Note: Corton closed in July 2013, after the chef, Paul Liebrandt, opened a competing (and less expensive) restaurant, The Elm, in Williamsburg. Liebrandt’s partner, Drew Nieportent, said that Corton could not survive while the chef was selling the same food at half the price across the river.
We’ve been big fans of Corton since the day it opened, but our enthusiasm was tinged with regret that Chef Paul Liebrandt wasn’t turning out the same eye-popping cuisine that wowed us at Gilt. But given the reviews at Gilt (not favorable), Liebrandt and owner Drew Nieporent clearly had to do something different here.
Now that Frank Bruni is out of the way, and three stars secured, the real Paul Liebrandt is coming into full bloom. Corton was a great restaurant when we visited last November, an even better one in February, and it is better still today. On Saturday night, we saw dishes that started to remind us of the best at Gilt, though the cooking here is more disciplined, the judgments more refined than they were at the earlier restaurant.
On a Saturday evening in mid-summer, Nieporent wasn’t in the house (not that he should be), and our favorite sommelier seemed to have departed, but we recognized most of the service staff, and Liebrandt was of course in the kitchen. We ordered the three-course prix fixe, which has edged up to $85 from $77 last year, but with amuse courses included it felt like a tasting menu.
Time is short today (I am getting ready to go away for two weeks), so I’ll present the photos with minimal descriptions.
Canapés included quail eggs with caviar (above left) and variations on the usual duo that we’ve seen in the past (above right). The technical precision of the quail eggs especially impressed us.
We had a quartet of amuse-bouches, all astonishing, with the highlight a foie gras mousse (bottom right in the above photos).
“From the Garden” (above left) has been a menu fixture from the beginning, a salad that could double as a still life. The foie gras with beets (above right) has become a sphere, rather than the sliced terrine it was before.
Cod was a beautifully-conceived dish, with three separate sides, but it had rested in the kitchen too long and had cooled by the time it reached us. We sent back a risotto (ice cold) for reheating, but accepted the fish as-is (it would have had to be re-made).
I also felt that Madai (below), a Japanese Sea Bream, was not quite warm enough, though it certainly wasn’t cold, as the cod had been. The plating was a work of art, and I almost wonder if the fish was left sitting while the artists in Liebrandt’s kitchen painted this masterpiece.
The Madai came with two sides, a preparation of the tail (above left) that I cannot begin to surprise, and gnocchi (above right), both excellent.
After a pre-dessert (above left), we shared the cheese course (above right), a terrific brioche (below left), and the usual blizzard of petits-fours (below right).
The wine list remains recession-priced, with plenty of good options in the 40s and 50s, though you can spend a lot more, if you choose. Service was wonderful, and meal was served at a steady pace from beginning to end—an improvement over our past visits.
It’s a pity the main course wasn’t served warm enough, but as Corton continues to improve we have no doubt that this, too, will be solved. We went home deeply satisfied.
Corton (239 West Broadway between Walker & White Streets, TriBeCa)