Archive for April, 2009

Corton’s Subtle Pleasures: Five Favorite Features

April 8, 2009

1. Personalized service from the big man himself: Imagine Danny Meyer checking off your name in the reservation book, pulling out your four top for you then making small talk before moving on to seat his next guests.  It’s been years since he could or would undertake such maitre d’ duties for anyone off the soigné list.  In contrast, Meyer’s biggest rival in the informal luxe category, Drew Nieporent, is doing all of the above at his new and admittedly much needed hit, Corton.    

2. Liebrandt in his 30s: Atlas was a magnificent mess when I visited in the 1990’s. I’ll never forget the playful use of Pop Rocks and the early Adrià style foam, nor the only great bottle of Pinotage I’ve ever had in a restaurant.  That said,  I also won’t forget the vague whiff of horse flop from the carriages on the south side of Central Park nor the server who told us a cheese plate would take too long to prepare to be included in a two hour pre-theater meal.  In short, great food,  great wine, not such great restaurateurship.  Add ten years of age, a new venue and a great restaurateur to rein in the wunderkind’s wilder impulses, and you have the makings of a world class chef.  

3. Wine List Beyond Burgundy and Within Budget: Corton-Charlemagne at Corton is about as likely a choice at my price point as Montrachet was at Montrachet, but a great list of reasonably French “country wines” let me enjoy a pair of bottles well within my budget.  An Alsatian Riesling proved particularly well suited to Liebrandt’s lighter flights of fancy.  Cocktails are also well  rendered and reasonably priced.  Even a friend’s digestif of Maker’s Mark and Diet Coke came presented with just enough grace notes to make it seem luxurious and just few enough formal touches to keep it from seeming precious.  Beautiful glassware certainly helped.

4. Mignardises: Mignardises are to dessert what digestifs are to wine with dinner, a delightfully indulgent distillation and repetition of the main event.  That said, they’re also the surest path to late night fat sweats.  Corton solves the problem by letting customers choose quantity and type of post-dessert desserts.  Presented with the option to have it all, customers rarely do.   I loved the  salty caramels with dark chocolate that I picked out, and I also loved going home full not stuffed.

5. The Room:  As far as restaurant terroir goes, Corton maxes out on sense of place.   This an instantly unique and unrepeatable space.   No armies of waiters in avant garde uniforms nor gilded ceilings, just all the small touches.  In short, it seems that Nieporent aims to do for luxury what Meyer does for hospitality:  make you forget it’s there until you go somewhere else and note its absence or exaggeration.