Not since the Nets has a defection to Brooklyn caused such a stir. The ingenious and notoriously bullish Paul Liebrandt recently departed Tribeca’s Corton—and the two Michelin stars he earned there—to bring a softened rendition of his art-cum-cuisine to Williamsburg’s gleaming King & Grove hotel.
Whatever gritty energy remains in this once edgy ’hood dissipates as you descend into the Elm, a placid, high-ceilinged atrium in the hotel’s basement. Bare-wood tables and a wall of living vines make for pleasant gazing, but the tidy room feels as sterile and listless as an architectural rendering.
Exuberant moments come exclusively on the plate. The clinically titled “Flavors of Bouillabaisse” surprises as a deeply soothing shellfish stew, anchored by brackish seaweed butter and crowned with a meaty hunk of halibut-like amadai, whose feathery scales boast a “how did he do that?” crunch. There’s more wizardry at work as Liebrandt seduces bewitching scads of earthiness from charred eggplant, coaxing it into a jet-black puree that mollifies the salty, fatty jolt of seared lamb’s neck. Also unexpected is the frothy smoked-milk velouté that swirls around Swiss chard agnolotti, tender hunks of lobster and sweet corn, recasting the dish as a savant’s take on chowder.
On occasion, function succumbs to form on Liebrandt’s painterly plates, with crowd-pleasing proteins undermined by too many accoutrements. Once you devour a gamey, crisp-skinned piece of duck breast, you’re left to pick and poke at a turnip here, a tiny chanterelle there, more confounded than contented.
Yet despite its fussiness, Liebrandt’s food is too inspired to be stifled by a space as uninspiring as the King & Grove. Now that he’s come to Brooklyn, he just needs to find a restaurant to match.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meal highlights: Swiss-chard agnolotti, “Flavors of Bouillabaisse,” Elysian Fields lamb, turbot, Black Forest cake
Vibe: With a mix of hotel guests and destination-restaurant seekers, the Elm feels like a dining spot for transients.
Cocktail chatter: Believe it or not, Liebrandt’s fastidious food can be delivered right to your room if you’re a hotel guest. Apparently, the days of room-service club sandwiches are numbered.
Soundcheck: The chef may be a rock star, but the noise level is as subdued as elevator music.
By Daniel S. Meyer