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Le Coucou is the new restaurant (opened for reals last week) collaboration between restaurateur Stephen Starr and Chef Daniel Rose of Spring, a fairly acclaimed restaurant located in Paris. That backstory need not be explained here; suffice to say that Significant Eater and I have had the pleasure of dining at both the tiny Spring 1 (once), and the more ambitious Spring 2 (a number of times), and it was always a fun and delicious time.
Plenty of restaurants open in New York City; often they come with lots and lots of hype. Le Coucou is certainly one of them, as the PR bandwagon got rolling a while ago. And normally we like to give restaurants at least a little while to get their footing, but with this one we just couldn't wait, so off we were to Lafayette Street - on night two of service. I didn't even know if we'd get a table, since we were sans ressies, but we figured we could just grab a cocktail, even if we couldn't have dinner. But arriving early, we were offered a table by the charming Maître D' and lovely hostesses and hosts, though we did have a drink first, in their rather intimate lounge area.
Now, I'd introduced myself and Sig Eater to Daniel at Spring years ago, as a friend of a friend. And again, when we were lucky enough to dine at the new Spring. But here, even before I was seated, Daniel (who had zero idea we were coming to have dinner) was by our side, greeting me by name and with hugs and cheek kisses - you know, that lovely French way. And even though he looked like he wanted nothing more than to pass out on the extremely comfortable banquette, he returned to our table any number of time during our meal, to make sure we were enjoying our dinner, to see if there was anything we'd like him to "whip up." Basically the consummate host.
French has been seeing a serious revival in NYC over the past couple of years, and that makes us happy, as we love French cooking. I mean, one need look no further than Rebelle, or Racines, or MIMI, or Chevalier, or...well, you get the picture. And here, with classic French technique executed fairly flawlessly, we were in heaven. One of our favorite dishes is a simple Poireaux, poached leeks served in a bracing vinaigrette. Here, chef adds a little something extra, topping the leeks with sweet, roasted hazelnuts. What about fried Delaware eel? Normally, my eel exposure is limited to sushi bars, where the earthy eel get a sweetish topping. At Le Coucou, the Anguilles frites au sarassin are as light as a feather, the eel's buckwheat batter playing well with curried vinaigrette and a subtle brunoise of citrus.
Mimolette is a French cheese that as recently as a few years ago had its import halted by the food police, aka the FDA. It's back, and here it graces Asperges au vinaigre de bois. It's a simple lightly-roasted asparagus salad, made special by a smoked wood vinegar sourced somewhere in the wilds of Canada.
One of the dishes chef sent to our table was a knockout - a whole sea bream stuffed with lobster - and my guess is the menu is changing daily, because as I look while writing this, it's not on the online menu now. But here's a picture anyway.
Lobster stuffed sea bream
A classic of the French culinary canon is Quenelle de brochet. As Julia says in Mastering the Art I, "A quenelle, for those who are not familiar with this delicate triumph of French cooking, is pâte à choux with a purée of raw fish...formed into ovals or cylinders and poached in a seasoned liquid. Served hot in good sauce, quenelles make a distinguished first course. A good quenelle is light as a soufflé..."
Quenelle de brochet, sauce américaine
Yes it is. And indeed it was. Our main course, which we shared because we wanted to save room for cheeses, was Bourride, a Provencal fish stew that might be known in places like Nice as bouillabaisse. Here, the fabulous fish fumet is stocked with halibut, mussels, clams, and Santa Barbara spot prawns. Served alongside, toasted baguette slathered with aïoli. Suck the head of those prawns, dip the bread, and pretend you're somewhere other than Chinatown - it's easy enough, once inside, because this is a lovely space.
Our 3-cheese selection (all American) was swoon-worthy to Significant Eater, and served alongside was an accompaniment of 3 different beverages, which I don't really know if everyone gets - or if Daniel was just being extra nice to us.
Speaking of nice, the service staff is super. There was a horde of people working on both the floor and in the kitchen. The front of house people were professional, yet casual. There have a been a few notable restaurant openings this year, where service has been a bit "clumsy." Not here, where everyone is on the same page, and that enhances the experience greatly.
What else can I write? Well, I am sad we didn't get to enjoy dessert - we just ate too damn much, but next time! And while we were unexpectedly treated like old friends, with 3 comped dishes from the kitchen and a couple of glasses of champagne when we sat down at our table, I looked around the restaurant any number of times, and everyone sure looked happy. The wine list is extensive - maybe that's part of the reason? There are tablecloths on the tables. There are comfortable chairs. Reservations are taken. All grown-up stuff. But most of all, once you taste this cooking, I think you're going to be happy as well.
By Lisa Shock
The team over at Modernist Cuisine announced today that their next project will be an in-depth exploration of bread. I personally am very excited about this, I had been hoping their next project would be in the baking and pastry realm. Additionally, Francisco Migoya will be head chef and Peter Reinhart will assignments editor for this project which is expected to be a multi-volume affair.
By Chris Hennes
While not a new cookbook by any means, I haven't really had time to dig into this one until now. We've previously discussed the recipes in Jerusalem: A Cookbook, but not much has been said about Plenty. So, here goes...
Chickpea saute with Greek yogurt (p. 211)
This was a great way to kick off my time with this book. The flavors were outstanding, particularly the use of the caraway seeds and lemon juice. I used freshly-cooked Rancho Gordo chickpeas, which of course helps! The recipe was not totally trivial, but considering the flavors developed, if you don't count the time to cook the chickpeas it came together very quickly. I highly recommend this dish.
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