Chef John Klimo is second-in-command to Corner BYOB’s Bernard Dehaene, of Mannequin Pis fame, and he thinks that every table should be treated like a VIP. At Corner, a newcomer to Hampden’s Avenue, that kind of attitude is de rigueur, from Dehaene and partner Cecille Fenix, on down.
“People look for value in their food, but they also expect quality,” Klimo, 40, tells me excitedly on a steady-busy Sunday night. “It’s all about the passion for the food.” That passion shines through in big ways: the zeal of the waitstaff, the energy of the kitchen, Cecille’s warm greetings and busy-bee attendance to guests. To borrow a phrase from a fellow diner, everyone— simply put—is eager to please.
Of course, the food is what brings it home. Dehaene’s menu is self-described American, but with clear European and especially Belgian overtones. Defining his creations as “refined peasant cooking,” Dehaene dabbles in everything from simple potato-and-carrot mash to chocolate sauce-covered foie gras with brandied cherries.
Meal highlights? It’s hard to say. The mussels are a must (no alliteration intended); served by the kilo and prepared five different ways, they are cooked to a soft, falling-off-the-shell perfection and lack the briny flavor that, for me, can be a major turnoff. The crab and lobster salad in a horseradish sauce, served with smoked salmon, was the visual winner of the night.
I tried Dehaene’s kangaroo steak, but am quite sad that I don’t have a reference point—it was my first time sampling kangaroo. On its own, the dense red meat, which was paired with a mandatory serving of ham-smattered Brussels sprouts, stood its ground along with the chef’s other creations.
The foie gras is the dish that really upped the ante. The brandied cherries pack a punch; the bittersweet flavors balanced the delicate pâté. It was on special during my visit, but I bet if you ask nicely—especially ahead of time—you might have a chance to experience it.
Separately, I asked both Dehaene and Fenix about how they came to choose the Elm and 36th street location for this endeavor, and the answer was simple: they saw it, they loved it, and on a handshake, it was theirs. If I was in the business of asking leading questions, I probably would have asked how Hampden got so lucky. The place is unassuming—seating 38, there’s no white tablecloths or leather-bound menus.
But make no mistakes: this is cooking of the finest variety, right in our midst. For Corner BYOB, the art is in the food. You won’t find any TVs or even much in the way of decorations. You will have the opportunity to give your plate—and your company, of course—the attention that it deserves.
850 W. 36th Street, at Elm Avenue
Interesting American, with European (especially Belgian) inspiration.
Moderate: entrees will run you into the $20 range. But, you can count on Belgian-inspired portions.
Cecille was quick to admit that the cash-only establishment concept is difficult for some diners. She’s introduced an option to pay with credit, but it comes with a surcharge. Plan ahead.
The service. Max Aranda, who spent more than a decade working for the Troia family, serves as a mentor of sorts to the mostly young and eager wait staff. They’re still learning the menu, but they’re all willing to make your meal work.
You’re ready to have a stellar meal. Try the brunch—a make-your-own omelet option is a favorite of Chef John Klimo, and he’s guaranteed to make yours with the utmost care.
Don't go if:
You haven’t stopped by the Wine Source or Keller’s first. As the name implies, Corner is a BYOB establishment, with “mocktails”— drink fixins’ with everything but the liquor—available. You’ll also be happy to know that a six-course beer pairing menu—at a cool $55— is on tap for April. Corking fees apply.