A Return to Corton

My first dinner at Corton last November turned out to be my top meal of 2008.
At that time Chef Paul Liebrandt told me that his initial approach was
to keep his food reigned in and approachable as opposed to  some of the
more unusual devices he had developed a reputation for in previous
stints at Atlas and especially Papillon or the ultra-luxe approach of
Gilt, his most recent restaurant experience stint prior to Corton. That
2008 meal at Corton, while certainly approachable and not flaunting
anything other than great culinary talent hit the mark and despite the
advent of a new recession showed that an ambitious new restaurant could
still succeed. I wrote at the time,

"The techniques remained in a supporting role and the combinations were
novel if not groundbreaking. The creativity that Chef Liebrandt has
become known for was relatively muted but certainly visible. The
astonishingly  impressive aspect of this meal, however, was how
consistently Chef Liebrandt perfectly balanced his flavors and textures
to get the most out of each one and more importantly to have each one
get the most out of each other. That a meal of this caliber can be
presented at the relatively inexpensive price of $110pp for the tasting
menu makes it an outstanding value as I found my meal to be better than
many a meal in NYC and elsewhere charging multiples more. Given the
economic reality of our times, that is not a bad description to have."

Since
that meal, the price of the tasting menu has risen to $135, though
somehow, even at that price, it remains a superb value. While the
cooking has evolved into more adventurous territory, it remains
eminently accessible and manages to avoid titillation for its own sake.
Technique, modern and otherwise, is clearly employed, but somehow
always manages to remain in the background, subservient to the overall
flavor and gustatory goals of the food. Platings are designed to
impress with visual beauty, but never at the cost of deliciousness. 

TASTING MENU

Liebrandt
has resurrected a conceit from his Gilt days. During my meal at Corton
last November, the number of plates brought to the table with any
course were comparatively few. Now, as it apparently was at Gilt (to my
shame and everlasting regret I never made it there under Chef
Liebrandt), each course comes with a veritable support staff of smaller
complementary plates. From the point of view of culinary and gustatory
interest, this was a wonderful thing. From the point of view of table
real estate, it occasionally became a little overwhelming and
constricting. A somewhat surprising feature of this service feature was
that the courses did not come with dining instructions. After several
times questioning if we should eat of the array in front of us in any
particular order, we were told, no, eat in whatever order we wished.
The lack of constraints was somewhat uplifting, even though a few of
the platings may have benefited somewhat from direction, most notably
with a biscuit served in its own small plate with the duck course.
While the biscuit was fine, it was not, in the opinion of the table,
worthy of its own plate and had it been left for the final bite as its
presence on its own plate might have allowed, would have been a
disappointing finish to an otherwise stellar course.

While the meal did not have any one course that blew me away to the degree that last year's Smoked Pasta with Burgundy Truffle and Gouda did, each course was still spectacular with a few meriting special discussion.

The
"Rock Pool" was a great composition with pickled peach with Santa
Barbara Uni, Peaky-toe Crab with a kombu dashi gelee, razor clam,
oyster leaf and smoked tomato meringue. Served on the side was a plate
of Pleasant Ridge Reserve
cheese with brioche dentille for a "crunchy textural difference." This
was paired with Kokuryu Ryu ‘Golden Dragon’ Daiginjo, sake. This dish,
true to its name , was beautifully evocative of a pristine sea coast
with everything coming together beautifully. While I was suspecting
that the dashi was gelatinized with something more exotic, it turned it
that Liebrandt used old-fashioned gelatin to achieve the effect that he
wanted. The addition of the mini- cheese course was a bit of a
surprise. Even more surprising, however, was how well it worked in the
context of the overall course. I might have expected a bit of a clash
with the seafood, but that didn't happen. In addition to the added
textural contrast, the cheese and dentille really sang when eaten after
a sip of the sake. The reverse order, while not bad, was simply not as
complementary. The sake enhanced the cheese more than the cheese
enhanced the sake.

The foie gras "cherries" were a very clever
evolution of his signature foie gras with hibiscus-beet gelee. The
"cherries were foie gras bon-bons encased in the hibiscus beet gelee as
in the earlier incarnation,but this time it came with a smoked
blackberry-beet ice cream with peaches, freeze-dried cherries and
Marcona almonds. It also came with toasted brioche and a
"Catalunya"-spiced butter that was crusted with cherries and Marcona
almonds. The butter is called "Catalunya-spiced" not because it
contains a specific Catalunya product, but because Chef Liebrandt was
inspired by the flavors of that region. It includes pimentón, orange
blossom, smoked cinnamon and smoked salt. We ate this paired with
Moulin Touchais,  Côteaux du Layon, Loire 1996, a bit of a "sweet and
sour" dessert wine, that like all the pairings worked beautifully.

The
next course was a slow cooked turbot with a tarragon-pistachio crust
sitting on a bed of Sicilian Bronte pistachios paired with Albert Mann
Reisling Grand Cru Schlossberg, Alsace 2007. The fish was presented
whole as a roast, though not as an entire fish, then returned to the
kitchen for plating. It arrived back at the table with a passion
fruit-fennel meringue, a pimento pepper-ricotta cannelono, a coconut
gelee encased cherry tomato, pistachio puree, spiced coconut jus, a
baby bell pepper stuffed with cous-cous , hazelnut, black pepper &
topped off with espelette pepper, pimento pepper "leather" and a padron
pepper filled with the same stuffing. The plating was colorful and
extraordinarily beautiful. Unfortunately, due to a relatively no
photography policy at the restaurant, I did not have my camera to
record the plates. While the description may sound over-wrought, it
wasn't. This was a symphony on the plate that blended its disparate
instruments in splendid harmony with each element holding its own
distinct charms, such as the  cherry tomato that held a burst of fennel
flavor hidden within or the rich leather that lined the bottom of the
plate. While the pepper-rich dish may have overwhelmed the delicate
turbot in lesser hands, the plate placement and quantities were such
that the peppers served to highlight and  enhance rather than obscure.

The
last savory course featured the brand new duck cross-breed from Hudson
Valley Fois Gras called "Lola." This duck, one of four possible
selections stemming from a cross between the fat rich Pekin duck and
the lean, wild mallard duck (yes mallard, not moulard – itself a cross
between Pekin and Muscovy breeds – I checked!), was the smallest of the
offspring selections and the one that most tasted like a particular
duck bred and found only in Normandy, France. According to Hudson
Valley FG, these ducks, bred only within the last year or so, have been
on the market for a little over a month. Prepare to see more of them,
though for the time being they are only available at very select
restaurants in NYC and LA.

The duck breast was lacquered with
honey and black pepper then slowly roasted (presumably in a CVap). It
was served with anise-hyssop and pea puree, grilled cippolini onion,
braised baby leek, coconut gelee, potato fondant, oven roasted fig and
finished with a combava jus. A side bowl contained a black olive and
Comté cheese biscuit and another contained a compressed duck leg
terrine with caramelized cashew and sesame with a dollop of black
garlic puree. It was paired with a Château de la Maltroye Chassagne
Montrachet Clos St. Jean Rouge 2004. The duck and the entire plating
was marvelous. The meat of the duck seemed richer than most. Perhaps
because of the novelty of the duck, but more likely because it was
simply so damn good, this was perhaps the most memorable course of the
evening for me. The one part that was most forgettable was the poor
biscuit.

The remainder of the meal, including the cheese course
and pastry Chef Robert Truitt's  superb desserts and petits fours was
just as outstanding. My return to Corton was no less impressive than my
initial visit. The dishes seemed more complicated and ambitious, though
still approachable and focused on being delicious above all else.


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3 Responses to A Return to Corton

  1. Tucker says:

    We had pretty much the same meal but added the vegtable app and a dessert. Unbelievable expetially at the price. The smoked beet and blackberry sorbet was one of the best most original things I’ve tasted in awhile.
    The white chocolate dessert was alot of fun as well the flavors were great.

  2. Tucker says:

    Not suprised at all they got two stars. Only wonder why they didn’t get three.

  3. Ted Niceley says:

    “doc!
    Report and video are fabulous.
    Many Thanks!!!
    Ted

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