Corton wasn’t on our restaurant radar for a long time. I knew it had two Michelin stars, and I’d never heard a bad thing about it, but it took my boyfriend seeing someone else’s review before we figured out that this is exactly our kind of place. “Wacked-out modernist cuisine”, he calls it. Like wd-50 and Momofuku Ko before it, Corton’s Chef Paul Liebrandt is making familiar foods unrecognizable and unrecognizable foods fantastic.
We opted for the nine-course, $155 tasting menu, with wine pairings. Wine pairing isn’t mentioned on the menu, but sommelier Shawn Paul introduced us to some really unusual bottles and knew when to give us more extensive information on a particular grape, so I’m glad we knew to ask. (So was the couple next to us, who immediately requested the pairings, too.)
amuse bouche: turmeric cracker, potato croquette
The amuses came at us fast. Before a menu was even presented to us, these crackers and croquettes arrived on a bed of wild rice; I barely had time to get my white balance in check before Dr. Boyfriend snatched his away. The color was indicative of that spicy turmeric flavor that puts me in the mind of curry, but it was the textures that I really remember. The cracker was thick and airy like a graham cracker, and the croquette was creamy with a liquid center. I probably should’ve stolen my boyfriend’s and made s’mores out of them.
amuse bouche: black sesame financier, mornay-filled potato cracker
Presented on an invisible layer of plastic wrap, these tiny treats appeared to be floating above their metal dish. I was pretty juiced about the one that looked like a Totino’s Pizza Roll, but it was actually a very, very crisp cracker filled with a buttery cheese sauce. I honestly can’t remember anything about the taste of the financier (nutty?), but I definitely remember its pound cake texture.
amuse bouche: black bean and corn custard
Maybe I had my hopes a little too high for an amuse combining one of my very favourite flavors on Earth, corn, with its favourite Southwestern companion, the black bean, in my favourite presentation, the egg cup. I loved the idea of it, but the corn jelly at the bottom of the egg was basically unflavored. The black bean was airy like a mousse and stained our teeth wildly, so we used our champagne like mouthwash. The really enjoyable part was the corn itself, which was slightly chewy and reminded me of the excellent freeze-dried corn in a soup at The Modern.
amuse bouche: tuna
Even back when I was a major fish-hater, I was eating tuna salad, because, you know, mayo makes everything palatable. Now when I think about myself eating fish out of a can–out of a can, people–it blows my mind that I could’ve been having this instead. Raw tuna is just so beefy. And this piece in particular was just so salty. The grilled lime added brightness, not to mention a little pink-salted ambiance.
Melon: almond ‘chaud-froid‘, razor clam, melon dashi
I had no idea what chaud-froid was and found this description when I Wikipediaed it: “a meat jelly that includes cream is called a chaud-froid.” Who can resist a good creamed meat jelly, right? Apparently–and excuse me if you already know this–the name means hot-cold in French and refers to meat that’s cooked but then chilled again and glazed with aspic, or meat stock gelatin. Mmmmouth-watering.
This was the most elegant presentation, from the gold leaf to the contrasting colors to the watermelon dashi our server poured into each bowl at the table, melting the clear jelly coating the bottoms. The jelly was acidic like the watermelon but wasn’t itself flavorful. The green orbs were beautiful but puzzling; were they baby watermelons? caper berries? cucumbers? They were crunchy and not sweet, and I would eat them on everything every day. With the chewy razor clams, the crisp vegetables, the gritty melon, and the smooth, rich foie gras, it was a delight for the texturally-inclined. This was one of those dishes where the sum total was much greater than the individual parts.
Our server used a spoon to tap a layer of dried chanterelle mushroom shavings over our plates.
Blowfish: ‘gnudi’, puffed grains, girolle (golden chanterelle) powder
When we saw this blowfish, my boyfriend I gave each other the “whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?” look. “Aren’t these things poisonous? Am I really going to eat a fish with its tail still on? What about the bones?” Any trepidation we had was forgotten before we were done chewing the first bite. I love Indian food, and this fish was soaked through with tandori and curry flavors. There were about two bites of meat on the thing, but I ate enough bones to round it out, and those two bites were tasty enough to make the potential for a slow, lingering poison death worth it. The leaf underneath seemed to be soaked with citrus, probably lime, and was a bright accent to the spicy fish. The octopus was just too thin to really make an impression on me, but I loved the creamy gnudi with the chive blossom.
Green Market: vegetables, herbs, lettuces
I would never ever order something described as “vegetables, herbs, lettuces”, and yet this was one of my favourite dishes of the night. Hence the joy of the tasting menu. The beet was perfectly earthy, the fennel extra salty, the yuzu a pleasant citrusy surprise. There was a crispy, thin-as-can-be eggplant chip to provide some contrasting texture, along with a “crumble” underneath it all that tasted like spicy buttered breadcrumbs. Even the tomatoes were fresh and unoffensive to me, which is really saying something; I assume it was the wonderful herbs overpowering the acidity I don’t care for.
Grilled Potato ‘Tiramisu’: lemon, garlic
The way to my heart is through savory ice creams in the middle of a meal. Unfortunately, there was approximately a thimbleful of sweet potato ice cream hidden under all of this lemon foam. I just loved the cold of the ice cream, and the foam ruined it with its room-temperature-ness. The foam, admittedly, was very exciting to a lemon-lover like me, and I was also a fan of the tiny textured cubes of what I think were scallions at the bottom of the dish. There was also a smooth olive puree to add a little bitterness.
Turbot: green crab laquet, black garlic, hibiscus, black garlic jus
If someone could explain to me what a laquet is, I’d appreciate it. Bewilderment was the general feeling surrounding this entire dish, but I’m not complaining. The confusion centered on the following:
1) What the hell is anything on this plate?
2) Why am I not eating black garlic every day of my life?
3) Is that cous-cous inside my tomato?
Whew. “Wacked-out modernist cuisine” indeed. The turbot was a nicely firm, not-fishy fish. I approve. The black garlic puree was smoky, thick, and sticky; I’m having mind-drools just thinking about it, and I barely even like garlic. The “tomato”, definitely the weirdest part, was a gelatinous tomato-flavored skin encasing what reminded me of cous-cous. Most of this dish left me absolutely befuddled, though. I liked everything, but I would finish a little log of something with a Jell-o texture and just be like, “Welp, I guess that’s that.” I’m not sure why I see this as a positive thing, but I guess I like a challenge to my know-it-all-ness.
snapper, pickled quail egg
These were the side dishes to the turbot, although we’re not sure how they were supposed to be connected to it. The snapper was super fishy and served over a puffy rice cracker. The quail egg tasted neither pickled nor even eggy; it was more like a floral, herbed spherification, which was actually preferable to me.
Squab: smoked anchovy crème, sour plum, coconut
These little birdie cylinders seemed to be wrapped in fat, but the fat wasn’t melty, and it wasn’t crisp, either. It was certainly much beefier than a chicken dish would’ve been, though, and I took a lot of joy in picking up that bone with my hands and chewing the unctuous meat off with gusto in a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The disc of plum with the gelatinous top was both a nice flavor pairing and continued the gelatin texture theme. The log of coconut was an airy, savory foam.
On the side was a dish of consomme jelly with a center of brunoised fennel and crispy, crumbly top like the breadcrumbs in previous dishes. It was honestly more weird than delicious, but I really appreciate the work that goes into a consomme.
Caerphilly Gorwydd: tomato clafoutis, frozen black olive oil
Dr. Boyfriend and I had a nice Caerphilly at Per Se, so I was maybe a little disappointed to be served the same cheese here, but this turned out to be one of the best dishes of the night and certainly the one we still talk about most. The cheese was funky, the frozen olive oil intensely bitter. The gooseberry was sweet (is that husk edible? ’cause we ate it), and the tomato and basil combination made a marinara sauce in my mouth. But it was that tomato clafoutis that really sealed the deal. I’m under the impression that clafoudis should be sort of like a cheesecake in texture, but this was straight up cakey. It really mellowed the cheese and provided a texture contrast. The truly beautiful presentation wasn’t lost on us, either.
Fennel: blueberry tapioca, fromage blanc
Again, looking at this dish was almost more satisfying that actually eating it. The blueberry tapioca looked like individual black raspberry drupelets (I just learned that word!) but were chewy. It was surprising and delightful–my favourite part of the dish. The fennel was a major flavor player for my boyfriend, but I cared much less about the ice cream than anything else. The rice balls provided crunch, and the base of a shortbread-like cookie made it a heartier dessert. It was really a complete plate, from flavor to texture to leaving me completely satisfied even without chocolate.
chocolate, caramel, vanilla
But of course there was chocolate. And caramel. And some character written on the plate that we could only assume was Arabic for “you’ve overstayed your welcome”. This was a spongey chocolate cake, a chocolate disc that was really way too firm to be cut without ruining the rest of the dish, caramel that reminded me of the best ones from my childhood, and an intense vanilla flavor that we both loved. This was salty almost to the point of being savory, but there were plenty more sweets to follow.
Our server came around with a tiered acrylic box full of truffles, chocolates, and French macarons. We have a history of feeling awkward and not wanting to appear gluttonous when the petit fours arrive, but this time I sucked it up and asked for one of everything. Well, I actually asked, “May I have one of everything? Is that too much?”, as if our server was actually going to say, “Hey, fatty, take it down a notch and just get two or three like a normal person.”
There was a caramel, a raspberry, and a mint chocolate, a Pimms and a Mai Tai macaron, a truffle . . . and some others. They were all wonderful, and I was glad I got one of each, because I could’ve eaten twice as many.
pate de fruits
I know pate de fruits are easy to make, but that doesn’t keep me from loving them unconditionally. They look so unassuming, but they always punch you in the face with flavor. These were grapefruit . . . and something else. Sorry, but I was really too fixated on the fact that the girl in the silver lamé dress at the neighboring table had left hers behind to commit the second flavor to memory.
I have to admit that I’m a little torn about this rating. On one hand, I have very, very little to complain about. There were a few dishes with components that were throwaways, but there were more dishes where every single ingredient seemed to matter. I really missed the pork and the beef, but there was a salad that I actually took joy in eating, and there was so much creativity all around that I probably didn’t even appreciate it all.
On the other hand, I didn’t quite feel the overwhelmed sensation I usually do at my five-donut restaurants. The desserts were absolutely spot-on as far as delivering me exactly the quality and quantity I needed, but I don’t remember many moments in the savory courses where my boyfriend had to quiet me because I was embarrassing him with all of my exclamations like he usually does. Maybe that’s a side effect of the creativity, though; if there’s not a pile of potatoes and butter, my vocal cords don’t emit the requisite yummy sounds.
It also may have something to do with the fact that the space doesn’t feel as luxurious as your Crafts and your Asiates. Nor as cool as your wd-50s and your Momofuku Kos. It’s somewhere in the middle, with an interesting flower-textured wall and an overall cave-like feel but a patch on the seat next to you and no maître d’ to greet you at the door so that you’re left feeling totally awkward as you just stop a random server to help you find your table. It’s perfect for the diner who feels intimidated by the plushness of Daniel but doesn’t want to sit at a counter and listen to indie rock while he eats, either.
I don’t mean to say anything negative, though. I think most of the food is great, the rest of it exceptional, and all of it wildly imaginative.
239 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013 (map)