Best of the Best 2012: Dining: Le Bernardin

Chef Eric Ripert’s temple to all that is piscine, Le Bernardin (212.554.1515, www.le-bernardin.com) has been at the top of Manhattan’s food chain since it opened in 1986. But while Ripert has continually and subtly updated the classic French menu, Le Bernardin’s dining room remained frozen in the past. Last fall, that finally changed: The restaurant closed for a six-week renovation, and when it reopened Ripert had a room as alive and fresh as his cooking. Out are the wood-framed chairs hunched over round tables. New leather-embroidered steel chairs and banquettes give the dining room a warm, modern feel. Gone are the gilded-frame paintings depicting fishmongers. Now, a 24-foot triptych of a roiling, moody ocean hovers on the back wall, as if to remind diners of the majesty of their meal’s origins.

The new bar seduces with flirty, low lighting, and the bar menu—a first for Le Bernardin—allows indulgences such as pairing caviar and oyster tastings with finely crafted drinks. Happily, the prix-fixe dinner menu continues in the same current, including a perfectly crispy black bass in a sauce of black garlic and Persian lemon, and charred octopus a la plancha that all but melts on the palate. While jackets are encouraged in the bar, and still required in the dining room, it is safe to say this New York icon has loosened its tie.

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