It’s always sad when a restaurant doesn’t work out. Restaurateurs put a lot of money into building out a restaurant in hopes that people will come and return often. But let’s be honest: Corton didn’t really work even when Paul Liebrandt was in the kitchen, so there was no love lost when he left for Brooklyn to launch The Elm. See the thing is Tribeca’s a pretty laid back, family-oriented neighborhood nowadays, and Liebrandt’s formal and fussy style just didn’t jive with the locals. (Though it did get three stars from the New York Times.) Once upon a time Corton was Montrachet, which had an impressive run from 1985 to 2007, becoming a Tribeca institution. As the name suggests, Montrachet had an ambitious, French-focused wine list with cooking to match. The opening chef was none other than David Bouley. But Bouley left, 9/11 happened, the sommelier parted ways, and so the story goes.
Which is exactly why Drew Nieporent smartly teamed up with John Winterman and chef Markus Glocker (Gordon Ramsay at The London) to transform what was refined, but a tad too serious into a warm, friendly neighborhood spot with good food and wine. Gone are the pristine white walls and tablecloths, rug, and the cocoon-like ceiling. In its place, you’ll find butcher block tables, wood floors and sunny yellow walls. More importantly, you’ll find John Winterman at the door. He was the maitre’d hotel at Daniel for many years, so he’s well-versed in the art of hospitality and he nails it here.
Batard is named after the Burgundy Batard-Montrachet, so expect to find plenty of wonderful whites from the region. I drank a terrific Olivier Leflaive Mersault 2011, but I would love to make a dent in this list. The wine list nods to other regions of the world, too, like Spain, Italy, California, Oregon and even Washington. If wine’s not your thing, the cocktail list features some creative concoctions, like the Up To Date with rye, sherry, Grand Marnier and Bitters, or the Ol’ Dirty Batard with Jim Beam Rye, Punt e Mes, Cocchi Rosa, and Mole Bitters, plus several beers on tap.
I have to admit the menu format threw me off at first. Batard offers a set menu: You can choose between two courses, three courses or four courses, which sounds slightly formal to me. Don’t you think? But what I realized is they’re really just asking you to pick an appetizer and an entree, or an entree and dessert, and you get the picture. I opted for four courses, so I could sample the scope of the menu. What’s so ingenious about this format is they’ll let you order two main courses if you they appeal to you more, or a cheese course as your third course before dessert. “The chef is super flexible,” my server said. You don’t hear that often, do you?
Rabbit “Flavors of Bouillabaisse”
I’m a sucker for a good bread basket and theirs is terrific; petite French baguettes and Poppy Seed Rolls, both homemade and served warm with whipped, Vermont Creamery butter. And so is an appetizer of Seared Ocean Trout, ridiculously fresh fish, smartly partnered with Cured Cucumber, itty bitty Clams and a Spiced Creme Fraiche to kick things up a notch. I also dug the English Pea Soup, scattered with Sweet Shallots, Salsify Crumble, Mints and battered nibbles of Sweetbread, which take this spring soup to a much more decadent place.
Markus Glocker is Austrian, so you ‘ll find hints of his upbringing on the menu, like Roasted Beets “Linzer” with Caramelized Hazelnuts, Red Currants and Mache, or Veal Tenderloin “Tramezzini” with Asparagus, Mushrooms and Sauce Diable, and an off the menu Schnitzel. But for the most part, the menu is modern European, hinting at Italy with a Parmesan Risotto rich with Nettles, Sunchokes, Green Onions and Ramps. Or at Provence with Marinated Artichokes Barigoule with Meyer Lemon and Olives.
Really, the only dish I didn’t care for was an overly salty Branzino, served with chewy nubs of gnocchi and ratatouille. No matter. I pushed that aside for an intriguing bowl of Rabbit in “Flavors of Bouillabaisse.” The menu is peppered with quotes, suggesting the chef playfully retools several classic preparations. In this case, Glocker incorporates the ingredients of a Bouillabaisse — olive oil, leeks, tomatoes, and saffron, and even a sauce rouille — in unexpected ways. The saffron smartly rears its head in the form of Saffron Ravioli, which are a dish in their own right. And, of course, there’s a tasty rack of Rabbit along with turnips and carrots at the center of it all. Another dish with quotes that I liked was the Veal Tenderloin “Tramezzini,” a riff on Venetian tea sandwiches, typically made with two or three slices of pancarre (crustless white bread). In Glocker’s hands, spoon tender Veal gets wrapped in a few layers of white dough, baked in the oven, and served over Green Asparagus, Lettuce and Turnips, all anointed with a tangy, spicy Sauce Diable.
Then came the Cheese Course as if I needed it, but I’m never one to have any self-control. Batard offers a small, but well-edited selection of Cheeses, including a killer, aged goat cheese called Bonne Boucher from Vermont Creamery. And Glocker is pulling double duty in the kitchen, helming both the savory and sweet departments. There’s Poached Stone Fruit with Candied Pistachios, and Caramelized Milk Bread with Fennel Yogurt. If only there weren’t cilantro in the Key Lime Pie with Buckwheat Crust, but I loved the Black Forest. A riff on the classic cake, Glocker deconstructs the classic Black Forest Cake, so you can savor all of the elements in all their glory. Not to mention, the plate itself is almost too pretty to eat; an arrangement of dark Chocolate Sable, Kirsch Chantilly, whipped cream, Cherry Sorbet and Bing Cherries. It was a happy ending to a new beginning for this storied space. Hopefully, third time’s a charm.