Entries in Montrachet (2)


Exit Montrachet, Enter Corton with Paul Liebrandt


Ending months of speculation, the Times reports today that the former Montrachet space will re-open “in about two months” as Corton, with Paul Liebrandt in the kitchen.

In 1985, Montrachet was an iconic restaurant, blazing a trail in TriBeCa, which was then considered remote and even a bit dangerous—hardly the place one would put a three-star restaurant. We visited Montrachet a couple of times near the end. We found it to be serving respectable, mid-range three-star food, but some people thought the restaurant had slipped, particularly the Times’ Amanda Hesser, who demoted it to two stars.

The list of chefs that worked at Montrachet is practically a Who’s Who of New York City dining: David Bouley, Terrance Brennan (Picholine, Artisanal), Kerry Heffernan (Eleven Madison Park, South Gate), Claudia Fleming (Gramercy Tavern, North Fork Table & Inn), Harold Moore (Commerce). Looking back on the list of names that worked here, you have to wonder if perhaps there wasn’t quite enough stability in the kitchen.

The ringleader, then as now, was restauranteur Drew Nieporent.

Montrachet closed in 2006, for what was originally described as a mere “vacation.” Since then, we’ve learned that “closed for vacation” often means, quite simply, closed. It’s not clear what took so long, when the Nieporent–Liebrandt partnership was not exactly a secret. Apparently there was an ugly corporate divorce between Nieporent and his original Montrachet partner, Tony Zazula, who is now with Harold Moore at Commerce.

The Times couldn’t even get a straight answer on who owns the Montrachet name. In any case, they’re renaming it “Corton,” which like Montrachet is a French wine appellation from Burgundy. Sadly, much of Montrachet’s prized wine cellar was auctioned off last year. We can only hope that the new restaurant’s wine program will be as impressive as the old one.

According to the Times, there space will be extensively renovated to a Stephanie Goto design in “textured white walls, chartreuse upholstery and touches of gold.” Like many restaurants these days, Corton will have a “wine wall.” The dining room will seat 70, or about 30 fewer than Montrachet did. This will allow Liebrandt to expand the kitchen, which after twenty years is probably overdue for a facelift.

Liebrandt must be the most popular chef that has never had a successful restaurant. Whether it was Atlas, Papillon or Gilt, Liebrandt always attracted admirers, but never enough paying customers. At Atlas, he at least had critical acclaim (three stars from Grimes), but not at Gilt (a pathetic two-spot from Frank Bruni). We think Bruni severely underrated Liebrandt’s achievement at Gilt, but history will record that Liebrandt lasted less than a year.

We think the Corton team won’t be so foolish as to disclose their aspirations, but make no mistake: Corton is gunning for four stars, perhaps the last significant accolade that has eluded Nieporent. We’re a little doubtful that they will open in August, given that we walk by the site fairly often and have never seen so much as a peep of activity. But if anyone can pull it off, Nieporent can.

The timing is perfect, if they can stick to it. An opening in two months would put Corton’s debut in early August, traditionally a slow period for fine dining. That will give the staff time to iron out the kinks before the fall season gets in gear after Labor Day.



Note: Montrachet closed in May 2006—ostensibly for “renovations,” but it never re-opened, and its wine cellar was sold. The space (with the same ownership) is now Corton.


In March 2004, New York Times interim restaurant critic Amanda Hesser made a stir when she demoted Montrachet, the long-time three-star standout in TriBeCa, to two stars. Whether Montrachet deserved the slap-down may be debated, but the review stood out for its soul-lessness.

I had a chance to find out for myself last week. Hesser’s comments about the décor seemed to me completely wacky. She wrote:

Entering the restaurant is a bit like stepping through the looking glass. There is no coat room in the tiny foyer. A small portable heater set on top of a wine cask buzzed at the coat checker, who took my coat, hung it on a metal rack in the dining room, then looked up my reservation. She was polite, warm even.

Before me stood a dining room with sponge-painted walls and self-consciously modern paintings. It felt like a scene from “Wall Street.” I could picture Michael Douglas sitting at a red banquette, bellowing into a first-generation cellphone the size of a shoe.

I hadn’t been to Montrachet in years, and I suddenly felt the disappointment of returning to a childhood home and finding that the backyard is not so big as you remembered, that the curtains are kind of shabby. Montrachet even smells old.

I can’t comment on the coat rack and space heater—it being high summer, these accoutrements were entirely unnecessary. But the space itself seems elegant and refined. It didn’t smell old.

I was there with a party of three. Two of us chose the appetizer of Marinated Sea Scallops with Gazpacho Sauce. This was a bit disappointing, as the gazpacho overwhelmed the scallops, leaving them flabby and dead to the taste. The third member of our party ordered a Wild Mushroom Bisque, which he pronounced a success.

We had three different main courses, which all were pleased with. Between us, we tried the Magret of Duck with Pistachios and Cherry Endive Compote, the Chilean Sea Bass “en Barigoule” with Parmigiano Reggiano, and the Grilled Rib Eye Steak with Morels, Texas Sweet Onions and Truffles.

Montrachet has one of the most revered wine lists in the city, and it takes a connoisseur (or the sommelier’s guidance) to make sense of it. One of my companions knows his wines, and he chose a PlumpJack Cabernet Sauvignon — a brand previously unknown to me — that I found superb.

For the record, appetizers at Montrachet are $11-22, mains are $24-32, desserts $10-11. A cheese course runs to $16 per head. All three of us tried that, and I was gratified to find that it included good-sized samples of five contrasting cheeses, which is more than you get for the money at many restaurants in town.

Montrachet also offers four fixed menus. There are two three-course prix fixe options at $30 or $46, a six-course tasting for $79, or an eight-course tasting for $95. The latter is available only Monday to Friday.

Montrachet certainly seems to me superior to most two-star restaurants in New York. While one cannot judge fairly on a single visit, on this showing I would say that Hesser’s demotion to two stars was an injustice.

Montrachet (239 West Broadway between White and Walker Streets, TriBeCa)

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