Archive for the ‘Tribeca’ Category

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. 


The Harrison at the Crossroads: Last Supper Before Freitag Takes the Toque

January 8, 2008

Sometimes I fear I was born too late for a good meal in New York. I arrived at Country as Doug Psaltis headed out, at Parea as Michael Symon closed shop and at Gramercy Tavern as Tom Colicchio was selling his interest. That said, Michael Anthony reinvigorated Gramercy’s dated menu and proved a restaurant need not lose its soul in a shift from rustic to refined cuisine. So I hold out hope as I watch the Harrison go in the opposite direction, with hearty Italian to be the new idiom under Amanda Freitag and the refined French-American of Brian Bistrong to be a thing of the past. For curiosity’s sake, I took in one last supper before the transition. Here are a few high and low points of my visit.

1) Warm Service: They have you at hello and cradle you through to the outsized tip you can’t help but leave. Good hosts, better servers. Highly trained in the hard skills of waiting, they also have the emotional antennae for the subtle stuff, like when to talk up a table and when to fade into the background. A couple of key adjustments to right the meal, including reconceiving a dish on the fly when the sauce proved unappealing, and pacing the dessert and after-dinner drinks just right, closed out the night as well as it was opened.

2) Warm Space: On a recent snowy night, the interior of rustic wood floors and cabinets, artful food displays and visible cooking flames pulled me into the room and made me want to stay until spring time, especially when cabs were so hard to come by. Only thing missing from haute tavern look was an haute tavern smell. Great feel, great light.

3) Warm Wine: Warmth is great in servers and decor; it’s no fun at all in a bottle of red. The wine stored on shelves in the main dining room is precisely the temperature of the room—and that’s no good for white, pink or red. Either throw in mulling spices or cool the bottles down ten degrees.

4) Cool Wine List: Lovely stemware, thoughtful selection advice and intuitive wine service—no aggressive topping off, no empties either—made me want to return for further explorations. Particularly strong in rare, reasonable and spicy Austrians—yes, they exist. It’s hard to blow more than 100 dollars on a bottle and it’s even harder to make a bad choice. I used to take Shake Shack’s list as a starting point for summer wine buying for picnic fare; I think the Harrison’s will work equally well for dressed up winter dinner parties.

5) Uncool Bathroom Behavior: I love a booze-soaked bacchanalia as much as the next self-indulgent sybarite, but is anyone ever really so drunk at a deal dinner as to need to pee in the sink when a urinal is, literally, steps away? A hard-partying bespoke type staggered in ahead of me from the basement’s private event space and let fly with a jeroboam of indescribables. Fortunately, a small batch bourbon restored my spirits before I headed out into the night. Let’s hope Freitag’s rustic Italian fare adds some refinement to the downstairs guests, and keeps some refinement on the upstairs tables.

Coda: I don’t comment much on the food in this entry as it’s not likely to be around much longer. My experience on this night was that conception outstripped execution from start to finish. Dishes often sounded better than they tasted, particularly the biscuits with razor clams, chorizo and gravy. I’d had a wonderful razor clam-chorizo dish at the Slanted Door a few months earlier and perhaps came into the Harrison with overly high hopes. The expected contrast of flavors and textures was lost under the taste-deadening glutinous gravy. Similar problems afflicted the unbalanced funk of the spaetzle. In sum, at the end of an era and start of a brief but cold winter, the back—but not the front—of house team might benefit from some new blood.

Blaue Gans: Tribeca’s Best Wurst

June 26, 2007

5 Hits and Misses at Blaue Gans

1) Happening house made sausages: The brat and weiss wursts were snappy well cooked delights. Perfectly set off by beds of sauerkraut, a good biting mustard and a few vinegared potatoes. Great as morning, lunch or late night fare.

2) Belly busting butter poached apricot jelly rolls:
Sounds too rich; isn’t. A great plate to split with two or three table mates. Like IHOP’s international pancakes, but oh so much better.

3) Child friendly chopped pancake with apple compote: Served with chewable cinammon stick and cut into bite sized pieces. Just like back when you needed help cutting your food. Perfect for handfeeding the little ones or sharing. Dangerous to eat alongside greedy table mates.

4) Funky feel with nary a hint of black turtlenecked pretense: The vaulted ceiling is papered in vintage posters taken from the German-speaking arts world. They add color and light to the open space. They also seem to have absorbed just enough beer funk to suggest a mild hangover after a great one night stand–the kind where you might have breakfast together at Blaue Gans before going your separate ways.

5) Sour Coffee Sloppily Served: The standard brew here is wan, watery, and worse still, never refilled. I don’t expect a parade of delicious treatments of schlag and espresso in the Café Sabarsky mode nor beautiful coffee service in the Café Gray mode; I do expect a committed flavor and a decent looking mug. The only off note during a gracefully executed and graciously served meal and an easily remedied problem.