march of flawless technique and sophistication I will NEVER be able to cook myself. I'm easily impressed by all the finishing flourishes, whether it's a staggeringly subtle lemongrass infusion poured around a perfect hunk of poached halibut, or heavy red wine brandy sauce and truffled potato emulsion added to the hearty roasted monkfish, which is also prettied up with a few judiciously added fava beans, black trumpet mushrooms, and one Brussels sprout leaf. Thin textured skate, which I'd never experienced as anything particularly special, comes alive with razor-thin mango slices, and quiet spicy pepper and lime notes. Only the supple octopus amuse bouche and the intriguing corn themed dessert were delivered to the table as-is.
This kind of quality comes at a price, of course. New record: $30 for a glass of wine, of which I can purchase a bottle for just twice that amount at Wally's. Ouch. I do, however, thank them for introducing us to the remarkable Muscat Grand Cru Spiegel from Domaine Dirler-Cade. I loved it as much as the peekytoe crab with shaved cauliflower and mustard emulsion, its companion dish.
Unfortunately, Midtown sets the tone of the restaurant. Ample expense accounts are easing the pain of most of those three and four-figure meals being eaten on that Tuesday night. There's an uptightness (duh) to the business formal wood and leather-laden room.
I can't really sit back and breathe easy -- comfort isn't Le Bernardin's forte, neither in attitude nor cuisine (which isn't to say we received rude service. Quite the contrary.) The sommeliers wear medallions that double as tasting cups, which are prizes from a competition. Yes, we KNOW you know your shit.
At the end of the night I ended up with three prized matchbooks to add my collection. That Four Seasons martini gave me the courage to march into 21 Club, making the evening an experience of a Midtown classic restaurant trifecta.
99 East 52nd Street, NY 10022
155 West 51st Street (between 6th & 7th Aves.), NY 10019