The $16 Burger at This Dimes Square Bar Is Good. But the Edgy Take on Bistro Cooking Is Better
Corner Bar by Ignacio Mattos — alongside Libertine — is freshening up and subverting bistro cooking in New York
Corner Bar was one of my last long form reviews for Eater NY. I’m still proud of that column. But since there’ve been so many changes at the Dimes Square hotspot, I figured now is the right time for one of my first long reviews here at The LO Times.
The Sausage and The Eggplant: A Love Story
I’ve been duped by sneaky dishes before.
A big deal French restaurant once sent out scrambled scallops in an eggshell to convince me I was eating something hatched by a chicken. Alas, the dish contained no eggs, I learned days later. And what I thought was a bright orange yolk at a Brooklyn skewer spot turned out to be a modernist spherification of fruit puree. Again, the dish contained no eggs.
In my defense those establishments used benign subterfuge or modernist sleights of hand to achieve their whimsical aims. But here at Corner Bar — a spendy bistro whose sauces and flourishes could fit right in at some of the city’s most storied fine dining palaces — the best trick hides in plain sight. It’s an M. Night Shyamalan twist that you can’t unsee once the riddle reveals itself.
The dish in question is lamb merguez with eggplant. It’s a newcomer to the menu, and it’s a pairing about as predictable as a hot dog with mustard. Yet ten minutes later, I’m staring at two sausages on a white dish. And I’m trying to find the eggplant. In fact I almost raised my hand to inform someone that the kitchen forgot my vegetable.
The kitchen did not forget my vegetable. The object on my right was a carefully lacquered Japanese aubergine, flaunting a similar girth, sheen, and char as the lamb sausage on my left. The brilliance of the pairing isn’t that the resident chefs have created an optical illusion, but rather found one that (almost) seems to exist in nature, as if the meat and nightshade were plucked from the same plant.
The sausage is salty, grassy, snappy, spicy, and juicy, with an assertive ovine aroma. The warm eggplant is pleasantly watery in a palate cleansing way, but also incredibly savory. And a small pile of labneh cools everything down with rich dairy fats. It’s really, really delicious.
Yes, part of the gambit is to surprise and delight. But there’s something deeper going on. Restaurants often take a cut of meat and place it over or near a mash of potatoes. So you’d expect a sausage lying atop a dice of aubergine, with the veg playing second fiddle. But here, chefs Ignacio Mattos and Vincent D’Ambrosio show that fun things can happen when flora and fauna share the spotlight more equally — to such an extent where you can’t even tell them apart (until you see the stem).
Maybe this type of avant-gardism or technically-minded cuisine isn’t what you’d expect from a restaurant bearing the name of a neighborhood watering hole. As it turns out, pulling all that off is the bigger trick.
Behind the Paywall: Corner Bar, Home to One of NYC’s Greatest Chicken Dishes. Plus, Thoughts on Modern Bistro Cooking and the $16 Burger
The simplest narrative about Corner Bar is that it’s changing — for the better.
That isn’t a minor point. The Dimes Square hotspot — by the team behind the cutting-edge Estela — has been firing on all cylinders since it debuted in the voguish Nine Orchard hotel last summer. Pete Wells awarded two stars (but thought it was a touch “safe”), and I praised it as an opulent reimagining of a meat-and-shellfish-centric tavern. It felt like a P.J. Clarke’s, but fancier and hipper. And instead of bar TVs showing a Yankees game, Corner Bar provided a different form of entertainment: patrons who looked as if they were martini-ing after a fashion show or eating some food before before heading to Le Dive.
Those comments still ring true.
What’s changed is that the dining room isn’t just a casual bar room anymore. The restaurant expanded into the space next door, which means folks can enjoy their $195 cote de boeuf in a more sedate space with upholstered banquettes. The burger is also back on the menu, and it’s just $16 at happy hour.
And in a tweak that just about every diner will notice, the kitchen now cooks almost all of its mains on a Josper grill — over coals, giving a charred perfume to dishes like that eggplant with merguez, whole mackerel with hollandaise, and a fairly ordinary-sounding roast chicken for $49 (down from $65 last year).
There is no chicken dish like this anywhere in the city.