At the moment, New York is having a bonanza with large format chicken dishes. How good can a chicken be? I still consider the NoMad as a standard bearer of awesome chicken, and many other restaurants that have tried to replicate this formula have had success with varying degrees. Enter Antoine Westermann, a French chef who has a three Michelin star restaurant in Strasbourg famous for having awesome poultry selections. The moment I walked into Le Coq Rico, the first venture from chef Westermann, I could tell that the restaurant was displaying a ton of confidence in the authenticity of French poultry cuisine, with a French maître d greeting my dining group and most if not all of the staffs seemingly from France. The restaurant bills itself as the bistro of beautiful birds, and if you see the menu, each large format poultry dish shows the number of days the bird has been raised before it is brought to the dining table. In some ways, such bravado can be seen as arrogance, but in this case I have to give credit to Le Coq Rico because I’ve had one of the best chicken dishes in recent years.
Before you dig into one of the large format poultry dishes, make sure you get a couple of appetizers because I had a lot to like about the ones that I tried. Among the egg selections, the one “en meurette” (with bacon and mushroom in red wine reduction) had very elegant flavor without being overly heavy. It was quite a nice start to the meal. My dining companion, who is not in general a fan of foie gras, didn’t like the terrine en croute (i.e. in pastry crust) of duck foie gras, but I thought it was one of the better foie gras dishes in the city, with nice balance of flavor and texture. Now on the to main part. There are a number of options on the menu, but the fact that the restaurant left a separate section for “Westermann’s Baeckeoffe” (I didn’t know previously, but baeckeoffe is a classic chicken dish from Alsace region) apart from other dishes was quite telling and tempted me greatly to try this dish despite the hefty price tag (at $120). Let me say this was an absolute show stopper. First you see a bird inside a giant pot with smoke coming out of it (it was a shame I couldn’t get a good photo of this decadent scene due to the smoke). Next comes the bird in a plate accompanied by artichokes, potatoes, tomatoes and Riesling jus. Not only was the bird perfectly cooked with juicy, tender meat, but I was just swooning over with the rich flavor of all the combined ingredients that worked so beautifully like a well-orchestrated symphony in my mouth. If you ever think a chicken dish is boring, think again. Even if the baeckeoffe didn’t have anything fancy like truffle or foie gras, the elegance of this dish behind deceptive simplicity in looks was a revelation. Add macaroni au gratin on the side, and I was one very happy (albeit extremely full) man. While the dish was suggested for up to four people, my dining companion and I, both already starving after intensive gym workouts, almost finished that entire thing! For dessert, l’lle flottante (the “floating island”) of soft meringue, red praline and crème anglaise is the way to go, with the silky smooth sensation of the dish that was delightful (after all the chewing of the chicken, I needed something on the softer side).
Getting a reservation at Le Coq Rico seems on the harder side, so I suggest booking in advance if possible. The dining space has a modern bistro feel to it, a trendy yet warm vibe without much pretentiousness. There is a full bar at the restaurant with French-centric wine selections. Get a bottle to wash down all the glorious poultry dishes you sample here. I wasn’t sure whether I would like Le Coq Rico given their focus (how good can you be just with chickens?). At the end of the day, I’m so glad chef Westermann decided to cross the Atlantic and open this winner in Flatiron.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 30 East 20th Street, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 267-7426