NYC’s best-kept secret? Le bar at Le Bernardin

On Saturday night, I found myself famished with a wine biz colleague in the heart of holiday-crush Midtown. Where to eat? Where to find a table among the throngs of shoppers? It just so happens I was with the one person I know who has enough chutzpah to suggest we descend upon the bar at Le Bernardin — despite the fact that we were both underdressed, both in jeans, no ties, me in a casual tweed jacket. I had never been, and, lo, and behold, we arrived to find two empty seats at the bar. Who would have thunk it? They do indeed serve dinner at the bar. It must be NYC’s best kept secret. If you ever find yourself suffering from a spur-of-the-moment yen to eat at Le Bernadin…

Le bar at Le Bernardin. The Armagnac collection is impressive.

Raw tuna served over a thin, long crostino topped with just a thin layer of foie gras. Decadent…

Peruvian-style marinated conch topped with dried corn.

Chef Eric Ripert is not afraid to have a little fun with his dishes, like the “Surf and Turf,” white tuna and kobe beef, the former pan-seared, the latter seared Korean barbecue style with fresh kimchi.

Le Bernardin’s sommelier Aldo Sohm was named the “Best Sommelier in America” by the American Association of Sommeliers (and that’s just one of the “bests” he’s won during his international career… check out this profile in The Washington Post). He’s one of the nicest and funniest persons I’ve met in the business and he’s not afraid to take risks with his pairings. With the dessert amuse-bouche (an eggshell filled with chocolate custard), he paired Trappiste (Belgian) beer “to bring out the flavors of the chocolate.” It was also a great palate cleanser. Earlier in the evening, Aldo tasted me blind on a wine I perceived correctly to be Tocai Friulano. But not from Friuli: it was from Channing Daughters (Long Island). A surprise indeed. Maybe they can make good wine out there after all (in all fairness, my friend Jay, who lives part of the year on the Island, had mentioned that the Channing Tocai wasn’t half bad. While it didn’t blow me away, it had the wonderful grassy notes characteristic of the variety).

No, those are not goat eyeballs. The plums were accompanied by a gelatin made of black sesame. I’m not a dessert guy but I couldn’t resist the texture.

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