I reviewed Paul Liebrandt’s book ‘To the bone‘ back in January, and likened it to this generation’s version of ‘White Heat’ by Marco Pierre White. So imagine my delight when I scored a table at his restaurant, The Elm, in the residential area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
As we were staying in West Midtown Manhattan, I have to say, getting to Brooklyn can be a bit of an ordeal. NYC cab drivers were seemingly convinced that the address I handed them was wrong, failing to read the entire address which said Brooklyn at the bottom. Finally we got a more understanding driver, & with a little help from Google maps, we were on our way.
The Elm is housed in The King and Grove hotel, a swish modern affair and somewhat reminiscent of a Philippe Stark design. Pointed in the direction of some stairs leading to the basement, we made our way down to the open expanse, that is the latest Liebrandt offering .
Liebrandt’s menu is, I suppose, an extension of the man’s ethos, unconventional is probably the easiest way of describing it. Where as most menus require a choice at various stages of the menu to be chosen. The Elm’s is much more of a free form idea.
There is effectively a choice of nine dishes, plus another three designed as sharing plates. There are no starters or main courses in the conventional sense of a menu, which can lead to a level of confusion, and yet works remarkably well. Prices per dish range from $18 to $32 for the non-sharing & $54 and $48 respectively for the Pork and Cauliflower sharing plates (the Lobster cassoulet was at Market price). With decisions made, it was only a matter of time before some food would arrive.
Once the ancillaries were delivered, the main event started to flow. My wife’s choice of ‘Fish and chips’ and mine of the ‘Foie gras torchon’.
Whilst ‘Fish & chips’ is the very briefest of nods to Liebrandt’s origins, the wife (who isn’t a massive Indian food fan) really enjoyed it. The delicate spicing and crisp batter were in harmony to successfully spin an ordinary dish into one of those that we hear so much about; one with a modern twist.
My foie gras was a initially a bit of a miss, due to the torchon being fridge cold. No pâté or terrine will be great straight from the cold, but as the dish came up to room temperature it began to sing. The mushroom jelly was a great addition to the rich liver underneath, whilst the sake cream & puréed dots of apple were excellent foils in balancing the dish out.
Looking back now as I write this post & compare the menu & notes, my wife’s dish of the ‘Short rib of Beef’ isn’t the one actually on the menu. This aside, the alternative was a fine example of what can be done with variations on one vegetable; smoking, purée, pickled, crisps and even the leaves. Needless to say, the wife lapped it up.
My dish of Seabass was all together more challenging. This was a carefully thought through dish; up to the point where somebody decided it would be a good idea, to put a chicken wing, which would require cutting, on the rim of the bowl. The bass itself had a brief encounter with a waterbath, giving it a some what bizarre texture. It was cooked on the outside and warm & raw on the inside, it wasn’t unpleasant, just unexpected. The yuzukosho added a little poke to the dish, giving it yet another dimension. It is this type of dish which has given Liebrandt a reputation for challenging food.
For dessert we both opted for the a dish synonymous with the British chef; ‘Gold bar’. Needless to say it didn’t disappoint, the richness of the dark chocolate ganache, which had been coated with a chemise of black cocoa powder & bitter chocolate, was pure decadence. The fruity jam and sorbet provided great acidity & tartness to perfectly balance the dish as a whole.
Liebrandt says in his book that he took initial inspiration from his time at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, but defines the ‘Gold bar’ as:
To me, this skyscraper-shaped dessert,…..captures the essence of New York City. The gold foil represents…take your pick: opulence, wealth, ambition, the river of light that illuminates Manhattan at night.
As a generous gesture from the management, as we were on our honeymoon, we also received a supplemental dessert of ‘Tarte citron’. This was a good effort & the avocado purée a delightful addition, but deep down we know we’d made the right choice with the ‘Gold bar’.
If, like us, you’re staying in Manhattan, The Elm is a trek. But one worth making, Paul Liebrandt and his team have created a great dining experience. Currently remaining unrecognised by the French tyre company, predominantly one assumes, because that it had only been open three months prior to the guides release. Everything I’ve seen & eaten at The Elm would indicate that a Michelin star would be arriving in October, but would fall short of Liebrandt’s previous high of 2 stars.
In all my time leading up to booking my table, there were persistent rumours of a sucessor for Corton, where Liebrandt cemented his name in NYC culinary greatness. The Elm isn’t that replacement, reading reviews of Corton & before that Gilt, The Elm is more accessible and yet still mildly challenging. There is a funky buzz about the place, perpetuated by the thirty-something crowd and the media types who frequent it, but don’t let this distract you from the food offering. At $210 for two including a $60 bottle of wine, The Elm offers great value for money, doing it with style & panache. Highly recommended.