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Apr 28, 2009 04:27 PM

Corton - a cautionary note

I ate at Corton a couple of weeks ago with very high expectations. My first meal there was fantastic. This second meal was a disappointment.

Our first visit was for the early 6:00 seating (not my desired time). I felt a bit rushed but other than that loved the food. Second visit was at 9:00 and, oddly, I still felt a bit rushed. We went with the three course tasting ($79) and added an extra course. It was called "Flavors of Early Spring" - an appetizer - and had a $15 surcharge. It really was nothing special. Miniscule portions (maybe 3 bites) and nothing great from a flavor standpoint. It didn't impress at all and I have no idea why there was a surcharge (when we were there is it was daurade and spider crab). The "From the Garden" which I loved the first time around seemed to have been simplified. Both the John Dory and Pheasant were over cooked and dry.

We skipped dessert (even though it was included in the price) because, to be honest, we were just so disappointed with the experience. Then the bill came. The extra appetizer (just one) we ordered (and please remember we passed on dessert) was billed at $42. Yes - $42. I know - we didn't ask the price and couldn't expect concessions because we didn't order dessert but I really left with a bad taste in my mouth. Just a little warning if you are thinking of supplementing at Corton , . .

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  1. So, let me get this straight: on top of your two savory courses (I understand you skipped dessert), your table ordered an additional first course - the "Flavors of Early Spring" - which, on the prix fixe, is listed as having a $15 supplemental charge. In total, that dish cost $42 "a la carte?"

    6 Replies
    1. re: ulterior epicure

      Correct. We were charged an additional $42 for the extra appetizer which actually put one of our dinners just a couple dollars shy of the tasting menu price. It really was a very bad value and a disappointment. By contrast, for lunch we supplemented at EMP with an extra ENTREE (very generous portion of the lamb) for an additional $20 (and there is the obvious fantastic deal at Jean Georges for $14 at lunch for any supplement). I recognize that this is not lunch but the contrast is pretty stark.

      1. re: CTGirl100

        Wait! Maybe I'm being totally dense here, but I'm still confused. The menu states a surcharge of $15 for the "Early Spring Flavors," but you were, instead, charged $42?! If so, did you question them as to why there was this huge discrepancy?

        Also, the lunch menu at EMP is 2 for $28 + $14 for each additional plate -- same as at Jean Georges. So, why were you charged $20 for the lamb?

        1. re: RGR

          The $15 surcharge is if you picked the dish as one of your two savory courses. We supplemented it (we each picked an appetizer and an entree and also shared the "Flavors of Early Spring" so we were charged $42 for that course.

          At EMP they charge $14 for extra appetizers and $20 for extra entrees (at JG it is $14 for any of the dishes). The $20 charge for an extra entree struck me as fair. $42 for a tiny appetizer (no truffles or caviar in sight) not so much.

          1. re: CTGirl100

            The Corton prix fix is $79, thus the breakdown is about $27 app, $40 entree, $12 dessert., give or take a couple of dollars. Given this, the extra $42 is about right, though a little bit on the steep side as the prix fix also includes the cost of the amuse.
            That being said, since you skipped dessert, they really should of found a way of comping you the the cost of the desserts you skipped, which is only fair.

            1. re: CTGirl100


              Thanks for the clarification about the surcharge. We have reservations for Corton. I believe in "caveat emptor," so I really appreciate the heads up you have provided. Rest assured if we decide to do any supplementation(s), we will certainly inquire as to the cost.

              Re: EMP. When we did the 2 for $28 a few months ago, we ordered an extra main course, and the charge at that time was $14. Although we have been there for lunch twice since then, we did the $68 5-course Gourmand both times. Thus, it appears the $20 per extra main course is a recent increase. I agree with you that it is fair because main course portions are quite generous.

      2. It's just a misunderstanding, all yours.

        You went to a French prix fixe restaurant. What they did is exactly how it is supposed to work. Now, it might be silly to operate a restaurant using French nomenclature ("menu" means "set of dishes making up a meal"; "carte" means US-menu), and doing it might invite problems like you had. Your confusion shows because instead of calling it a menu, you call it a tasting. They call it the menu, and they call the other option the tasting menu, not what you ordered. And on a menu, the word "supplement" means that choosing that item will carry an additional charge. It's quite clear that you understand the concept because you explain it, but then you go ahead say surcharge, and then misuse the word supplement. What you call surcharge, they call supplement.

        But what the low-level server did was punch the buttons they were supposed to punch, and out popped the correct bill. Bills wouldn't routinely get "reviewed" and even if they did, one could slip through, and then you didn't ask for a review either; I bet they'd have given it to you, especially if you complained about the dish, that's what nice restaurants do. Should the waiter have noticed? Waiters aren't exactly raking it in, they think the customers are all rich anyway, and sometimes they are in a hurry. I've looked around the room at Corton, I don't think many people scrutinize their check. Higher ups would not have known what went on at your table, and you didn't tell anybody.

        You say you didn't expect a concession because of dessert; ok... at a glance, you thought "$15 supplement" was the price, anybody could suffer a lapse like that, it's just weird to me not to take responsibility for it.

        At Landmarc, a hamburger is $15 on "the carte". Below that it says "add cheese $17". I always ask, as a joke to make sure that they mean the supplement is $2. The world is not a perfect place.

        I will reward the reader who has lasted this far with an actual cautionary note: I think the menu at Corton is vastly superior to the tasting menu. To me their small portion items are too mass produced and dialed in. For example, little medallions of meat don't give off a sense of actually having been cooked for you (makes sense once I think about it) so all those little things seem more pre-fabbed mass produced to my palate. I enjoy the larger items quite a bit, I like the restaurant.

        Now that I think of it, I think I'm done with tastings everywhere. Clever when they came out and were all the rage, but so disappointing when they are executed poorly (Per Se being my favorite whipping boy) I wish the old ADNY would come back.

        10 Replies
        1. re: acidity


          Where, exactly, did CTGirl100 say she expected the supplement for the additional dish she ordered to be $15? I've re-read her original post, and I cannot find that statement in it. What she did say was that she thought the $42 surcharge for that extra appetizer was too high.

          I do agree with you that if she was unhappy with the situation, she should have said something to someone in management. I'm guessing that to maintain her good will, they would have made some adjustment.

          With regard to menu nomenclature, I have never understood how the word "entrées," which on French menus refers to appetizers, came to be used on US menus for main courses. Talk about confusion....

          You say you wish ADNY would come back. Have you been to Adour?

          1. re: RGR

            It's difficult to understand what she means because she goes on to use the word "supplement" to mean "add on an item", when the restaurant means "supplement the price we are already charging you." She uses the word "surcharge" when she wants to refer to what the restaurant calls a "supplement". She understands the concepts, and her usages are consistent with standard English, but she's not following the restaurant's marketing code words.

            Yeah, been to Adour a few times... I don't get from Adour completely individualized feeling that ADNY had, and while the food is fine, it's not at the same level. I didn't really have a great time at Ducasse in Paris either (at Plaza Athenee). I found ADNY an almost flawless experience, and they kept track of everything on every return visit. As a result, I became a regular, but they did it before I was a regular.

            1. re: acidity

              Acidity, I agree with you that ADNY, especially under Esnault, was an awesome dining experience. Sorry, you didn't enjoy ADPA: I am eating a Lousi XV twice this weekend. Very excited

              1. re: sethd

                I loved the food at Ducasse under Didier, and it never really hit its stride again after he was gone. The staff in the dining room remained excellent, and Per Se has never come close to ADNY's service (part of it is decor... at Per Se in that wide open room, I really don't need to see that repeated "convoy" of food runners conveying the simultaneous plates all over the room. That "flourish" creates a disturbance for no particular gain, like a daffy synchronized swimming event. But discussing service at Per Se draws attention away from the mediocrity of the food.)

                I don't think Ducasse in Paris was as good a restaurant as ADNY. The French are a little too hidebound, and it all winds up snooty/stodgy, food and service. I'm not really complaining, I'm sure it works for them and I simply don't understand it.

                Have fun at Louis XV, sounds like a good trip :)

                1. re: acidity

                  Respectfully, I must disagree with you, acidity. I thought that the ADNY was at its best, most consistent, when Esnault was the chef and the best restaurant in New York under his guidance. Although my first white truffle meal when Delouvrier was the chef remains one of the best meals I have ever had in New York. Having eaten at all three (four if you count Adour), I think that both Louis XV and ADPA are better restaurants that ADNY. I have never found the service in Paris or Monaco to be stuffy, snooty or stodgy. Then again, my reservations are made by Ducasse's new york staff and my meal on Sunday at Louis XV will be my 100th in a ducasse restaurant. Like you I also miss the old ADNY and wish that Ducasse will open a similar restaurant in New York in the near future.
                  Ducasse is indeed from southwestern France.
                  Secondly, I think that Per Se is a superb restaurant with excellent food and service.

              2. re: acidity

                I never managed to get to ADNY, but iirc, Esnault was, at some point, the chef there. So, if it was so superior, how do you account for the fact that Adour left you feeling less satisfied with the cuisine -- presuming your visits took place before Esnault left. Our recent first visit to Adour was under Chef Dennis, and I found his cuisine quite impressive.

                ETA: Perhaps I mis-read you and you are referring more to a difference in service rather than the food?

                1. re: RGR

                  As you probably saw in my other post, Didier Elena was "the" chef who established ADNY. But even if it had been Esnault, I wouldn't feel a need to "square the facts" of the two restaurants. Why are the Yankees good one year and not another?

                  There was an interesting article in the Times a couple of years ago about an economist who had come up with a partial solution to predicting the prices at fine art auctions. There were two types of premiums, works of art done at a young age by "innovative" artists, and works done late in a career by masters of a technique. So, if we apply that (blindly!) to food, JG may not have another JG in him, while Difara will keep getting better till Dom is no more.

                  I trust my palate (you don't have to) and I'm happy to simply visit different places and I return if I like them. It's always sad when favorites disappear, but there are new ideas, new talents, and new immigrants all the time. As a tangent related to the above, a few years ago I visited the southwest of France, Basque country. I was astonished to see that a number of items that ADNY featured were more or less "street food" there. I guess Ducasse is from there or something? I "note" stuff like that, but I don't spend too much time on it, I'm in Manhattan and it's "where am I going to eat" every day that I need to worry about.

                  Oh, and I really care only about food. When I refer to service, it is only as a point of interest. I don't care about the terrible service at "the cart" Halal meat cart. It's the terrible taste that keeps me away.

                  1. re: acidity

                    While I'm happy to take note of the opinions you provide based on your palate, in the end, the ony palate that counts to me is mine! :-)

                2. re: acidity

                  Late to this party, but I appreciate your explanation of how things are done here. I must add, though, that if even an experienced diner like you characterizes Corton's menu phrasing as "marketing code words," it's hard to blame the OP, or anyone else, for failing to crack the "code." On a menu I much prefer usages "consistent with standard English," as you put it, to haute-restaurant-speak.

                  It's also worth noting that this kind of misunderstanding is not revenue-neutral, as they say. It practically never results in a bill smaller than the uncomprehending diner expected. Might it be, as you suggest, "silly" to run a restaurant in this way? Agreed. I could think of other words for it as well.

                  239 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013

                  1. re: squid kun

                    I think this topic has gotten way too much attention, so I'll keep this brief. Your own opinion is entirely valid so no dispute there, but your selective quotes of what I wrote make it seem like I support your opinion, so I wanted to clarify and say that I do not, and more salient quoting would indicate that.

                    Corton is one of the few restaurants in NYC that serves pretty interesting and inventive food, so I would need to go out of my way to find fault with it.

                    Somebody ordered an a la carte addition to a fixed menu and by her own words she loved the food, but felt rushed (hmmm.... extra course?) and was overcharged she thinks $12 out of a $200 food total, and she did not mention it to waiter or manager so it could be adjusted? If she told them she didn't like the dish, she'd have gotten $42 back, that's standard in virtually any restaurant. Like I said, this is getting way too much attention.

            2. i had the same early spring dish and thought it was incredible. spider crab in the shell with jellied crab stock and yuzu. extraordinary. the daurade w/ shiso and the scallop w/ uni also very good, but perhaps not as mind-blowing. the surcharge is because of the spider crab from japan. you're right though, "from the garden" is a little less arresting now than it was in the fall.

              the cod main w/ arugula and speck is the best thing on the menu for me. the texture, color and flavor of the arugula mousseline revelatory. in general, i've found everything at corton to be pretty close to exceptional. i have a really hard time believing your mains were overcooked, since i'm 99% sure all their proteins are cooked at controlled temperatures (sous vide / oil poach). $42 does seem a bit egregious for an extra appetizer, especially in light of the fact that you skipped dessert. but you probably should have spoken to someone in that case and tried to come to an amenable solution.

              3 Replies
              1. re: skrillcakes

                Just to clarify - I didn't think that the extra dish would be $15. Maybe more like $30. In any event, it was my fault for not asking. I will say that for $42 I was seriously underwhelmed by the dish and mention it as a word of caution if others think of adding dishes to the three course menu. You don't see a lot of $42 appetizers in NYC.

                As for the overcooking, it is true. The pheasant was dry and the fish was overcooked. I ate here a few months ago and thought it was one of the best meals I had ever had and everything was cooked perfectly. (The squab was simply stunning). Who knows, maybe the chef wasn't in the kitchen the night we were there but I felt the extraordinary notes were missing this time around.

                1. re: CTGirl100

                  Sorry to hear that you had a not-so-hot meal this time around. True, I definitely feel that prices are very high at Corton relative to the portion size. We're probably hitting close to Per Se territory here. The overall cost at Per Se is higher, of course. But you get more courses and gratuity is also included.

                  I was thoroughly stuffed after all of my courses and mignardises (they had a great selection). But I definitely can see larger eaters being disappointed by portion sizes there.

                  1. re: CTGirl100

                    Thanks for the report. We are going to Corton in early May and this is a very helpful thread.

                2. This is clearly the OP's fault.

                  If you are going to buy things you should know their price. Very simple.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: brooklyndude

                    If it's that simple, then why revive a thread that's over a year and a half old?

                    1. re: ChiefHDB

                      My original response may have been flippant but people look to this board for advice and I thought the common sense response hadn't been put strongly enough. This thread may be old but I was looking for advice about specific dishes or things that the restaurant does well and came across it, just because the thread is old doesn't mean it won't be read anymore or should be full of bad information. The idea that the menu is "coded" or that most restaurants should follow Jean George's lunch pricing are clearly misguided and should be questioned.