It’s been almost two years since my wife Jun and I had visited Le Coucou, a hit French restaurant behind chef Daniel Rose (who, as a Chicago-born American, made his name in Paris with a modern bistro called Spring) in partnership with restaurateur Stephen Starr. Too often (and sadly), when a restaurant opens in the city and receives all the buzz and accolade, it’s hard to see the restaurant sustain that initial success. Part of that has to with notoriously fickle New York City diners who constantly move around to the next big openings. I, for one, am probably guilty, but once I got married, it’s become more difficult to check out restaurants as frequently as I used to as I don’t have the luxury (or even willingness, thanks to Jun who is a terrific cook herself) to dine out all the time. Another reason that a restaurant loses its momentum has to do with the fact that chefs constantly look around for the next opportunities and therefore do not always pay attention to their existing ventures with the requisite care. At least that doesn’t seem to be the case for Le Coucou, which is still chef Rose’s only restaurant (although his wife Marie-Aude Rose has her own restaurant in La Mercerie which we have yet to visit), getting a reservation is still as hard as the moment it opened, and it recently entered the World’s Best Restaurant list at number 85. I’ve been meaning to go back to Le Coucou for a while now, and booked for an early dinner table before heading up to the Lincoln Center for a ballet show. And I am so glad that we did, as LeCoucou is still firing on all cylinders.
Le Coucou’s French cuisine is in that ideal state between classic and modern. No single dish jumps out at you with some gimmicks, but each dish that you can brings so much satisfaction with careful execution and balanced flavor and texture. Case in point: an outstanding dish of lobster and scallop stuffed cabbage with Pineau de la Loire (a/k/a chenin blanc) sauce. Once you open up the cabbage shell (which I didn’t do as elegantly as I should have), you have a mixture of seafood that was expertly prepared, and the addition of wine sauce underneath, which tasted slightly sour at first but over time grew more and more interesting, worked beautifully with it. How about the French classic Sole Veronique, which the server enthusiastically recommended? It was more or less perfectly cooked, and the addition of grapes and champignons mushroom further enhanced the texture of the fish, while the creamy broth underneath was rich but not overpowering. At $63, the price is certainly not cheap, but then a dover sole dish is expensive everywhere in the city, so might as well have a great one, right? It was certainly one of the best seafood dishes I have had in a while.
Jun and I weren’t initially sold on the other main dish that we had in prime filet with bone marrow jus (as we thought the seasoning on the meat was a bit too aggressive to our taste), but complementing it with the side dish of hearty oxtail potatoes greatly helped to neutralize that sensation. For dessert, Jun and I hadn’t had the Baked Alaska last time we had visited, but that was a mistake. The server poured the brandy on top of the dessert to create a beautiful blue flame that lasted for about 15 seconds. The result was a decadent pastry dish with perhaps a bit too much brandy (Jun winced as she realized what she was eating had the potent brandy), but still a very delicious one with pistachio ice cream inside.
As noted above, getting a reservation for dinner tables, especially during prime teams, still requires a Herculean effort. The beautiful dining room that gives you a sense that you’re at somewhere special without having to always show up in black ties was still as elegant as I had remembered on our first visit. There is full bar with French-centric wine list to complement your meal (they do make some really good Old Fashioned cocktails). New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough of delicious French restaurants (Jun and I still need to visit newcomers such as the above-mentioned La Mercerie and Frenchette from the team that previously worked at Keith McNally restaurants), but when it comes to a restaurant that one must go to explore the rich culinary tradition of this beautiful country, Le Coucou will always stand out to me as a top candidate. May the restaurant thrive for a long, long time!
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 138 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (212) 271-4252