When Mike and I were in Paris a few years back, Chef Daniel Rose’s Spring was a restaurant we were dying to dine at. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be as it was unfortunately fully booked during our visit. Fast forward several years and Chef Rose has partnered with restaurateur Stephen Starr to open up Le Coucou in New York.
Chef Rose, originally from Chicago, fell in love with French cuisine while studying in France. After opening Spring in 2006 to much fanfare, he opened La Bourse et la Vie and re-opened the French bistro Chez La Vieille in Paris. Le Coucou is his first American venture.
Located on the ground floor of the new Soho hotel 11 Howard, the restaurant is a showpiece itself. With Starr Restaurants in the picture, it’s really no surprise. The group own restaurants all around the country including Morimoto, Le Diplomate and Buddakan to name a few.
Everything about the space is so well thought-out and just jaw-dropping gorgeous. There’s a beautiful (albeit tiny) bar by the entrance, a large dining room featuring brick walls and hanging chandeliers which looked like they belonged in a Roman castle, and an open kitchen at the back of the space where you can watch the magic happen.
In addition to the lighting from the chandeliers, you’ll find long candles at each table – very old school and romantic! While it’s not a casual restaurant (just look at the menu prices!), I liked that it didn’t feel stuffy or pretentious. Judging by its playful website design, it’s certainly not taking itself too seriously.
Le Coucou features an extensive selection of dishes. To start, there are Hors D’oeuvres ($12 to $19) aka smaller plates which includes dishes like veal terrine and warmed oysters with seaweed butter and Gourmandises ($21 to $38) or larger appetizers which include some intriguing dishes like lobster-stuffed squash blossoms and buckwheat fried Montauk eel. Mains include a selection of meat and fish options including the dover sole which will set you back $48 and the pheasant for two for $89. We had a tough time narrowing down what to order. It’s so refreshing to see a menu that excites me!
Shortly after ordering, our server brought over some complimentary bread which was accompanied by some butter and pork lard. We were very impressed with how porky the lard tasted. As much as I love butter, the lard was a nice change!
The first dish we shared was the Tripe – Wagyu tripe, green tomatoes & olives ($12). It was prepared in a way that’s similar to tonkatsu (a Japanese dish consisting of a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet). For those unfamiliar with tripe, it’s the stomach lining of an animal – in this case, cow. I find that tripe itself doesn’t have much of a taste. It’s all about that slightly chewy texture which worked nicely against the crispiness from the breading.
I loved the briny olive and green tomato salad underneath which helped cut the heaviness of the dish. Overall, it was a great appetizer but I’d recommend sharing it since eating the entire dish yourself may ruin your appetite. It’s a lot of deep fried goodness!
Another appetizer we ordered was the Quenelle de Brochet – pike quenelle with lobster sauce ($29). We fell in love with this dish during our trip to Lyon a few years back. It’s not a very common dish around here so despite the steep price tag, we opened up our wallets and just went for it.
The quenelle is essentially a large dumpling made up of ground pike. When I took a bite of the quenelle, I was surprised by how insanely light and fluffy it was since the one we tried in Lyon was much heavier. The texture of Le Coucou’s version was reminiscent of the French dessert Ile Flottant (a soft floating meringue). The star of this dish is without a doubt the lobster sauce. I couldn’t believe how intense the lobster flavour was in each spoonful. It tasted like a lobster bisque but so much more concentrated. There wasn’t a drop left when we were done with it.
Up next was the Ris de Veau a l’estragon – sweetbreads, crème de tomate, tarragon ($24). The plump sweetbreads were perfectly cooked and sat in a creamy tomato sauce. It wasn’t as intensely flavoured as the lobster sauce but nevertheless, still very delicious.
For our main course, we shared the Tout le Lapin – all of the rabbit ($39) which is served three ways. I know everyone defaults to ‘it tastes like chicken’ when trying to describe white meat but rabbit really does taste like chicken. It doesn’t have a particularly unique flavour or texture so if you’ve never had it before and are afraid of trying something new – don’t be afraid! It’ll taste familiar.
The first of three dishes is the rabbit saddle roulade topped with bits of crumbled liver. The picture below depicts a half portion. Since they knew we were sharing, they divided it into two plates for us.
We both loved the roulade. The rabbit was incredibly moist and well-seasoned. The bits of liver was the cherry on top, adding an additional punch to the dish.
The second dish was a pot-au-feu made with the front legs of the rabbit. The legs sat in a clear broth which had an extremely light and clean flavour. The meat was cooked to perfection and the light broth was a nice segue into the last dish, the hind legs.
The third and final course was the mustard-marinated hind legs which were served under a generous bed of insanely delicious sliced onions. The dish is baked in the oven for several hours – low and slow. The onions are just tossed in a bit of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper but the result of something so simple was really big on flavour. The first and last rabbit dishes were my favourite. If you order a couple appetizers, this is enough to feed two people. I’d be very impressed if you could tackle the rabbit on your own.
For dessert, we shared the Mousse au Chocolat ($13). The portion is pretty substantial and normally, I can’t eat too much of a dessert since the sweetness can get to me but I could’ve devoured this entire serving myself. It was that good. Despite being a chocolate mousse which often means a cloyingly sweet dessert, this was so nice and light with just the right amount of sweetness. An absolute must for chocolate lovers!
We had a such a memorable evening at Le Coucou. Not only was the food excellent but the service was also particularly notable. I’m sure our server must’ve previously worked at a high-end restaurant. She provided great recommendations, was extremely personable, came by at the right times and handled herself so well. Needless to say, we wouldn’t hesitate to come back.
At a glance:
- Brought to us by Stephen Starr (Starr Restaurants) and Chef Daniel Rose (most well known for his restaurant Spring in Paris)
- Located in Soho; on the ground floor of the 11 Howard Hotel
- French cuisine
- Prices are on the high side; appetizers range in price from $12 to $38; mains from $36 to $89
- Open everyday for dinner starting at 5pm; breakfast is served everyday from 7am; brunch on weekends from 11am to 2pm; according to their website, lunch is coming soon
- Excellent food and service; wouldn’t hesitate to come back
- Highlights: Quenelle de Brochet, Tout le Lapin
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 4 stars
- Service: 5 stars
- Atmosphere: 4 stars