Wednesday, January 25, 2012

corton - new york, ny
239 west broadway
new york, ny 10013

situated in tribeca, our second meal in new york came at chef paul liebrandt's restaurant corton. taking its name from the burgundy wine region, corton opened in the fall of 2008, and received three stars from the new york times along with 2 from michelin in the 2012 guide. although he is not yet 35 years old, chef liebrandt's career as a chef has taken several twists and turns. having trained under french legend pierre gagnaire at his flagship restaurant in paris, liebrandt came to new york in the early 2000's and worked at papillon, bouley bakery, and atlas before doing a stint as a food consultant and then was eventually hired as the original chef of gilt restaurant in the new york palace hotel (a job he was later fired from). it was then that he moved on to open corton and hasn't looked back since. known for his progressive cooking style and unusual flavor combinations, tasting chef liebrandt's work at corton only fell behind per se and eleven madison park on my list of "must try" restaurants in new york.

after a slight bit of trouble locating the restaurant due to an incompetent cab driver, i finally noticed the illuminated bottles in the entry way a few streets over, and carrie and i made our way inside. we were about ten minutes early for our 8:30 reservation, but were immediately seated in a comfortable banquette near the front of the restaurant. while the pictures of corton's interior that i had seen made the restaurant seem very plain and sterile, i found the reality to be much better. although mostly white, the room had an unexpected warmth to it and i liked the subtle touches like leaves embossed on the walls and the interesting spires coming out of the ceiling. i also feel that leaving the design of the room relatively simple puts the focus directly where it should be...on the food.

after exchanging greetings with the first of many servers who would handle our table for the duration of our meal, we with left with a wine/cocktail list as well as out first taste of chef liebrandts cooking. above we have poached quail eggs, a cracker filled with salty mornay sauce, and two other little bites of deliciousness.

shortly after finishing the canapes, our cocktails arrived. my choice (pictured left) was the harvest orchard, made with singleton malt scotch, basil, and citrus. this was a decent drink, but was somewhat dominated by the fruit flavor which made the whisky notes more subtle than i would have preferred. carrie's drink was called the spencer, and featured ciroc vodka, lillet blanc, and grapefruit. astringent as expected, this drink was right up carrie's alley.

as for the main event, corton offers two menus nightly. there is a a five course seasonal menu along with a ten course tasting. we went for the ten course without hesitation and requested to be brought three glasses of wine throughout the meal at the discretion of our server. taking a minute to speak of the service at corton as a whole, i will say that i was very pleased overall. while nobody was overly chatty or engaging, everybody was very pleasant and there was absolutely no pretension to be found. there was definitely a more laid back feel overall at corton, and it was evident right from the start, making us feel one hundred percent comfortable.

shortly after placing our order, the first visit from the bread man occurred. with about six different breads on offer, corton's bread program was quite impressive. pictured is a crusty french baguette, garlic focaccia, and smoked brioche. also available was a multi grain along with some cranberry crips and maybe one or two others. the focaccia and the brioche were my two favorites, and while they certainly stood on their own, both were incredible with either the standard or seaweed butter. throughout the meal, the gentleman handling the bread service was on top of his game, and i was able to literally have all the bread i wanted.

after downing my first piece of bread, the first amuse bouche arrived. i am unsure of the exact details at this point, but the flavors were parmesan and potato i believe.

the second amuse for the night was a single bite of raw tuna served with limes on the side to squeeze onto the fish.

course 1 - madai

as good as the canapes and amuse bouche were, the first proper course of the night took things to a whole new level. here we have madai served with huckleberry, frozen yuzu, and oscetra caviar. this was an extremely light and clean dish flavor wise, with the tartness from the frozen yuzu cylinder being a surprising yet extremely welcome addition to the fray.

course 2 - crab

next up was steamed japanese custard of peekytoe crab scented with orange blossom. the was another success, as i loved the frothiness of the custard along with the subtle citrus notes and sweet crab meat. this was a very simple course overall, but it delivered in a big way.

course 3 - tete de cochon

i had heard that many of corton's courses contain a side dish, and our third course was our first of four presented in this fashion. pictured first is the tete de cochon (pig's head terrine) with a smoked anchovy glaze, black truffle, and a charred pineapple gelee. the terrine was absolutely bursting with flavor, and i found myself either taking small bites or making sure to pair it with the other ingredients creating a foil of sorts. this is not to say that it was unpleasant by any means, but i have to say i am still surprised at how strong the flavor was. served on the side in an eggshell was a smooth and delicious foie gras that was impossibly good.

course 4 - spirit of winter

following the pig's head was the meal's lone letdown for both carrie and i. on the main plate was a black truffle glazed sunchoke, red cabbage gelee, trevise, and a huckleberry meringue. while not awful, i found the sunchoke rather bland in flavor while the trevise was too bitter for me. the huckleberry meringue added an interesting texture to the mix, but missed in flavor. on the side was more trevise (still bitter) with a winter red fruit sorbet that was pretty tasty and left me wanting more to go with the rest of the trevise.

course 5 - apple wasabi 2012

basically a palette cleanser, this was a green apple and wasabi sorbet with smoked maldon salt. topped with a bit of gold fleck for good measure, the sorbet was tart and refreshing, and certainly did its job of reawakening my taste buds for the heavier courses.

course 6 - john dory

for our fish course, i got to have my first experience with john dory. plated with savoy cabbage, periwinkles, asian pear, sea lettuce, and black truffle gelee, the tender fish was topped with an excellent green mango chutney. obviously there were a lot of components at play here, but everything worked well together with fruit flavors and earthy truffle nicely offsetting the mild and buttery fish.

course 7 - royale of hare

for our largest course of the meal, we were served another two part dish. on the main plate was a puck of hare royale with horseradish creme, bergamot meringue, pomegranate, and a chocolate hare jus. on the side was a pickled vegetable salad and an incredible foie gras and squab torte. much like the tete de cochon earlier in the meal, the hare royal was insanely flavorful, and when eaten with the subtlety chocolaty hare jus was really amazing.

course 8 - papillon roquefort

served with an oat financier, our cheese course was a super potent roquefort paired with a quince paste and sorbet. topped with some gold fleck for good measure, this was a very successful course with the flavors of the quince nicely offsetting the tartness of the sheep's milk cheese.

course 9 - rose grapefruit

listed on the menu as grapefruit in textures, this was grapefruit sorbet, ginger creme, burnt honey sabayon, and grapefruit meringue.

course 10 - vanilla brown cardamom fudge

served on a plate bearing chef liebrandt's signature on the bottom left corner, our last course was vanilla sabayon, sable noir, brown cardamom fudge, chestnut ganache, beet confiture, and matcha green tea. while the grapefruit dessert was enjoyable, this final offering easily trumped it. while describing the flavor combinations at this point would be difficult, what i remember most about this dish was how much i enjoyed it texturally.

following our last proper course, a wonderful assortment of chocolates, macaroons, and gelees appeared at the table. being quite full carrie only had a nibble here and there while i overindulged per my usual. as we sat in our banquette savoring the last drops of our muscat, i began to discuss with carrie where i thought the meal ranked amongst others we have had. while there may have been a course here or there than was better than anything we ate at corton, we both decided when considering a meal as a composed work, only alinea and our two meals at l2o were as good from front to back as what we were served at corton. while meals the following day at both eleven madison park and per se would change this, i can easily say that based on the factors of price, ambiance, service style, and food quality, i would sooner return to corton than any of the other places we visited on this trip.
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