Tag Archives: wine

La Pergola

La Pergola at the Waldorf Astoria in Rome was never on our short list of restaurants to seek out. Actually, Rome wasn’t on the short list either, but when we decided to vacation in Italy instead of France we thought it worth a review of the Michelin list. Turns out, there is only one 3-star restaurant in Rome. There is literally no way we can pass this up.

This will be our first European Michelin-stared dinner. We’ve pointed out before that our French Laundry experience had spoiled us to the point that we wondered if other restaurants would ever stack-up. We speculated that France might have an equivalent. But we also wondered if the level of formality might go up with out being “nicer.”

Of course, this is not France. It’s Italy and that means several things: The recipes are codified differently, the flavor profiles are different, and the traditions for service are different. Also, Rome is not a foodie city. Then again, Chef Heinz Beck is German, so maybe we can lump all of Europe together. As Americans, this is our best option.

What’s the most important distinction between American and European Michelin 3-star restaurants? Wine portions.

Americans, as we know, are pretty tight with the wine. Six 2-ounce pours are about all you’re going to get on a tasting menu. It’s all carefully measured and administered. You’ll leave happy, but standing.

At La Pergola they do things a little bit differently. Each course has its prescribed wine selection. Your two ounces are poured shortly after the last course is cleared. But then something sneaky happens: they refill the wine if you drink it.

This has significant ramifications. If the wine is good (and it was), one might be inclined to finish before the food arrives. Refill. And if you empty the glass while you’re still eating? Refill. At this rate we are killing over a bottle a piece. It’s hard to know since we were not keeping track and if we had, would not have been able to do math.

Obviously it was a good night, if a little blurry. Moments stand out: The spectacular sunset over the Vatican. The water menu. A pleasant and nervous young man serving bread as if he would be beaten by the chef for bad performance (they do that in Europe). A trolley of unpasteurized cheese. The waiters pulling together around the credit card machine to see Mickey Mouse on our Disney Visa card.

We were generally impressed with the food. The progression of stronger to lighter flavor was unexpected, the reverse of most tasting menus. They started with beef and progressed down through shell fish, pasta, fish, then ending on veal. It worked well and we wondered if that was an affectation of Italy or the Chef’s creation. We would have thought to ask when he came to table if we weren’t smashed.

The most notable dish was the fagottelli. Little pasta packets containing their own sauce. They explode in your mouth like soup dumplings, Italian style. They are a standard on the menu and for good reason.

The menu was short on molecular gastronomic tricks. One exception was the tuna with tuna powder. No tuna is tastier than tuna dredged in a powdered version of itself.

What La Pergola lacked in tricks it made up for in flavor. Each dish was perfectly cooked. And cooked a la minute, so there was very little cheating in terms of plating pre-prepared components.

Desserts were very good, but again we are a little fuzzy on the details. Something chocolate. Something fruit flavored. In addition to the plated desserts a box with little drawers filled with treats was placed on the table just to make sure you were maxed-out.

Service was exceptional. Formal, but not overbearing. Courses were served at a regular, unhurried pace. As mentioned we were never to want for bread or wine. The waiters might have been a little over attentive at the start of the evening, but by the time the tables filled we hardly noticed them.

Tables are given a generous amount of space. Conversations at neighboring tables did not spill over to ours and servers had plenty of room to work. While we were seated on the terrace, we could have been seated inside because they keep two tables for each party; one in and one out in case the weather changes.

Overall, La Pergola met our expectations by showing a level of skill and luxury rarely seen.

Le Bernardin

Eating at Le Bernardin has been a goal for some time. After eating at the French Laundry, we felt the need to compare our experience against another Michelin 3-star rated restaurant. People have said that the French Laundry is the best in the country, but does that mean other 3-star establishments are inferior? It seemed unlikely, but it may be the case that we waited too long to try Le Bernardin.

Le Bernardin has gone though some changes in decor recently. Most notably, they opened up the dining room such that connects with the bar. While this is likely to provide a more inviting space to get a drink, we found it distracting. It might have been the plan to make the restaurant more lively and modern looking, but it seemed incongruous with the formal brigade-style service.

The dining room is (when looking from the bar end to the back) a very pleasant environment to dine. Rich, yet understated, it offers a generous amount of space between tables and is never loud. But while the room is very nice, we found that the staff never really went away. The servers maintain their quarter and are very attentive because the are right there. Right there.

We arrived early, 5:15 with the intention of getting in the Chef’s tasting menu before catching a show. We were assured that they could do it. At 7:30 we were out the door and walking to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. The pacing of the meal was spot on. Apparently this was not their first rodeo.

Le Bernardin is known for seafood, and we’ve got to say, it is fantastic. Not that they are the most inventive; although, they take from a variety of European and Asian cuisines. Simply, each course is perfectly cooked. The consistency is really what they are all about. Fish is difficult to cook and they can do seven courses in less than two hours and each one is perfect.

The wine pairings were also really good. Le Bernardin has an extensive wine list and it was clear that they had put some thought into each course. We were surprised by several parings, which is exactly why we let them pick the wine.

We took some pictures, but as frequently is the case, we starting eating before deciding to do so. Here is our meal:

Lobster and Mushroom “Cappuccino”

Leaping Waters Beef, Langoustine and Osetra Caviar Tartare Black Pepper-Vodka, Crème Fraîche, Pomme Gaufrette
Dom Pérignon – Moët & Chandon 2000

Warm Lobster “Carpaccio”; Ruby Red Grapefruit and Heart of Palm,Verjus Sabayon
Vouvray Sec, Domaine Huet ‘Le Haut Lieu’, Loire, France 2010

Charred Octopus “a la plancha”; Green Olive and Black Garlic Emulsion, Sundried Tomato Sauce Vierge
Albarino, Trico, Rias Baixas, Spain 2009

Shellfish Medley; Yuzu Scented Custard, Smoked Bonito Broth
Yuki no Bosha, Yamahai Jumai, Akita

“Ultra-Rare” Arctic Char; Truffled Peas and Favas, Butter Lettuce-Tarragon Emulsion
Sauvignon Blanc, Floreado, Cantina Andrian, Alto Adige 2010

Roasted Monkfish; Wilted Mustard Greens-Daikon “Sandwich”, Adobo Sauce
Pinot Noir, Duijn ‘Jannin’, Baden, Germany 2008

Lychee Gelée, Rose Emulsion, Raspberry Sorbet
Côteaux de Layon, Chaume, Château, Soucherie, Loire 2007

Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Peanut Mousse, Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Château La Rame-Reserve, Saint Croix du Mont 2001