Corton – An Extended Tasting Menu for My Birthday
For those of you who followed me over the years, notably on Twitter, it’s not a secret that I ate at Corton around the same date back in 2008. Pretty much, I live tweeted through that dinner as I learned back then, unexpectedly and to my own distress, photographs of any kind was banned. From my own memory, I recalled beautiful plates of food served to me. It was generally good but can’t pinpoint exactly what really blew my mind.
Fast forward to several days ago, I made the visit again for the same occasion except the photo ban was lifted (of course, no flash photography) so at least it’s a good start. When I made reservations, I have requested if my table have one of each menu, it was noted and I was told by the reservationist that it would be taken care of, despite of the fact Chef Liebrandt prefers one menu per table.
After checking in and settle in, my dining companion and I started with a Champagne toast of Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Réserve. Very well rounded, elegant glass of Champagne.
In a few moments, we were presented with the current menus – the 6-course Seasonal Tasting and the 9-course Chefs Tasting. When presented with those said menus at the table, I inquired about my earlier conversation to my server.
She consulted the Chef and said he will cook a mix of the Chef’s and Seasonal menus but we will have the same food. I agreed with this arrangement and ended up to an equivalent to an omakase (in Japanese meaning “I’ll leave it to you”). This meal ended up becoming a relative marathon of more than twenty courses (about 40 dishes served, as you see the enlarged scan of my menu seen above – and about a third are not on their normal menus), dining at this very fine establishment for 5.5 hours.
In all, Chef Liebrandt’s style of cooking is not mainstream, per se, to an average diner. His globally influenced food challenges you intellectually. Each beautiful, tediously plated dish that is presented before you will make you think when you take the first bite. You would pause for a minute and you’d be thinking how oddly wonderful it tastes – the unexpected flavor pairings and textures. He’s one of the few chefs that would ever push your boundaries gastronomically and succeed doing so.
Since I do not want to drown you with babble about this meal of epic proportions, I’ll offer you the highlights.
My fifth course, Madai, a mild Japanese Wild Red Snapper, evenly layered with Osetra caviar, topped with a tissue-thin daikon that’s speckled in rose, huckleberry (the dots outside the fish), gently accented with grated fresh yuzu. This was a very well thought out dish. The beautiful madai was the star of the dish while its accompaniments gave the overall dish subtle complexity of bitterness and crunchy (daikon), sweet (rose and huckleberry), butteriness from the Osetra caviar (the most prized and expensive of all caviar).
Generally, I’m a sucker for all things foie gras – something about the rich, unctuous livery flavor that makes it delicious. Chef Liebrandt made it much more interesting by applying it in different preparations in a in the third course: Foie gras, beet and hibiscus, pickled Persian raisins, almond, acompanied with foie gras chantilly, red pepper gelée, espelette pepper. The former was playing with subtle sweetness and tartness with a kiss of crunch and heat (from the espelette topped halved pear heirloom tomato).
The larger accompaniment of the chantilly echoed the spice of the previous dish. This particular preparation was easy to love, as it was an aerated, creamy, peppery foie gras dream that is hard to say for this rich liver – refreshing.
The other bite of foie gras part of the seventh course: sunchoke, featuring a foie gras croquette, pineapple-ancho pepper chutney, and black bean velouté. Astonishingly crisp crust despite of the cold foie gras interior paired so well with the sweet-spicy chutney. I don’t mind eating these croquettes by the bucket.
Squid smoked in hay, Seckel pear, puffed rice cracker, sea cress, ricotta gnudi, caramelized squid consommé from course six was probably as close as Asian as Chef Liebrandt would ever serve in his restaurant. The soy-like flavors from the delicious consommé (I spooned every drop and would like to request for more) with the crunchy rice cracker, creamy gnudi, and the tender squid was a harmonious zen of flavors.
The most mind bending course of this meal was my tenth course: Potato – grilled potato ice cream, Meyer lemon creme, Kamebishi soy salt. Frankly, I would never think in my lifetime I would eat and like grilled potato ice cream. It sounds very strange. When I ate my first bite of this concoction, it was initially odd. Chilled Meyer lemon cream that’s subtly sweet and tart actually worked with the slightly warm and lightly smoky potato ice cream. The salt made a huge difference from making this dish not a dessert.
Wild Red-Legged Partridge from the Highlands of Scotland seasoned with house made lardo, pumpkin coffee purée, Meyer lemon marmalade, pork belly glazed with roasting juices was intricately plated. Beyond its aesthetic, it was sublime> Liebrandt took parts of the tiny game bird and made sausage-like rolls – the one wrapped in white lardo is made of leg meat and the other is breast. If I ever wanted to have an avian game sausage, I’ll seek him to make it for me. It’s robustly flavored and balanced that the sausages worked with the other potent flavors accompanying the dishes.
My favorite savory course of the night was the first preparation of lamb: roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Neck, grapefruit mostarda, lamb sweetbread, smoked anchovy creme, panisse, Sicilian pistachio purée, chickpea cracker, drizzled with delicate licorice jus. The succulent lamb sweetbread and the little brick of neck were divine with the bitter accents of the mostarda, saltiness of the anchovy, and the wonderful delicately nutty flavor of the pistachios that coated the sweetbread. I had my foodgasm from this plate.
As I’ve observed from the many diners before us that evening, had their pre-dessert of ‘Riesling’, I was amused by the effervescent bubbles that does not seem to pop as waiters carried it to different tables. When it reached my table, it’s hard to elicit a comment like “adorable” because of its cloud-like topper of the sweet Galia melon soup. The combination of white balsamic gelée, cucumber, Riseling sorbet, elderflower ecume created this rejuvenating effect on me and my dining companion’s stomach. Somehow, we’re able to eat more despite the fact we thought we’re really full when this dish graced our table.
I have tried a taste (literally) of Pastry Chef Shawn Gawle’s desserts at StarChefs Rising Stars Gala a month ago, I’m intrigued to see how his desserts would tailor into the complex style of Chef Liebrandt’s food.
Gawle’s Fennel was unusual yet very likable. (I don’t tend to associate fennel with dessert despite of its common pairing with chocolate. And I’m not a big fan of the latter.) This dessert was composed of Japanese cheesecake, fromage blanc, fennel sorbet, blueberry cremeaux, freeze-dried blueberries, tapioca of local wild blueberries. It was a play between sweet and salty. The anise flavors of the fennel was the main focus of the dish but the sweetness of the blueberries, creaminess of the cheesecake and fromage blanc combined into a very well thought out dessert.
Sesame was a similar reiteration to what I did have at StarChefs’ Gala. The difference between then and the one seen here is the use of less concord grape (this one didn’t have the liquid nitrogen frozen concord granite) and really honed in on the sesame flavor. The custard was silky and incredibly nutty, as the concord grape gave it a lift of the earthy flavors.
Probably the most exceptional sweet was this off-menu dessert – the Hazelnut ‘bun’. This dessert is not a bun, bread or anything remotely been baked in an oven (it’s cooked in a microwave – like a microwave sponge that’s done by many pastry chefs within the past several years). It’s incredibly hazelnutty, mousse-like dessert that is unexpectedly creamy and airy. The touch of cocoa powder and decadent hot fudge made it delicious. I would consider this the second mind bending dish of the night.
Just in case the kitchen didn’t think we’re full enough, they sent out a well-made canelé whose perfectly caramelized crust had a wonderfully custardy interior; trays of petit fours: a duo of macaron flavors (Mai Tai and Bourbon toffee), four flavors of bonbons (which were excellent and can outdo other chocolate shops in NYC), and delightful silver tray Kalamansi-black currant paté de fruit. ‘The Egg’ was filled with mango sorbet (texture was more like mango anglaise, actually) and topped lemongrass meringue was the final bite of the night.
At the end of the meal, about the time my friend and I were about to ask for the check, my old high school classmate from Advanced Placement Chemistry came out to say ‘Hi’ to us (he’s one of the sous chefs of Chef Liebrandt). It’s been seven years since we’ve seen each other and I would never expected to cross each other’s paths after high school. The world definitely felt smaller (in a good way) and I was glad to see him after all these years.
This grandiose meal was certainly unforgettable in many ways. After paying the check, we were the last diners to leave. We picked up our coats, hailed a cab and reeled in this amazing experience.
To view the photos of my entire meal, please scroll through my slideshow below (or on my Flickr set):
239 West Broadway (near N Moore St)
New York, NY 10013
2* Michelin rated
3* The New York Times rated