Bern’s real beauty — meticulously cooked steaks, debonair service, and, best of all, the deepest restaurant wine cellar in the U.S. — reveals itself soon after you’re ushered to a table in slightly more demure surroundings. And by dessert time, after sighing over macadamia ice cream made from a recipe perfected decades ago, it’s clear that customers keep filling these baroque rooms nightly for reasons beyond nostalgia or habit.
It’s clear that customers keep filling these baroque rooms nightly for reasons beyond nostalgia or habit.
The wine program remains a thrilling pilgrimage for oenophiles.
Beyond the posh, psychedelic setting and the rhapsodic wine, Bern’s is a very good steakhouse. Shellfish stands out among the starters, with familiar pleasures like a Maine lobster cocktail, formed into a tower and surrounded by strange moats of mashed avocado that taste better than they look, and grilled shrimp over creamed corn and beurre blanc. There are 20 caviar variations (whitefish roe for $25 per ounce all the way up to $190 Osetra) and a charming, throwback Caesar salad prepared tableside. Seven cuts of steak dry-age in-house and ordering each involves a thorough discussion: How thick would you like your steak? To what degree of doneness, and how heavy on the charred crust? (A chart lays out all the options and corresponding cooking times.) Another relic from restaurant culture of yore: French onion soup (not worth filling up on), a basic salad, a baked potato, onion rings, and a daily changing selection of vegetables all come with the entree. But plenty of upgrade side dishes — creamed spinach with leeks, potatoes fried or mashed, truffle-laced creamed corn — tempt with their more refined preparations.
Bern’s was a whole-evening experience. At the center of it all, the steaks delivered.
After hours of eating and drinking, settling into a nook one among the room’s woozy lighting felt trippy and out of time, like a tiki-themed David Lynch movie filmed in an alternate universe. It was rich just to sit and listen and people-watch. As delightful as they were, I could barely muster bites of banana cream pie and macadamia ice cream. Somehow I managed my glass of 1977 D’Oliveiras Bual Madeira much more successfully.