My wife and I, plus 2 other couples, had dinner tonight at Corton. What a surprise it was, mostly for the horrendous service problems we experienced. Some of the food was divine (with a few misses thrown in), but they have a lot to work on in the kitchen and front of house to make it worth a recommendation.
The first thing we noticed was Drew Nieporent at the host stand. On a Monday night? Surprising, but a good surprise. We sat at 6:45pm and were promptly given menus, the wine we ordered, and bread. We ordered our dinners and prepared for a great meal.
The amuse was a small oyster with grapefruit and toasted barley. Beautiful presentation. Absolutely delicious.
Appetizers ranged from very good to stellar. Three of us went for the Smoked Pasta with Black Winter Truffle and Gouda ($35 supplement). Absolutely incredible. Smooth delicious butter, silky pasta, a hint of the gouda, and more shaved black truffle than I've ever seen. I had the Nantucket Bay Scallops with Uni Crème, Ama Ebi and Marcona Almond, as did one other. I thought the plate was fantastic, with a lovely balance of textures and flavors - the sweetness of what looked to be figs (but weren't) offset the unctuousness of the uni creme. My friend found the dish a bit more forgettable than I did, though he acknowledged it was well prepared.
Then the problems began.
We waited almost an hour for our entrees. During this time, no one came to the table to offer an explanation, or even more bread or water. We disappeared. This was particularly confusing since the dining room was only about half full. Eventually, we were forced to ask the sommelier to request that our waiter look into our entrees. She returned and assured us that they were being plated as we spoke. The food arrived shortly thereafter.
Three folks ordered the turbot with a razor clam chowder broth. It was absolutely stellar, with a gorgeous "log" of turbot perfectly cooked and just the right amount of microgreens to add some bite. One ordered the Maine Lobster with Tarragon Mustard, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Lobster Jus ($9 supplement). Wow. Wow wow wow. The winner of the evening, and easily the best single bite of lobster I've ever had, save Per Se. Stunning.
Two of us ordered the beef (Black Angus Beef Sirloin, Short Rib, Horseradish Bone Marrow Crust). The Sirloin, also a "log", was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. If I were being picky, I would have wanted a bit more butteriness to the meat, but that's a minor quibble. Both the small potato cube and the butternut squash puree made me sit up and take notice they were so good. Unfortunately, the short rib wasn't just average, it was bad. Overcooked, dry and lacking any of the richness you want from a short rib. The marrow crust was tasty, but also overcooked of course, which limited the flavor. Not just disappointing, but surprisingly so.
While we ate our entrees, the dining room filled up and the wheels started coming off the service wagon. The wait staff started running around more quickly and we couldn't figure out how so many staff, with relatively few tables, were so overworked. Also, we didn't wonder for long how a kitchen that took almost an hour to make our entrees with a half-full dining room was going to handle a completely full one. More and more tables now displayed the same longing stares we had roughly 40 minutes into our entree wait. No one came to our table during this time, to fill our water or, seemingly, even to see if we seemed satisfied. The rushing quickened and Drew N. started walking around looking displeased.
After our plates were cleared, we waited easily another 25 minutes or more until someone took our dessert and coffee order. This was not for laziness, as the rushing continued at a still more frenzied pace. The tea was spectacular (my wife and I are tea fiends, so this mattered to us), though the small teapots left us wanting more. We would have asked for more had a server paused for a breath anywhere near us. The caramel brioche was terrific though not transcendent. The cheese plate also looked incredible.
While we ate the chocolates (Spectacular - the pastry chef and sommelier deserve kudos at this restaurant. Both were spot on), the service got still more harried, culminating in the inevitable crash - LOUD - of a number of dropped, broken dishes in the dining room. (If you've worked in a restaurant, you know this moment, when all is lost and the only goal is to make it to the end of service.) Drew N. quickly moved to the service station outside the kitchen, which was right next to our table. Another glass was dropped just inside the kitchen shortly afterwards. Not a good service night.
We finally had to ask for the bill after another 15 minute wait. When we put our credit cards on top, we were clearly ready to pay. What wasn't surprising was the 10 minutes it took for a server to pick up the bill. What was very surprising was that Drew N., standing next to our table, seeing a clearly perturbed party with a check awaiting pickup, did absolutely nothing. He didn't appear to be working to calm down the staff. He wasn't taking care of our table. We only saw him speaking to a few select tables - VIPs we presume. It definitely left us feeling like the owner's concern was for the folks he knew, not for the folks he didn't. Not a ringing endorsement.
Despite the highs, the overall experience was disappointing. A 3-course dinner taking 3 hours? No one to refill water glasses? The owner staring at tables lacking good service and standing idle? This is not a place to recommend. Not yet. Perhaps they will work out the kinks - I mean, isn't that why Drew N. was there on a Monday? - but as of now, there are better choices in the city for the price, at restaurants where the owner presumably wants your business.