Some notes on the dining adventures during some recent visits to New York.
Classic French cuisine has come to New York’s Lower East Side from an American, via Paris. Daniel Rose, whose Spring restaurant has wooed hard-to-impress Parisians, has opened Le Coucou, and it, in turn, has New Yorkers clambering to get into what is arguably the hottest restaurant in town. And unlike others that have held that title in the past (think Per Se), Le Coucou is worth it.
Rose has partnered with Stephen Starr, whose group of Starr Restaurants dominate the Philadelphia dining scene. (You can read about some of them here.)
Le Coucou, designed by Manhattan’s Roman and Williams, is rustically elegant. High ceilings with no effort to hide the beams or ductwork and brick walls, not to mention an open kitchen, are offset by tables lavishly draped with white linens. And each table is graced by a single, slender and tall tapered candle.
The menu is unapologetically ultra French. Even in a city full of diners who would categorize themselves as adventurous, veal head isn’t found on many menus, even with its more lyrical name, Tête de Veau. The meat, which was boiled from the calf’s head, was fashioned into the small disk and fried, then plated with a sort of egg salad seasoned with chervil and tarragon and draped with an anchovy.
My companion ordered the Ris de Veau from nearby within the calf. The sweetbreads were tender and gamey and made more delicious with the crème de tomate that the server ladled over them.
That was followed by Tout le Lapin, or all of the rabbit, but of course not all. But enough of it to make this a dish I would gladly revisit. It included the saddle, wrapped with liver and kidneys and roasted and sliced, served with a vinaigrette made from offal and jus. The forelegs were braised slowly in broth, a double stock that included simmering the bones. The hind legs were were roasted and served with Dijon mustard and onions. I was told that some regulars come in just for containers of the broth to take home.
My Bourride included a black bass fillet served separately from the stew, which had clams, mussels and a giant prawn. The aioli was served separately to blend into the fumet, in a large copper pot, at will.
A simple serving of cheese was all we needed for dessert, but we appreciated the strong coffee from the heavy press pots.
Service was consummately professional but not stuffy or officious. It was refreshing to visit a popular restaurant and find that the staff didn’t feel the need to put on airs. (See previous reference to Per Se.)
Le Coucou is at 138 Lafayette St., New York.
Compare Le Coucou to Le Bernardin. Eric Ripert’s Midtown restaurant is still exquisite, but it’s more of the old-school posh than new-money upscale.
But that’s mainly in terms of the atmosphere. You could put the plates of either restaurant on a table at the other’s and it would fit right in. (Well, maybe not the rabbit since Le Bernardin is mainly seafood.)
Here have the Hamachi with a yuzu vinaigrette, and the Halibut. Or just about anything. Ripert is a master and dinner here is always wonderful.
Still…I’ve had the pleasure — and make no mistake, it’s a pleasure — of dining at Le Bernardin on three occasions. But if someone were to ask me to choose between it and Le Coucou I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat.
Le Bernardin is at 155 W. 51st St., New York.
I might have turned around and walked away from Covina. Its entrance off East 27th Street is through a coffee shop. (It’s technically part of the Park South Hotel.)
But past the coffee counter and brashly lit coolers, deserted in the evening, is a welcoming restaurant and bar with a modern tavern mien.
My friend and I sat at the bar and were ably served by an affable bartender with a sense of humor to match his knowledge of the wine and food.
Pizza is the forte here. I was intrigued by the pie the couple sitting next to us were enjoying but turned off when I heard its name — Spicy Honey. But the server assured me it wasn’t sweet, so I took a chance.
It wasn’t sweet. The spicy in the name was more dominant, with spopressata giving a peppery note. The crust, cooked quickly in the wood-burning oven just behind us, was delightfully crisp.
The Bucatini was modest, a simple stack of the slightly thick noodles with guanciale and pecorino tossed with a red sauce and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper.
This is definitely a place to come and share a pizza, maybe a side of the wonderfully crispy Brussels sprouts, and to have a glass of wine or a cocktail. I recommend the Boulevardier, a Manhattan for negroni lovers.
Covina is at 127 E. 27th St., New York.
There are, of course, hundreds of places to grab a slice of pizza in New York. My loyalties change as the quality of the pies flag. My current favorite is Artichoke Pizza, also known as Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, which has several locations in the city.
I stopped into the one in the West Village and judging from the scrum to order a slice, it’s the favorite of many.
Good reason, too. Big slice, appropriately thin, and topped with plenty of your preferred toppings. Perfect for walking.
Check the website for locations. Thanks to Jamie McFadden of Cuisiniers Catering for the tip.
I’ve been enjoying discovering the Lower East Side, which is undergoing a newfound popularity. I found a sweet little boite called Sweet Chick next door to the Ludlow Hotel on a recent visit and stopped in for brunch before catching a flight home.
Young staff and young crowd, it’s an easy going atmosphere. But you can get some serious cocktails and food, such as the Smoked Pork Hash or the Eggs Benny.
Sweet Chick is at 178 Ludlow St., New York. Another location in Brooklyn.
White Oak Tavern
Sometimes you just need to duck away from the crowds, especially if you’re walking down lower Broadway. If you’re near Waverly Place, duck into White Oak Tavern. It’s comfortable, big enough not to feel cramped, and the kitchen puts out a mean burger.
White Oak Tavern is at 21 Waverly Place, New York.