Chef Daniel Rose has taken a peculiar route to stardom. Born and raised in Chicago…moved to Paris…and in 2016 he astonished Parisians with his creation of the “ingredient obsessed” SPRING restaurant located on the Rive Droit near Les Halles. Gregory Marchand, the chef of the wildly popular FRENCHIE restaurant, said of Daniel, “His love for French cuisine and French culture made him accepted by the Parisians and by the French as well.”
But it wasn’t simply his love of French cuisine that dazzled Paris. Rose’s nerve and playful re-interpretation of classic French dishes thrilled their jaded palates. The restaurant also had none of the heaviness of the traditional fine dining spaces in Paris. It was a perfect counterpoint to restaurants hidebound by tradition.
And then suddenly – SPRING CLOSED. It wasn’t immediately clear why.
But then I learned that Daniel had partnered with acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr and opened LE COUCOU on Lafayette Street in New York in June, 2016. A coucou, of course, is a bird, but it also describes someone who is, in Daniel’s words, “sweetly crazy.” Visit the restaurant and you’ll find that there’s nothing crazy about it – it’s a well-oiled machine – but the ambiance and crisply edited menu also evoke a relaxed “happy to be alive” attitude that never takes itself too seriously. Recognizing the refreshing attitude (and delicious food) of LE COUCOU, the New York Times awarded it three stars in a review that applauded Rose’s “modern take on French cuisine.”
Three stars it is…I would even suggest 4 stars. After all, the James Beard folks named it “The Best New Restaurant in the Country.”
Now, forewarned is forearmed: LE COUCOU is a tough reservation. You’ll need to book weeks in advance. However, you can finesse the situation by wedging yourself in at the “shoulder times” – 5:00-5:30, or 10:00-10:30. Not a problem for Joanne and me. We’re confirmed early birders. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve been up later than 9:00 PM in the last five years.
Something else to note: LE COUCOU ain’t cheap. But at the same time, it’s definitely not an exorbitant indulgence. Think of it as a “splurge night.” Lunch, by the way, would be an excellent way to save a few bucks while enjoying a wonderful dining experience – especially because this is a rare restaurant that’s just as attractive during the daytime as it is at night.
Where to begin, where to begin? So many excellent dishes.
Let’s start with the Lobster Tail with tomato and basil and a great salad ($34. Yeah, I know).
Joanne had my favorite: Pike Quenelles – feathery eliptoids of pikey mousse served in a decadent lobster broth of whipped cream and egg called Sauce Americain (and here I thought that was ketchup). She loved it. My wife was less enthusiastic, however, about the Buckwheat Breaded, Fried Eel, even though it was sauced with a delightfully aromatic curry vinaigrette.
Our friend, Michael, had the “show stopper.” Called “All of the Rabbit,” it was a three-course sequence beginning with a crusty panko-coated foie gras ravioli in rabbit leg bouillon, followed by the leg and thigh stewed with summer vegetables…and then two fork-tender medallions cut from the saddle. It was worth every penny at $43.
The Halibut Buerre Blanc was surpassingly creamy and buttery, and served over a bed of braised pickled daikon radish choucroute. $44 for a five-ounce portion, but the taste justified the price. Sure, some critics have argued that the butter sauce overwhelms the halibut. Not me: The more butter, the better.
And the list goes on….
Tripe with olives and green tomatoes (“Oh God, not that again!”) sounds awful; tastes delicious. If your dining companion won’t give you a taste of his Glazed Lamb Neck with Eggplant, Olives and Almonds, strangle him for it. Pan-Fried Sweetbread Lobes in a union of heavy cream, white wine, tomatoes, maitake mushrooms and tarragon are fantastic. Ditto the Duck with Cherries, Foie Gras and Black Olives. In the mood for Poussin? Order the whole roasted young chicken (28 days old).
My God, this stuff was good!
The Medallions of Beef were, as expected, spectacular. But what stole the show were the accompanying Oxtail Potatoes – thin, crunchy slices of potato glazed with juices of braised oxtail. (Let me tell you, there is NOTHING that won’t be improved by braising it with oxtail).
But…. it doesn’t stop.
We returned for BRUNCH.
Here’s what you need to do: Get the Buckwheat Crepe stuffed with Lobster and Poached Egg ($24). The Egg “Norwegian” – smoked salmon wrapped around a layer of cream cheese and a poached egg – all atop a bed of Arugula. Avocado Toast seems to be on every menu nowadays, but the LE COUCOU iteration sits on a grainy slice of buttered sunflower spelt toast with two poached eggs – a bargain at $18.
After a recent trip to Paris, I tried to introduce Eggs Murette at SALUT – a classic French country recipe of poached eggs in red wine with veal stock, smoked bacon and mushrooms. Edina would have none of it.
Ah, but LE COUCOU? In New York? From what I could observe, that may have been the most popular brunch item on the menu. (I may have to try again at SALUT).
Desserts? OMG. If you save room, get the Rice Pudding. DO! It’s in the same league as the world-renowned version served at L’AMI JEAN in Paris. Other choices include an impossibly rich Chocolate Mousse with 80% Cocoa Chocolate Shards shaved on top tableside and the surprising nod to Italy with the Baba Rhum with apricots and crème fraiche. But if you can only get one dessert (after the rice pudding), choose the house signature, CHILBOUST: a super-rich combo of vanilla, meringue, pastry cream and marinated cherries. YUM.
Our table also shared the Large Cheese Platter, featuring five generous wedges (that change daily). These selections are not supermarket-variety cheeses. They’re rich and pungent – some buttery beyond words. They’re SOOOO good. They don’t taste pasteurized (by American law) like most all American cheese. Do you suppose?
We left plump and happy.
I need a nap!