Tue-Sat, 5:30pm-10pm; Sun-Mon, closed
A, C, E at Canal St.
Seven-course tasting menu, $115; nine-course tasting menu, $155
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
Drew Nieporent’s past success insulates him somewhat from the raging economic hurricane, which may be why Corton has such a snug, cosseted feel. The windowless Tribeca space is the same one that used to house Montrachet (like that restaurant, Corton is named for a wine region in Burgundy). But the room has been stripped of all its old baggage and clutter. The state-of-the-art kitchen is set behind a sleek black partition and is visible from the dining room only through a narrow, bunkerlike window designed, it occurred to me, to show the cooks at work while keeping the chef’s tantrums from public view. The tables are covered with white linen and set with pink roses. The whitewashed walls are bottom-lit, like a giant fresco, and stenciled with butterflies, birds, and sylvan tree branches colored here and there with a solitary gold leaf. There’s a peaceful, palate-cleansing quality to all this icy, Altoid whiteness, and as dinner progresses you get a sense of time suspended, of being pleasantly inoculated from the cares of the outside world.
Peace and light aren’t chef Paul Liebrandt’s usual M.O., of course. The English wunderkind (he’s only 32) has been known to sprinkle eel with crystallized violets and flavor his côte de boeuf with coffee grinds before theatrically finishing it in clouds of burning hay. But on this latest tour through the New York restaurant jungle (this is his fourth in eight years), the perpetually promising chef has found his footing. There are only six appetizers and six entrées on the menu (the three-course prix fixe costs a reasonable $84, and an seven-course tasting menu is available for $145). The recipes are, as it turns out, heavily informed by the Greenmarket aesthetic, and that’s for the best. The avalanche of seasonal ingredients (squash, fall mushrooms, the inevitable “farm-raised” egg) appears to have tempered Liebrandt’s flamboyance and focused his creativity. The showy pyrotechnics have disappeared, replaced by food that’s technically complex without being exhibitionist, highly refined without being effete.
The first entrée I sampled was an expertly cooked medallion of squab, garnished, in a skillfully restrained manner, with pears, puréed chestnuts, and the slightest hint of bacon. It was followed by a procession of almost willfully standard restaurant foods (lobster, beef, chicken, sea bass), each one more ingeniously prepared than the next. My pink butter-poached lobster (Liebrandt’s a master of the slow-cooking sous vide technique) was scattered with toasted hazelnuts sweetened with puréed apples, and my neighbor’s Black Angus beef filet was made denser and more flavorful by the presence of braised oxtail and a platoon of fresh baby beets. Liebrandt’s version of striped bass is mysteriously sweet (it’s mingled with onions and hints of sansho pepper in a milky razor-clam broth), and the ornately plated Label Rouge pasture-raised chicken from France is smothered in a deliciously complex brown-bread jus.
Does the harried, burger-chomping eater of today have time for this rarefied brand of cooking? Possibly not. But in this era of encroaching restaurant gloom, it’s a relief, at least for one evening, to see things being done right. When I dropped in, Nieporent was checking coats at the door and perambulating bottles of wine around the room. The wait staff are attentive and admirably well versed in their chef’s arcane recipes. And the desserts, by pastry chef Robert Truitt, do what desserts in grand restaurants are supposed to do: They end the meal on a climactic high note. The worst, my tasters agreed, was a wan, tepid dish called “white sesame crème”; the best by far was the “caramel brioche.” This delicate amalgam of brioche, caramel, and passion fruit is pretty to look at, technically ingenious, and delicious to eat. Like many things at Nieporent’s polished restaurant, it combines the best qualities of modern cooking with the vanishing world of haute cuisine, brings them together for one last curtain call, and makes them sing.Note
The very good wine list is diverse without being overblown, and fairly priced.Ideal Meal
Veal sweetbreads, wild striped bass or chicken for two, caramel brioche.