It’s time again for a guest post by yours truly. Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of moving into a decent apartment in a great location in New York City. Seeing as my younger brother Andrew would be heading off on a five-month trip to study in Spain at the end of that Saturday, the Doctor seized the opportunity to take us out for some marvelous cuisine on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Friday heralded my father and brother’s arrival to the city, where they stopped for a pie at Patsy’s in Harlem while I was at work. I got a little upset when I found out that they didn’t save me a slice, but once I remembered how good it is I decided I couldn’t really blame them. Anyhow, once I got out, we managed to meet up and head downtown for a magnificent feast at Corton.
Corton’s website boasts flavors that are “clean, precise and intense”, and my second experience there only served to confirm this claim.
We sat down at our table a little before our 6:00 reservation because we were perhaps a little over-eager – I wanted to eat after a long day at the office, and the Doctor wanted to fool around with a new camera in low-light. Shortly after our arrival, Chef Liebrandt came out to greet us and see what we would think if the kitchen would “cook for us” – I love this expression – this night. Naturally, we gave the OK, and after we assured him that allergies were not an issue, he was off.
The first course, as seems to be custom at Corton, was an assortment of “crackers”. These were colorful, oftentimes crunchy, sometimes soft and/or liquid-filled balls of pure flavor that detonated on the tongue. Unfortunately, most of the flavors have escaped me and my not-so diligent note-taking, but I do remember them to be a tasteful beginning to the gustatory journey. For future reference, you won’t find me begging forgiveness for bad, oftentimes intentional wordplay.
With the preliminary mouth-amusement out of the way, it came time for the real amuse-bouche: a soft, custard-like egg with black trumpet mushrooms and a chicken oyster packed away in an open eggshell, one for each of us. The flavor of the foam had a slight tang to it, but was also sweet and well balanced overall. The morsels of mushroom and the single “sot-l’y-laisse” provided a textural canvas which the foam happily clung to. We finished these too quickly – I was hungry, and committed the sin of eating some bread. While the small loaves of olive bread, French bread, and toasted slices of walnut-cranberry bread were nearly irresistible at the outset, at the end of the meal I was happy that I refrained from eating them after the second course.
And I still haven’t gotten to the main courses yet!
Dinner began with a flurry of activity around our table, after which the three of us each found ourselves confronting four differently sized plates. The largest plate was directly ahead of us, and featured gorgeous, bite-sized pieces of seafood, from a kampachi with yuzu meringue, a goat’s milk Chantilly with Osetra caviar, all sprinkled with sea salt that was grated from a block right in front of us. I didn’t mean to imply that the rest of the plates were not gorgeous, too – they most certainly were. My personal favorite of the series was a kampachi collar, with Peruvian purple potatoes, smoked eggplant puree and wintergreens – the smokiness complemented the fatty fish, and made it a magnificently complex piece. Close behind the kampachi was a Peekytoe crab salad in the center of a bowl, which was smartly finished with a splash of the most real-tasting clam chowder I’ve ever had the pleasure to try. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the fourth plate to be up to par with the others – the only square plate of the bunch was occupied by a kumamoto oyster in a seawater gelée, with grapefruit, toasted buckwheat, and a Xeres crème. Although I generally love the richness of oysters, I’m not the biggest fan of mushy textures; coupled with a bitter gelée, the course seemed to lack what I like about oysters and emphasize instead the parts that I could do without.
From here, it was clear that we were in for a wild ride. I felt like I was on the red carpet when Chef Liebrandt announced that the next dish would be making its debut at our table. At his mention of the word “foie” my mouth couldn’t help but water; when the plates arrived at the table, it was all I could do to restrain myself from diving right in. On one plate was a layered cube of game foie gras – one layer pheasant, one layer squab, and a couple other layers that I didn’t quite catch, plated next to a mushroom and pine consommé and a wonderfully tangy cipollini onion. Next to the main plate was a bowl filled with salt; suspended by the edges of the bowl lay a small ficelle wrapped in house-made lardo. The flour for the delicious supplement was smoked with hay, lending an earthy tone to an already rustic course. The whole experience felt like a meal I might eat after a successful day of hunting in some Northern European country. I especially liked the way the small onion spiked the flavor of the foie when I ate them together.
Before the next dish came out, we were shown an enormous sunchoke. The knobby root vegetable was featured in the next plating along with coffee cardamom Chantilly with caramelized fig, gnocchi, vanilla beluta and a lavish portion of sliced black truffles. The course was, again, a masterpiece of innovative indulgence – each flavor was played expertly off the others, and caused this course to transcend my preconceived evaluation as “vegetarian filler.”* While we appreciated the luxury of the unexpected truffles, it was difficult not to see past the way they would “mushroom” the size of the check, especially once it was in front of our eyes at the end of the meal.
Following the sunchoke came the “marine garden”, a medley of seafood all presented on one plate. As the name suggests, it looked like a small, well-cultivated section of tidewater, but much more appetizing. The meatier aspects of the course, like the hama hama oysters, razor clams, and bouche mussels, were complemented by crème de mer, cipollini onion powder and a seawater gelée that was much more successful than it was earlier. A unique and delicious take on salad, this garden was a light reprise from two marvelously rich courses. It was immediately followed by another light dish, an immaculate loup de mer finished with a hibiscus jus and served with a black trumpet puree, grapefruit confit and a beet glazed with black olive and a bit of huckleberry to complete the plate.
Chef Liebrandt did not have it in him to let us leave with something light. Quite the opposite, our next course was a fantastic cut of “wild” Lola duck breast, that had been lightly smoked over spruce and served with a complementary variety of vegetables. Along side this plate, the ducks thigh meat had been confited and served in puff pastry In spite of the rather large amount of food we had previously consumed tonight, I could not help but devour the duck and its trimmings once it arrived as though it was our first dish of the evening. The duck was turned out to be a grand finalé of sorts to the savory portion. Afterwards, we were brought an assortment of cheeses, on a series of four different plates.
Unfortunately, my memory fails in trying to recall the specific nature of almost every plate, but I am able to remember one plate that was particularly exquisite. Crunchy pieces dotted an airy coffee-cream foam that was positioned around the rim of a bowl, in the center of which sat a well-portioned slice of cheddar-like cheese. The surprising combination seemed to have an unfamiliar edge at first, but after the first taste it became apparent that coffee and cheese (with a hint of fruit) is not so unnatural a combination as it seemed. In fact, it was delightfully rich while maintaining a playful air that we would see through the rest of the desserts.
The cheese was jointly prepared by both Chef Liebrandt and his pastry chef Shawn Gawle. As such, it was a marvelous transition between two culinary styles. Indeed, what we ate that evening served as proof positive that he has a firm grasp of his craft. When our first course, called “Winter Citrus”, arrived at the table, I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant orange “pastry” on the plates. The first of the two plates was as complex as it was beautiful – a honey and lemon mousse with white chocolate, wrapped in a carrot and blood orange gel. This primary piece was accented with a confit of yellow carrot with lemongrass syrup and Sichuan peppercorn, kumquat, crystallized Meyer lemon, and campari, blood orange and orange blossom gels. The course was complex, but not intimidatingly so, and the citrus medley blended together in a way that made my taste buds sing. The second plate – a variation on a carrot cake, with ginger, frozen blood orange marshmallow sorbet, blood orange cells and “carrot bubbles” – was almost as good despite not straying far from the original’s theme. The portions were on the large side considering the extravagance of each dish, but that’s a trifle compared to how well Mr. Gawle pulled off this unconventional winter pastry.
The rest of the dessert was a whirl of plates and pieces, and each little bit managed to stand out in some way or another. At the vanguard of this culinary procession was a plate called “black cardamom fudge”, a wonderfully rich, layered arrangement of vanilla sabayon, matcha sable cookie, black cardamom fudge with vanilla and cocoa, chestnut ganache and various other accoutrements. The flavors blended well and played marvelously off one another in this classically-styled dessert. On the side was another bit of vanilla sabayon dashed with rum and cocoa crumbs, as well as a hazelnut pastry with chocolate. The crunch of the crumbs nicely complemented the custard, and the hazelnut and rum both endowed the dish with a full, sharp flavor.
Following those main courses was an assortment of luxurious morsels, including a pear pastry, with sous vide pear and yuzu flavor, a brioche and pastry and chantilly cream for richness. We finished out the meal with Corton’s signature chocolates, macaroons, and pates a fruit, full to the brim but not excessively so. If Chef Liebrandt knows anything (besides how to cook), it’s how to take care of his guests. I’m glad to say that I was fortunate enough to share Corton with my father and brother as an introduction to my life in the city.
I would heartily recommend a meal at Corton to anybody that is willing to treat themselves to an extravagant culinary experience in New York.
*I understand that there is such a thing as good vegetarian food, especially in such a great city as New York; however, I never once expected that it could be so rich!