There’s something to be said about classic dishes, and how they defy trends to remain timeless. Avant garde comes and goes, but the classics always look or taste good, regardless of decade.
Like the fashion scene, the culture in the kitchen also evolves with time. Looking back, there are very clear and distinctive trends that came and went. The most recent being molecular gastronomy, New York’s obsession with tuna tartare and the farm to table movement.
Then again, true masters of their craft are not restrained to classically defined rules or borders. They have the ability, or perhaps the right, to transcend it as they see fit.
Ironically, if you call the chef at Corton avant garde, he’ll take it as an insult. Paul Liebrandt is no stranger to controversy, having made various unpredicted moves that threw off the experts and critics completely. Chef Liebrandt was the youngest chef to ever receive 3 stars from the New York Times at the tender age of 24 when he was at Atlas. A year later, he left. In 2005 he opened Gilt, a glitzy and high profiled restaurant in the New York Palace Hotel. A few months later, he left. In 2007, rumors were rampant about the imminent opening of a new Paul Liebrandt restaurant, to the point that Eater.com offered a $500 bounty for its location. That place turned out to be Corton.
The decor of the restaurant is very minimalist, with a classy dining area, tiny bar, and a small slit window looking into the kitchen. The wait staff looked professional, but not sharp to the levels of Daniel or Jean-Georges.
We all went for the 3 course menu, which featured familiar ingredients and very short names. “Montauk Cod”, “Foie Gras”, “Guinea Hen”. Just reading the names on the menu, you’d never expect what you’re about to experience.
From the appetizer on, it seemed like every dish was a complex medley of different dishes. Somehow my appetizer of Tomatoes | Parmesan, outside of the requisite ingredients on my main plate, included a separate, tiny portion of tartare, PLUS a nicely crafted “boat” of tomatoes. Buy one, get two free. The same occurred for all of my guests as well. Each dish came with a freebie, which soon covered our table with plates. Each one was gorgeously presented, but I questioned the method of presenting them together while plating them separately. Are the flavors supposed to complement each other, or do I eat one after the other?
Once we overcame the initial shock and started eating the food, the attention to detail was stunning. The ball of foie gras inside a jelly like blackberry skin was a sight to behold, and tasted phenomenal.
The same elaborate process happened once again with the main course. Each dish came with either one or two complementary plates. If we take a step back from the slight distraction and focus on the entree themselves, they can each be described as edible art. The cod, lobster, and lamb all looked and tasted exquisite.
If I must knit pick, it’s that the dishes were all a bit luke warm. Imagine how much time it’ll take to plate these artistic creations, now add the time it takes to plate the complementary dishes, multiply that by the 4 diners at my table, and we have an issue with the serving temperature.
Desserts were great, and contained quite a bit of gold foil. Needless to say again, the presentation was stunning, especially the “gold bar”.
In terms of culinary creativity, execution, and the simplicity of the menu, Corton is hard to beat. However, one has to wonder if having a perfectionist at the helm had a negative impact on the meal as a whole. Our dinner lasted about 3 hours, and by the end of the meal, we were eager to step outside and enjoy some fresh air. I liked the food, but the experience was slightly disappointing for a restaurant at this price point and reputation.
Footnote: When I made the reservation at Corton, I saw on the website that there is a photography ban. After performing a few Google searches on the topic, people reported that the policy was strictly enforced. Being respectful to the establishment, I left my DSLR in the car. Halfway during dinner, I realized that everyone was snapping pictures at their plate! So I pulled the waiter over and asked politely about the policy, and was told that the photography ban was lifted about 2 months ago. Bummer! I took pictures of the remaining dishes with the iPhone 4 with flash. Again, foodies, if you’re heading to Corton, the photo ban is over.
Photos taken with iPhone4
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Corton (Make a Reservation)
239 W Broadway
New York, NY 10013