CORTON: THAT'S BETTER
After my uber-smooth proposal in Central Park both Sybil and I were in the mood to celebrate our engagement and to put the slightly depressing experience at Jean Georges behind us.
So, after sharing a bottle of Saumur with my chum Cathy at The Bubble Lounge, we wandered over for supper at one of New York’s most interesting new restaurants, Corton, where chef Paul Liebrandt is already winning major plaudits for his cooking and, judging on the packed dining room, seems to be bucking the recession fuelled trend away from fine dining in favour of more casual offerings.
The last time I had eaten in the space now occupied by Corton, it had been at Montrachet and, while that charming restaurant was by then past its sell by date, I rather liked the room. Not so Corton, which eschews intimate spaces in favour of one large dimly lit and rather unlovely room.
If the room does not engage, then service does and, for those following the Jean Georges comments closely, was charming and efficient from the moment we sat down to the moment we left. The food too hits the spot and from the moment we were presented with warm bread and suitably soft butter you could tell that this was a restaurant where proper attention was paid to small details.
We both chose the three course Prix Fixe at $79, which began with canapés as we sat down and continued with an amuse of foie gras mousse under a thin coating of asparagus jelly sprinkled with a coating of roasted rice. Liebrandt, a young British chef is known for his challenging ingredient pairings, but at Corton, he seems to have them well under control and every taste of the amuse spoke for itself with the texture of the rice adding a perfect crunch.
Sybil, in full Foie Gras mode chose another livery dish to begin, this time with the foie accompanied by a hibiscus beet jelly and blood orange, whose citrus cut through the fatty slab perfectly as she spread it thickly on exemplary crumbly brioche.
My starter too had echoes of my lunchtime dish, again comprising a soup making use of Spring garlic. This time however, with a soft poached guinea hen’s egg, meaty morels and snail. It was, in every respect, the superior of my Mid-day experience. It was correctly seasoned, the egg broke to allow the yolk to thicken the soup, the mushrooms added depth and texture and only the little ball of snail flesh seemed like an ingredient too far.
Rabbit and seafood can be a challenging combination. The first time I experienced it at L’Espinasse, Christian Delouvrier had paired Bre’er bunnykins with lobster and was serving with a glass of Ice Wine, a killer combination that I can still recall every mouthful. Here, Sybil’s elements of rabbit came with sweet potato and artichoke, while the rare cooked scallop had been exiled to a separate bowl to sit in a slick of foam to wait for its execution. I am always happy to see rabbit on the menu and this was certainly one of the best examples I have tried in a long time.
Better than my own choice of Pimento crusted lamb loin with an eggplant chutney and ricotta the sort of dish that, while expertly executed really just reminded me why I steer away from ordering lamb in the US. The presentation and style may have been thoughtful and well done, but the bottom line is that lamb I try in the US seems to lack any discernable flavour. This did not change my mind.
The pastry station at Corton needs work and, while we appreciated the kind gesture of swirling a note of congratulations on our plates (Sybil having mentioned the fact in an oh so subtle way to our server) the rest of what was on there was undistinguished. A dark chocolate fondant was barely worth the ten minute wait and likewise the effort they kindly went to, to remove the coffee element from a brioche with passion fruit and banana (coffee being one of the two things that consign me to a night of projectile vomiting) seemed wasted once I began to eat it.
One of Corton’s real treasures is its list of very well priced “French Country Wines” and a bottle of something from the Longedoc and a well deserved tip for service brought our bill to just under $250. No small amount, but for a meal that served as a perfect marker to our newly betrothed existence, worth every penny.