Entries in the elm (3)


Big Stars and Brooklyn

Since his early days in New York kitchens, Atlas in 2000 and Papillon in 2001, Paul Liebrandt has had a by-any-means-necessary attitude in his quest for perfection. Having shared our thoughts on The Elm (and the N.Y. State of Restaurant Minds) back in July, we were curious to know what Pete Wells would think of the chef's latest venture. Today, he awards the restaurant two stars.

"The Elm, in other words," the critic writes, "would be just like a hundred other restaurants if not for Mr. Liebrandt. He has ratcheted down the complexity and the number of surprises in his cooking," Wells says, comparing Liebrandt's cooking in Williamsburg to Tribeca, where the chef left his most recent post at Corton this summer. "This could have dumbed down the cuisine, but it has focused its pleasures instead."

"A dish called Flavors of Bouillabaisse, in quotation marks, sounds ominous," Wells writes, before concluding, "It is lovely. Mr. Liebrandt has kept it in seafood-stew form but rearranged the emphasis." And in the Summer Garden, with an array of vegetables, the critic notes some were "raw, some were pickled, some were roasted, some were braised; all tasted extremely fresh and delicious."

Wells touches on the restaurant's price point. He writes, "But while you can find a couple of sleepwalkers on nearly any menu, you’d be lucky to find just one dish as good as Flavors of Bouillabaisse. The Elm has at least a half-dozen that equal or surpass it, and none of them is more than $30." More than $30? The times they are a-changin'. How long ago was it when entrees in and around Williamsburg weren't more than $20? Then again, when was the last time a Michelin starred chef thought it a solid career move to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn? It's a move that seems enticing to more and more chefs and restaurateurs. Eater notes Tom Colicchio is opening some version of his Craft empire in Downtown Brooklyn, Hill Country hopes to open their location in the same neighborhood by year's end, and Grand Central Oyster Bar will soon be in Park Slope.

Despite the pair of stars, Liebrandt's new project in the King & Grove Hotel is closer to Corton and Manhattan fine dining than it is what we've dubbed the two-star template – the current trend of sophisticated food served cheaply in casual, whimsical, and oft slightly boisterous environs. Then again, Liebrandt has worked against the grain from the moment he donned an apron. Maybe he's a trendsetter. His presence in Brooklyn certainly reveals the borough's changing landscape and, with The Elm, he's taken a giant leap towards proving it can sustain a highly-refined and well-curated vision.


N.Y. State of Restaurant Minds (and Our Meal at the Elm)

The Elm is one of the few restaurants to open this year that seems to be after three stars from The New York Times. The Marrow and Lafayette struck us as concepts that sought the same achievement, but both came up two stars short. We're certain Michael White's team at Costata is chasing three as well, but that review won't be out until (probably) September.

The trend is very much away from fine dining, polished rooms, and chiseled service from suited waiters. It's as if every new restaurant is following what's become the two star template. Pearl & Ash, Uncle Boons, ABC Cocina, Montmartre, Hanjan, and Mighty Quinn's have all opened in the past seven or eight months and have all received two stars. They are fun, casual eateries where reservations and a month spent saving aren't necessary to eat there.

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Brooklyn Owes the Charmer Under Paul Liebrandt

Sally Rowe was wowed by the food Paul Liebrandt was cooking at Atlas in 2000. Liebrandt was 24 at the time. As a result, Rowe, a documentary filmmaker, was inspired to follow him around for nine years thereafter. The footage came together in 2010 as a documentary called A Matter of Taste: Serving up Paul Liebrandt, and it provides a candid look at Liebrandt's career.

After menu disputes at Atlas, Liebrandt quit and found work at Papillon in 2001. He left less than a year later. "I like to think of myself as a culinary mercinary," Liebrandt says in the documentary while between jobs, "on hire to the highest bidder." Liebrandt started his own consulting company after Papillon and it wasn't until 2005 that he returned to the kitchen: working as the Chef Director at Gilt, a position he held for less than a year. A short stint making cocktails for a large beverage company followed, and in 2007, Liebrandt was approached by restaurateur Drew Nieporent to be chef and partner in Corton, opening in the former Montrachet space in Tribeca.

On the collaboration with Liebrandt, Nieporent says in Taste, "The reason I want to work with Paul Liebrandt comes from the basic instincts that I've had from the beginning, which were, if I'm going to distinguish myself, if I'm going to do a better job than everybody else, then I have to be associated with the best people." Nieporent's instincts earned Corton three stars from the Times, two from the Michelin Guide, and kept the spark dormant that burns within Liebrandt to constantly seek out new challenges. Six years later, that spark has caught fire and the Siberian-born, London-raised chef will soon be splitting his time at Corton and the Elm, opening late spring in the King & Grove Hotel across the river on North 12th Street in Williamsburg.

The current space in the hotel will undergo a complete renovation, so we were asked not to share our pictures of what used to be Pillar & Plough, but the open, lofty, garden-level space that will house the Elm when it opens in late spring is going to be an exciting stage for Liebrandt's new act.

In the hype surrounding Brooklyn restaurants, Liebrandt reveals in a recent interview with Grub Street that he isn't concerned with a restaurant's location, "To me there are only two kinds (of food): good and bad. I mean, Williamsburg is so close, proximity-wise. We're all in the same city; we're all part of it, and it's not really at all like going to the West Coast. It may sound a bit corny, but we're all New Yorkers — I consider myself a New Yorker. For me, it all comes under this "New York" umbrella. I'm proud to be here, and I'm very, very thrilled to be doing this project in Williamsburg." [GrubStreet]