"We're all feeling pretty cocky," a beaming Le Coucou staffer told me last night, a fitting sentiment for a restaurant whose mascot is a strutting chicken. Earlier that day, the restaurant learned it had been awarded three stars by the Times's Pete Wells, a notable distinction for a new restaurant (only two other NYC eateries in their infancy have been awarded thusly this year). Luckily, I'd managed to obtain a reservation some three weeks prior, unwittingly choosing the night the restaurant was apt to be at its most festive. "We had champagne before service," the staffer confided.
Le Coucou opened this summer under the direction of chef Daniel Rose, a Chicago-born chef who had the fortitude and daring to open a French restaurant, Spring, in Paris. Now he's on the border of Chinatown on Lafayette Street, doing "old-guard French," as Wells puts it, partnering with prolific restaurateur Stephen Starr on a restaurant that toes the line between stately and modern. Be guarded with your gesticulating, lest you upend the tall candle on your table.
Some might translate Rose's vision as stuffy French—the tall white chef's hats donned by the kitchen staff both confirm and disprove this notion—and in many ways that's not an incorrect assumption. The French menu is rife with preparations like terrines and remoulades, sweetbreads and foie gras. The prices alone are indication enough that well-to-do septuagenarians are like to be the restaurant's bread and butter, so to speak, though last night's crowd was a thorough mix of David Yurman, puffy Polo vests, and artfully tousled ringlets.
Rose's food feels nostalgic even if you weren't weaned on duck and rabbit; there's a yearning for a time when French food was the most lofty culinary goal, sitting atop the food chain of gourmet cuisines. As Wells notes, the kitchen uses a prodigious amount of butter, apparent in the foamy and luxurious sauce américaine accompanying the Quenelle de Brochet ($29), a Lyonnaise dish of creamed pike, whipped with eggs and poached 'til it resembles a firm cloud.
The Crépinette de Volaille ($25) were another showstopper of the meal, the rustic chicken and foie gras sausage arriving with a cap of roasted pluot and an extra shaving of raw foie. As previously noted, diners with an aversion to offal will be at a disadvantage, as multiple dishes on the menu are fortified with foie, while others employ tongue, pancreas and even a veal's head as the star. Even the complimentary bread comes with both butter and spiced pork fat. Unsurprisingly, a meal here can lead to heavy eyes, depending on what you order.
But last night, there was no room for sleeping amidst the restaurant's justified glee, and judging by how difficult it was to score a reservation before the Times weighed in, there's no doubt the party will continue for the foreseeable future. But it will be rare to recapture last night's level of jubilation, especially after the marching band interrupted service for a Bruno Mars rendition.
"I did ask for a marching band," Rose laughed as the uniformed crew filed in. On this night and most nights, what Chef wants, Chef gets.
138 Lafayette Street, (212) 271-4252; lecoucou.com