Yes, You DO Want to Eat Here

September 15, 2016

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“I love this restaurant,” said Rita Jammet when we ran into each other at Le Coucou.

That is not a recommendation I take lightly; Rita and her husband, Andre, owned the much-lamented La Caravelle, which was in its day one of New York’s most appealing restaurants, and her son Nicolas is one of the founders of Sweetgreen.  Rita’s got her eye on both the past and the future, and that’s pretty much what you get at this impressive new restaurant.

The vibe is young and buzzy; there’s real energy in this beautiful room.  (How did the designers manage to make a room in an old hotel on a gritty almost-Chinatown corner look like the rural chateau you’ve always longed to own?)  But while the room looks of the moment, the food could not be more classic: this is a loving look backward to a vanishing France.  It is a country of cream, sweetbreads, caviar and lobster, the France of sole Veronique.  The food is so delightfully nostalgic that by meal’s end I found myself wondering when the cigar box was going to appear.

The chef, Daniel Rose, is an American who went to University in Paris, studied cooking in Lyon, and opened a couple of wildly popular but modest Paris restaurants. Taking on a restaurant as large and ambitious as this – in New York – was a bold move. It’s risky to judge a restaurant on a single meal, but I’d say he’s returned in triumph.

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There was butter with the bread. But there was also this fantastically flavorful whipped mangalitsa fat.

Those oysters at the top, slightly warm, were so deliciously bathed in seaweed butter.

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A crepinette of chicken, topped with plum and a few fine slices of foie gras.  If Marie Antoinette ate sausage, this is how she’d want it cooked.

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As a tripe lover, I found this preparation, which masked the barnyard quality of the meat, slightly annoying.  People who don’t like tripe, however, will be charmed. A tender chew (this is no ordinary tripe, but the lining from the stomach of a wagyu steer), it tastes like a beautifully breaded cutlet.

 

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Daikon, masquerading as sauerkraut. Crowned with caviar.  Irresistible.

 

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Quenelle de brochet – one of the glories of classic French food – beautifully executed in an intense lobster sauce.  The brilliance of this was the clear intensity of the sauce, and the way it played against the airy subtlety of the quenelle.  It’s hard to imagine there is  anyone who would  not fall instantly in love.

 

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I’m so happy to see sweetbreads emerge from obscurity.  Of all the innards, these are the most amiable.  More texture than flavor, when expertly cooked they make you feel as if you’re eating clouds.  Rose’s version inserts a touch of tomato into the usual tarragon cream sauce, which adds a perfect little zing of acid.

 

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Le tout lapin – rabbit served in three different preparations.  I envision this bringing back a fashion for bunny. This is the rolled saddle, toped with various inner parts.

 

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More rabbit hiding down there.

 

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And the legs, cooked into a broth.

 

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Very embellished rice pudding (and to my mind not up to the famous version at L’Ami Jean). But  the  seemingly modest piece of fruit, below, is replete with mystery and the perfect way end to a meal.

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The menu is, in many ways, an homage to Lyons.  The wine list roams the world, but the French entries are especially interesting.  We drank a de Moor Chablis – a deliciously flinty expression of Chardonnay, from a famously organic producer  – and a Saint Peray from the great August Clappe.

Finally, a note on the service. How wonderful to be in the hands of professionals. And how rare, in a brand new restaurant. Like everything else at Le Coucou, it’s old-fashioned in an extremely modern way.

 

 

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