The Elm recently opened in King & Grove Williamsburg hotel and has been getting pretty stellar reviews. With celebrity chef Paul Liebrandt at the helm, they didn’t feel the need to invite local media to sample their dishes. (Bad form!) But alas, GQ has a review. Evidently, you should skip the chicken:
As long as I can remember, Paul Liebrandt has been about molecular gastronomy or modern cooking or whatever food writers are labeling kitchen pyrotechnics these days. Quietly, Liebrandt has always demurred: “Everything is based on my training, which is classical French,” he said recently, and not for the first time. He is brilliant at so much, including unsubstantiated denials…
When a friend and I walked into The Elm recently, we took a seat at the bar, where I grabbed a handful of orange-harissa popcorn, expecting it to explode in my mouth, as popcorn tends to do at molecular gastronomy spots. All it did was crunch. About then, Liebrandt, having recognized me, came over and asked with a small smile what I was going to order. When I reminded him that I had yet to look at the menu, he replied, wickedly, “Have the chicken.” Of course I had to laugh. He is an expert at confounding us critics with statements that emanate charm but simultaneously demonstrate a lack of admiration for our culinary insights.
The Elm seemingly appeared out of nowhere this past July, fully formed and expertly managed, an adjunct to the King & Grove Williamsburg hotel. I was surprised to see him relocate to Brooklyn, since his run at Corton was by no means in decline, and I quite reasonably wondered to myself how long this engagement would last. Although The Elm website lists him as chef/partner, I asked him if he was a part-owner, and he replied, “Nope.” I suspect his ambitions range far beyond that. He has appeared in a film about himself and due soon is a book, To The Bone, described as a “memoir in recipes.” Will he still be at The Elm when the book goes into its second printing, or will he have vanished mysteriously in a fog of boiling liquid nitrogen?
His dishes here are considerably more accessible than those at Corton, and the cost is less. The Elm website calls the cuisine “classical, yet forward-thinking French fare,” but to me it is reminiscent of the French food of the post-nouvelle cuisine era, which I heard referred to as “modern French” back then. It was entirely admirable—precise, charming, attractive, flavorsome, and even a little rustic at times. Nevertheless, I’m fairly certain Liebrandt will be displeased to have his cuisine compared to any other, even though the signature chef of that era was Joël Robuchon.
The menu is in keeping with current trends: four categories, each with four offerings: Raw, Sea, Land, and Share. No tricks…
Having long ago extolled Liebrandt’s chicken-cooking capabilities, I was startled when the one dish on the menu I did not enjoy was the chicken Kiev. It’s a classic best eaten while wearing a drop cloth, so immoderate is the geyser of butter that gushes out when knife pierces breast. This version was overly manipulated, the chicken a rubbery tube that leaked a dribble of butter. With it came a bowl of aligot, ostensibly stringy potatoes and cheese, all pleasure and joy. Ours was closer to broth.
You should not ignore The Elm. It’s a singular restaurant where Liebrandt demonstrates his artistry in ways he hasn’t before. He is one of our finest American chefs as well as a New York treasure, all talent and temperament. But when you go, don’t have the chicken.