With a mere four hours between the end of lunch and my reservation at Corton, I was left trying to figure out some way to amass an appetite. Walking from Brooklyn to Tribeca and getting lost definitely helped, but I was still thirstier than I was hungry by the time I arrived for the most anticipated dinner of this little jaunt, and the food didn't disappoint. Entering, I was met by the maître d', a red-haired, bespectacled young woman, who once worked at, and strongly recommended, Eleven Madison Park. She walked me to a table, where for the next three hours I would remain largely unbothered by the all-too-close tables.
I started by ordering a glass of Grand Cru champagne--more to relieve my thirst than to enjoy--and asked my server how best to extend the very reasonably priced eight-course tasting menu. She suggested just picking the extra dishes from the seasonal menu, and Chef Liebrandt would incorporate them accordingly. I went with the foie, guinea hen and smoked caramel dessert; but when the server mentioned an off-the-menu mangalitsa dish, I had little choice but to tack that on as well. Now I don't generally talk about prices, but it would be just $55 for those four courses, a veritable bargain at any quality restaurant, let alone a two-star Michelin recipient.
Dinner began with a litany of amuse: a crumbly almond-herb-black sesame financier, a potato cracker filled with mornay, a fresh-from-the-fryer potato croquette, a sweetish corn pudding topped with black bean espuma, and finally a not pictured skewered cube of big eye tuna with a garlic chip and charred lime that one is instructed to squeeze over the fish. The warm lime juice glazed the fish, imparting a burst of fresh acidity.
With amuses cleared, out came a gentleman with a selection of breads, including olive-rosemary (pictured below), cranberry-walnut, smoked baguette and one or two others served with sweet cream butter and a seaweed butter.
The first course was a hodgepodge--asparagus spears, sour cherry pate de fui and hazelnuts--tied together by a yuzu-summer truffle mousse and a not pictured (I swear this was my last lapse) buckwheat blini topped with shaved asparagus. I have to say, the summer truffle, a lightweight compared to its hiemal incarnation, got lost amid the other pronounced flavors.
This next course--cherry glazed torchons of foie, pistachio tuile, apricot-black olive butter, brioche and a cloud-like foie chantilly with cucumber gelée and chamomile--was truly a work of art. There are a number of chefs who can make food look good, but not all of them can make it taste good consistently. Chef Liebrandt doesn't have that problem. I loved everything about this multi-plate offering: the element of trompe l'oeil, the flavor and the accoutrement. Dozens of foie gras dishes have been placed in front of me over the years, but none had made me as giddy as the one at Corton.
As good as the ayu with huckleberry purée, osetra caviar, a spinach roulade and shaved Japanese soy salt was, I think I was still smitten by the foie to the point where I seriously considered ordering a second portion just so I could experience that impish joy once more.
The next course seemed to be a pantry raid of sorts: variegated beets, morels, purple basil, chive chips, romanesco, eggplant caviar, saffron purée and a saffron meringue. Some of the greens were a tad unwieldy, but all of the component parts made for a satisfying salad.
Next out was the vadouvan-spiced monk garlanded with sweet potato gnocchi, a morel, red wine-hibiscus gelée, an abalone and squid amalgam with burnt flower meringue and cippollini and a flaky herb-fava-sea-bean tart. The coarseness of the spice blend imparted a wonderful contrast in texture, but also happened to render the flavor of the gnocchi indistinct.
Chef Liebrandt has a unique genius for persuading proteins into poetry, and that was on full display with the first of three meat dishes: squab breast wrapped in double smoked bacon and sauced with young coconut, turnip and miso. Like the foie, this is just one of those dishes one dreams about, the meat's uniformly florid complexion, its perfect cylindrical shape and the flecks of salt on top. Oh, and lest I forget the accompanying plates of a kimchi gelée with dots of kimchi mayonnaise, foie mousse and a cocoa chip as well as an eggplant-sardine-basil skewer.
Following the squab would be another clever use of transglutaminase (an enzyme that binds proteins): leg and breast of guinea hen studded with lardo and served alongside ruby red shrimp ballantine, braised cock's comb, romanesco purée, anise-hyssop sauce, a pork trotter croquette with a deliciously gelatinous interior offset by the crepitation-textured exterior and an anise-infused cherry.
One thing I haven't mentioned yet but probably explains why I was so taken by the protein preparations at Corton centers on just how aggressively they season. More broadly, this liberal use of salt may account for why I enjoyed Corton, Daniel and Per Se so much more than Le Bernardin. The last savory course of the evening was a mangalitsa pork chop with a citrus-pork jus, asparagus, corn custard, sesame crusted beet, king oyster mushroom and a potato fondant hollowed out and impregnated with buttery potato purée.
Moving on to the cheese course, here was another beautiful composition, as never before have I seen a slice of cheese used as a canvas; Liebrandt decorated the tomme de cherve (a raw goat's milk cheese from France) with shaved orange cauliflower, pea purée, peas and a pistachio crisp on the side.
Desserts at Corton are a textural playground, starting with the fennel sorbet, a sphere of fromage blanc, blueberries, cheesecake and blueberry tapioca, then the delightfully salty smoked caramel sabayon with caramel corn, brown butter crumble, blackberries and caramel corn ice cream coated in popcorn and finishing with the layered vanilla-saffron fudge with apricot purée, crystallized violet, salted chocolate encased summer truffle, matcha green tea sablé, green tea powder and vanilla bean purée.
The mignardises service continued the theme of deliciousness with the largest pear canalé I've ever seen, strawberry-lemon verbena and passion fruit pate de fui, mojito and pimm's cup (a gin-based cocktail) macarons and four house-made chocolates: palet d'or, Mexican-spiced chocolate, salted caramel and espresso.
In my mind, what might keep Corton from achieving four stars from the New York Times or three stars in the Michelin Guide is the restaurant's ambiance. With the cramped table set-up, it gives off a neighborhood restaurant aura, in contradistinction to the grand destination dining rooms of Daniel or Per Se. And the one detraction from my overall experience resulted from diners being far too close to one another. For the last thirty minutes of my dinner, a yet-to-be-indicted finance fucktard was seated next to me and insisted on making stentorian declarations trying to impress his date all while proving he knew nothing about the food being placed in front of him. This happens everywhere, I know, but not everyone should have to hear it.