[Pigging by Wilfrid: April 18, 2016]
Just a little sidelong glance at this thoroughly interesting and worthwhile flatiron bistro from Antoine Westermann, Michelin-starred tocque of Strasbourg and Paris. A sidelong glance, because looking Le Coq Rico full in the face means ordering a whole bird.
There were two choice chickens on the menu the night I dined there, as well as a duck and a guinea-fowl. Most parties were ordering up the golden chickens in big hot skillets. My disadvantage?
But as I watched the procession of platters, and the crowds of people tearing happily at the carcasses, it all made more sense. These are big ol' birds (selected by Ariane Daguin of meat, game and poultry supplier D'Artagnan). They authentically serve three to four people (the quarter chicken, an à la carte option, looks conversely tiny: surely not from the same creature). One feature of Le Coq Rico's birds is that they are slaughtered much later than the average commercial hen. I had thought this would make them tougher (presumably not); it sure makes them a hefty size. Two people would need an appetite to put one away.
Condemned I was, however, to the less gloried reaches of the menu: and immediately disappointed that the guinea hen with pigs' feet option didn't appear (the menu must change daily, so be prepared). The "offal platter" sounds good, but duck and chicken liver aren't really novelties in my house. I do, however, like some well-made rillettes.
The duck rillettes come in a massive crock, comfortably enough for two. The bread, which is freshly sliced at the server station, was individually portioned, so the challenge was to balance big chunks of the firm, savory meat on slivers of crust. I managed. Pickles were sweet and crisp.
In addition to birds, the menu proudly features their eggs. As I've noted before, we are going through quite the authentic French moment in New York. Yes, mock-Parisian brasseries serving burgers and spaghetti are with us always, but it's remarkable to be suddenly confronted with restaurants like MIMI and Le Coq Rico serving classic regional dishes (Burgundy, in fact) like jambon persillé and oeufs en meurette. This was an outstanding version of the latter (one big egg), richly sauced, and with the standard Burgundian garnish of mushrooms and pearl onions. Two crunchy croutons, whimsically heart-shaped, helped sop up the sauce.
Squab was my fallback position when it came to entrées. A pedigreed squab, indeed: from Thomas Farm, whence hail the squabs served at Per Se and the French Laundry. And boy, it was another big bird. I assumed I'd see a whole squab in a $34 main dish, but half was plenty. A thick, juicy drumstick, and the body of the bird boned, cooked to an almost disturbing tenderness. It was advertised as wrapped in a cabbage leaf, but the menu doesn't mention the tasty foie gras forcemeat sneaked between leaf and bird. It was served over a mirepoix in a reduction which was almost too rich after the en meurette dish.
It mystifies me that room remained for a rhubarb soufflé. The dessert menu boasts that it favors eggs rather than sugar, and this was a mightily eggy puff of batter, with a rich rhubarb sauce, and a slightly uninteresting serving of vanilla ice cream.
It's great to welcome a restaurant which isn't out of the 2016 NYC dining playbook. No pork belly, no steak for two; formally clad servers (and the service is good); a sparkling black and white dining room (remember Promenade des Anglais?), and--something I walked into by accident--a long side room with a brightly lit, white dining counter.
Westermann, despite his Paris restaurant interests, is currently a reassuring presence here: calm, solicitous, and vigilant. You can eat and drink very well for a little over $100, and judicious sharing (especially by a party of four) might push that cost down further. Here's the website.