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Valentine's Day at Corton

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Corton.

The restaurant industry calls major holidays “amateur night.” Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and New Year’s Eve are the biggest culprits. Restaurants are overrun with customers who don’t eat out a lot. Many places charge outsized prices for less-interesting versions of their normal menus—because they can get away with it, because it’s easier, or because they figure that customers want “safe” food.

If you dine out all year long, choosing a restaurant on “amateur night” is a challenge. I’ve had some good luck, but I’ve also been burned. I’ll accept a price premium, but I don’t want to pay twice as much for food half as good as usual.

We guessed that Paul Liebrandt, the chef at Corton, wouldn’t be capable of serving boring Valentine’s Day food. The tasting menu price was jacked up to $205 (it’s $120 normally), but at least Liebrandt didn’t compromise. If anything, the food seems to have improved since our last visit. With three stars from Frank Bruni in the bag, maybe he feels like he can let his creative side roam free again.

I didn’t want to disrupt a relaxing evening with photos. You can see the menu on the right (click for a larger image). The Sweetbread and White Chocolate Palette were spectacular, the Turbot and Pheasant very good. An amuse that I can only call “foie gras soup” was outstanding. For the rest, I’ll let the printed menu speak for itself. Liebrandt’s platings occasionally get too cute, with daubs of sauce no larger than a nickel that you can barely taste, but that’s more an observation than a drawback.

My eyes landed on a $60 Ladoix burgundy, and sommelier Elizabeth Harcourt’s eyes lit up—one of her favorites, she said. After we ordered it, we understood why.

My only complaints are picky, but given Corton’s aspirations I’ll state them anyway. The timing of the courses was a bit lumpy, with the first few coming out too quickly, and then some awfully long pauses later on. We didn’t mind the pauses, but the earlier courses needed better spacing. And some of the runners need a brush-up on their mechanics: plates should be served and cleared from the side, not across the table. One server refilled my wine glass before my girlfriend’s.

For the record, Drew Nieporent was in the house, seating customers and busing tables. I had wondered if he would still be working the floor after the review cycle was over, but for now, he is. He told us that he turned away 300 covers, which I could well believe. Corton is one of the few high-end places that does not seem to have seriously suffered in the recession. Getting three stars from every critic in town will do that.

Based on this meal, I would say Corton is still getting better. Given how good it was already, that is a high compliment indeed.

Corton (239 West Broadway between Walker & White Streets, TriBeCa)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***

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