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Oct 18, 2012 12:02 PM

Corton, again! (review)

I had a lovely dinner. What keeps me coming back is the sophisticated cookery and the playing around with ideas. The food at Corton does tend to polarize diners, mostly because it's ambiguous whether a dish came out "bad", or it was new and unfamiliar. It makes me think to Shojin cuisine, which tells us that in even a mundane activity like eating, there exist levels of intellectual, spiritual, cultural development above and beyond mere sensual pleasure. Tasty food is easy to do: obtain fresh, expensive ingredients, and then serve them simply. But there are other ways that food can be exciting, and even edifying, and it's awesome that some of the important boundary-pushing, exploration, and fusion of ideas is happening right here in NYC.

- Every course was good. Yes, there were weaknesses, but I don't require "perfection", and the good parts delivered.
- Visual/architectural appeal is amazing - clean, precise. There are virtuosic levels of plating in other restaurants, but Corton's aesthetic is unique - a bold minimalism that is yet romantic and evocative.
- Extremely detailed composition. Multiple ingredients, with point and counterpoint structures on the plate.
- Especially impressive were: chawanmushi, matsutake "soup" thing, madai plate, cassoulet, guinea hen plate

Food Negatives:
- Not sure whether flavors as advertised in their descriptions are subtle, or weak. Let's take the hay smoked fish as an example. I couldn't taste much smokiness at all. Is it supposed to be a delicate, subconcious smokiness, or something more prominent? What is the chef's intent? Fortunately it doesn't matter, because that morsel of fish was still wonderfully tasty.
- Feel a tinge mixed about the truffle supplement. Not sure how this currently compares with other restaurants that serve truffle. See below.
- Some sauces verged on salty, but really the amounts were trivial.

Service Negatives:
- Feels understaffed. I have, like, maybe 6 questions about ingredients, but the staff are clearly too loaded to handle much conversation.
- Fast paced meal. Twice the courses were almost colliding, with me still eating off a plate. (Whole dinner was 1 hour 45 minutes.) Do I eat too slowly? Will eating faster make the food taste better? I dunno.
- Honestly this doesn't stop me from coming back. But I'm not sure how to deal with these issues if I brought guests with me.

Dining Advice:
- Pick the Seasonal Tasting. Both times that I have done it were completely worth it. The portions are bigger and therefore tastes are more accessible.
- Eat boldly, chew thoughtfully.
- The ingredient complexity and unfamiliarity may induce an information overload. Relax, enjoy the ride.

At this price range (150 post tax, tips):
Sushi Yasuda, The Modern, Kyo-Ya, 15 East
All excellent restaurants, but I would not hesitate to recommend Corton over each of them.
(I'm not familiar with: Jean Georges, Soto, Momofuku Ko)

At other price ranges:
Atera (1.4×), Per Se (2.5×)
Atera is stronger in the opening and desserts (and bread), while Corton is spectacular with the mains. Meanwhile, Per Se takes technique and execution to a different planet, but their regular 9-course tasting is safer, more accessible.
(I'm not familiar with: EMP in its current incarnation, Le Bernardin, Jungsik)

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  1. —Menu Review—
    • very good, •• memorably good, ••• food high (all subjective, and subject to change)

    Drink: "Fleur" cocktail (champagne & other stuff - citrus peel)

    I. Canapés
    Cracker - mornay sauce filling, red powder
    savory brown Financier • <this is adorable>
    white sesame & onion Crisp
    pink Crisp with a zigzag of nasturtium sauce, pickled ramps, other stuff •
    <Does nasturtium taste like saffron? The topping is delicious, and has the texture of cheese sauce.>

    II. Cold amuse, then a Hot amuse
    1. Eggshell: a white cream, topped with coiled strip of cucumber, sea bean, and stick of black toast (black truffle). Small yolk on the bottom?

    2. •• black bean "Chawanmushi", mystery toppings & a soft, white bean
    <Verrry sexyyy. That is its flavor.>

    Four breads: pretzel •, olive?, parker house roll, pistachio crisp
    <All were nice, and cute sized.>

    III. Seasonal Tasting - Early Autumn
    •• 1. (English breakfast turned upside down and inside out)
    Matsutake slices with flower petals, matsutake marmalade, black olive egg yolk, burrata in sheet form •, topped with burrata cream; seckel pear slice confit •
    <This is the strangest concoction, yet reminiscent of shark fin soup or thickened Japanese soups. I've seen a few restaurants selling matsutake, and Kyo-Ya has the best thus far. But these ones are real pretty, sliced. The seckel pear is made aromatic, which is lovely.>
    Three or Four Slices of White Truffle that Arrived Today from Alba • ($90 supplement)
    <My second time with this luxury ingredient. This time was too fleeting. My expectation was based on the time at Eleven Madison Park, where they were easily doubly/triply generous with the shavings—we were even able to split it between four people!—at the same nominal price. This is a cold course, which must have contributed to muting the truffle flavor. The market price is what it is, but from a culinary standpoint given the above factors, I question the value that the consumer gets out of this supplement. It may be better to enjoy the matsutake dish on its own.>

    2. • (A seared scallop)
    Two halves of Maine diver scallop & grated Buddha's hand,
    Mystery scallop part • <I think it had fins, so maybe not scallop. Raw and tasty.>
    Puffed rice, rosehip crumble <Needs more rosehip flavor. Evocative of a rocky beach.>
    Seablite <This is a foraged beach plant. But where is it on the plate? I do see a leaf resembling tatsoi, though.>
    A clear gel with bits of wakame and sudachi.
    <A procession of flavors across different bites. That is a cool effect. One accompaniment, maybe the gel, is surprisingly briny. Interestingly, the scallop is served with the seared side bottom. It is cooked very well.>

    3. (Fish main & accompaniments)
    ••• Madai: hay smoked, then roasted (in hay oil), huckleberries, and their jam and sauce.
    Small coin of fish cake, black varnish.
    <The madai was a perfect tender blend of cooked and uncooked. Skin on and seared. The fish cake has a complementary texture.>
    •• Bean cassoulet: beans, wax beans, lots of stuff, mystery white vegetable baton •, cuttlefish •, a white foam, black garlic gelee [didn't see anything black, but the chive sauce was tasty and pungent]
    "Tarte rouge": pastry shell of roasted beets, broccoli, etc., & surprise hot sauce

    4. (Meat main & accompaniments)
    ••(•) Guinea hen (big tube) • with its roasting jus
    Guinea hen (little tube) • <chewy sausage>
    Ruby red shrimp terrine • <like really tender kamaboko but using actual shrimp pieces>
    rectangle of Red kuri squash • <perfect consistency>, and a puree • <saffron flavor!>
    Crystallized lichen • <savory cotton candy>
    Shard of orange-colored glass
    Rooster comb • <Tender and cartilaginous>
    Micro sunflower greens (either in this or the scallop)
    <The jus is poured in the center, while the dab of puree is protected by a clear round sheet of gel. Clever. Overall the dish is a study in Autumn, every component simply lovely. The guinea hen was dry but not rough, which was actually nice that way.>
    Parmesan gnocchi, crème blanche
    <Effective contrasting dish, flavor is different from the preceding. Serving bowl has gotten cold, though.>
    Guinea hen "plume": multi-layer terrine, topped with a green, jagged leaf, and on top of that a dot of sauce and a sliced white vegetable crescent.
    Side of x.o. sauce (extremely spicy and has chewy scallop in it)
    <It wasn't clear if the leaf should be eaten separately. Very pretty and echos the main dish, but nondescript taste, more like a palate cleanser than a terrine.>

    <Both desserts were enjoyable: cute and geometric, and tasty (because creams and ices are crowd-pleasers).>

    Sablé tart: containing frozen Parmesan cream • and a strawberry sorbet center
    Green coriander cold Chantilly, with a pretty purple flower
    <Like an ice cream tart. But the tart is a cylindrical box. With a lid. Love the idea.>

    A "log" of chocolate cremeux (and possibly with a strip of amaranth meringue "dacquoise" inside it)
    Fig ice cream, squeezed on top of the log. Gold leaf <Eyeroll, I get that gold leaf is traditional, but I hate it.>
    Tarragon sheet with toasted amaranth seeds, underneath the log
    Chocolate spirals and herb tips.
    <Black-forest themed dessert. I love restrained chocolate desserts, and this is one such example. But I don't like the herb sheet, IMO herb sheets are eye-catching, but don't concentrate herb flavors very effectively. Sheets are useful for textural functions, and in this case it is used to hold the toasted amaranth seeds. Also I don't like the basil leaf tips. Maybe they should be tarragon tips, IMHO.>

    IV. Petits fours
    Guava pates de fruit, cream puff, banana macaron •, chocolates (yuzu chocolate, dark chocolate), and chocolate truffle; take-home Financier (chewy muffin)
    <Banana macaron is a great idea, tastes like a Chinese banana roll. Chocolates are nice, but I prefer those at some other restaurants. Still, everybody pales in comparison to Per Se's chocolates, which are luxurious. Meanwhile, Atera's petits fours are the most innovative.>

    1. Great in depth and well thought out description and review. I recently posted my thoughts on my meal at Corton. I agree with you on the artfulness of the dishes, they looked amazing. My issues were the staff was not knowledgeable about the dishes, people describing the dishes could not speak English clear enough for me to understand what they were saying, they were understaffed as you said, so I had no person asking me if I wanted coffee, or after dinner drinks, dessert, or dessert wine. I got that service after I complained. You speak of the spiritualness of the dishes, in that vain I would say each dish had too much yin or too much yang, as there was no balance of flavors and quite often flavors or flavors of the accompaniments did not go together. The ambiance of the room, they could use some art on the walls. White truffles are one of my favorite things, especially over risotto. $90 supplement is way too much. $35-45 is more acceptable to me.
      I've yet to try Atera, I will soon. I prefer many restaurants over this one, including Jean Georges and Jungsik.
      Thanks for your posts though, I enjoyed reading them

      1. I dined at Corton again last week, and I loved it. I particularly liked the sayori (Japanese needle fish) course composed of two parts:

        First, sayori came out with chilled tofu creme, umami gelee, fresh ginger, lime confit and five-year aged soy sauce salt from Japan, which was shaved at the table. Fresh sayori with aromatic ginger and aged soy sauce... Really awsome.

        Then second part of sayori course was what really impressed me. Fried sayori bone covered with cotton candy and winter herbs. It was not only eye-appealing but also tasted great. Fragrant flavor of fried fish bone combined with sweet cotton cady was really phenomenal.

        I find Corton getting more sophisticated lately and it is more enjoyable. Service has also significantly improved recently.

        More photos of Corton this month: