Corduroy, Convention Center

This is the longest I’ve ever been without going to Corduroy, and I’m going to return sooner rather than later – but not for the reasons you think.

I’m going to give myself a little pat on the back for being an early supporter of Tom Power. His gifts as a cook were obvious to me, many years ago, and they’re still obvious to me today.

What I didn’t realize back then was what an excellent wine palate he has. On Tuesday night, they opened at 5:30 PM, but we got there well before and schlunked upstairs to the bar – it was a pleasant surprise (but not at all surprising) to see Tom behind the bar, tasting through some samples with a wine distributor – his wine list is his own brainchild.

That wine list has also lurched up in price (as has the wine market in general), and it’s a lot tougher these days for me to find anything I just have to have. It’s still a great wine list, but it’s not necessarily the screaming bargain it used to be – the realities of a higher overhead, no doubt: let’s not forget that just a few years ago, this gem of a restaurant was lost in the attic of the Sheraton Four Points.

With the new real estate, Corduroy has moved into the realm of full-blown fine dining, and it’s harder to overlook anything short of perfection from Power, whom I know to be a perfectionist.

Some things never change, and I broke into a big smile when Pichon (the bartender, not the Bordeaux) walked up to the bar. It is always wonderful to see him, and seeing him reminded me of how needlessly long it had been between meals here.

A table was available downstairs, and our server was kind enough to let us order one thing off the bar menu, and you know very well what they were: the Filipino Springrolls ($6). The same as they so often are, and a perfect match for the 2008 Chateau Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc, which uses its percentage of Sauvignon Blanc as a perfect foil to most things having sweet and salty Asian flavors.

The more things change, the less things change, and the menu at Corduroy had changed shockingly little, so I stuck with some old favorites for appetizers. The Kabocha Squash Soup ($9) has been compelling in the past. Thickened with foie gras, it can be one of the great soups of the city, which is why I found it so disturbing that this wasn’t. For some reason, it had overtones of dry, powdery spices that I haven’t seen in this before. Along with the Crab Blintz ($13) which was under-seasoned, these appetizers just didn’t represent Tom Power at his best.

With the entrees, a bottle of 2008 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptaler Terrassen ($45), an overpriced entry (it retails in the low $20s) that I’d not yet tried, and wanted to.  Our fine server Joe elegantly presented it with the screw top hidden which made me laugh.

I should have ordered these wines in reverse order, in retrospect, but I thought this might go with Power’s classic dish, Peppered Rare Big Eye Tuna ($28) with sushi rice and hijiki which has been quite consistent in the past. This time, however – and I know this is going to sound weird – it had an overtone of dried powdery spice, not unlike the soup, which overwhelmed the gentle, Japanese nature of this dish. It’s possible my own palate was off, but my dining companion thought the same about both dishes – I had raved about them before the meal, and found myself explaining how good they really are afterwards (I hate when this happens, but it does from time to time).

The highlight of the meal was the Roast and Confit Guinea Hen ($26) with Brussels sprouts which I think I’ve seen Power make with chicken in the past. This was just fabulous, especially the sliced, roasted portion (which surprises me, because I’m usually all about confit and dark meat).

Maybe it’s because it was 1/11/11, or maybe there was a full moon, but Corduroy had an off night. I’ve seen them here before, but not very often. One thing’s for sure, however: Power has nothing at all to prove to me. He’s a great cook (I promise you he didn’t all of a sudden forget how to cook), and deserves a Mulligan. And he’s going to get one, too, because by the time you read this, I’ll have been back to Corduroy – check back for details in a few days or so.

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