31
Jan

LE COUCOU

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LE COUCOU

THERE AREN’T MANY RESTAURANTS WHERE I WOULD EAT TWO DAYS IN A ROW, BUT THE FIRST LUNCH AT LE COUCOU DEMANDED I RETURN TO SAMPLE MORE DISHES ON THE MENU. THIS WAS PARTIALLY MY OWN FAULT SINCE I BROKE MY OWN RULE OF NEVER ORDERING THE SAME THING AS ANYONE ELSE. BUT WHEN PETE WELLS DESCRIBED THE QUENELLES DE BROCHET AS “FLUFFY” AND WENT ON TO RHAPSODIZE ABOUT THE SAUCE AMERICAINE; WHEN LYNN AND HELEN BOTH INSISTED ON ORDERING THE QUENELLES, WHAT’S A GUY TO DO?

I DID NOT REGRET MY DECISION. THE OVAL LOBES OF PIKE, TAMIS-SMOOTH, AS AIRY AS SOUFFLÉS, FLOAT IN A SEA OF CRAYFISH OR LOBSTER CREAM. EACH BITE PRODUCES A LITTLE GROAN. A BLIND MAN AT AN ADJACENT TABLE MIGHT HAVE IMAGINED WE WERE ALL HAVING SEX, BECAUSE DANIEL ROSE’S QUENELLES ARE ABOUT AS CLOSE AS YOU’RE GOING TO GET. FIRST COURSES, THOUGH NOT AS LASCIVIOUS WERE EQUALLY SUBLIME: RAW BAY SCALLOPS IN A MILD VINAIGRETTE, PRETTILY ADORNED WITH CLEMENTINES, CHESTNUTS AND CELERY LEAVES; LEEKS WITH HAZELNUTS; AN AUTUMN SALAD OF BIBB LETTUCE WITH WALNUTS AND BLUE CHEESE. DESSERT? MAIS, OUI. RICE PUDDING WITH PISTACHIOS AND CHARTREUSE, PAVÉ OF BITTER CHOCOLATE WITH PRALINE ICE CREAM AND AN EXQUISITE GRILLED PEAR WITH MUSCADET, VANILLA ICE CREAM AND ALMOND BRITTLE.

BUT SECOND THINGS SECOND. THE RESTAURANT ITSELF IS LOCATED ON A RATHER UGLY STRETCH OF LAFAYETTE, JUST NORTH OF CANAL. ONCE YOU PASS THROUGH THE MAGIC CURTAINS, HOWEVER, YOU ENTER A VAULTED SPACE OF RAW, LIME-BLEACHED BRICK, DESIGNED BY ROMAN AND WILLIAMS. THE ELEGANT BAR, FRAMED IN AN ARCH IS UP FRONT; THE OPEN KITCHEN TOWARDS THE BACK. CHANDELIERS AND SCONCES BATH THE TABLES IN A WARM GLOW. A VERITABLE ARMY OF WAITSTAFF GLIDE GRACEFULLY BETWEEN WELL-SPACED, LINEN-DRAPED TABLES. OUR WAITER INFORMED US THAT THE RESTAURANT REPLACES A DOLLAR STORE AND THE LOBBY OF A HOLIDAY INN.

THE CHEF, DANIEL ROSE, WAS ONE OF A HANDFUL OF AMERICAN CHEFS WHO MADE THEIR NAME IN PARIS; CHEF ROSE WITH SPRING, THEN LA BOURSE AND, FINALLY, LA VIE. ROSE IS INTERESTED IN THE CLASSIC REPERTOIRE OF HAUTE CUISINE, BUT LIKE POINT AND CHAPELLE BEFORE HIM, HE REPLACES RICH, FLOUR-BASED SAUCES WITH REDUCTIONS. NOR IS HE DOGMATIC ABOUT CLASSIC FRENCH FOOD. THUS MY RAW SCALLOPS WERE COMPLIMENTED BY CLEMENTINES AND THE FRIED MONTAULK EEL COMES BATHED IN A CURRY VINAIGRETTE.

THE WINE LIST IS HEFTY AND THOUGH WEIGHTED TOWARDS FRANCE INCLUDES BOTTLES FROM SLOVENIA, GREECE AND LEBANON. OUR FIRST DAY’S WINE WAS A DRY ALSATIAN RIESLING FOR AROUND $48.

THE NEXT DAY I RETURNED WITH A NEW LUNCH PARTNER, WHO WAS EAGER TO TRY THE QUENELLES. LIZ STARTED WITH THE AUTUMN SALAD. I TRIED THE CELERY REMOULADE, A MOUND OF WHICH CONCEALED VELVETY HOUSE-CURED SALMON. I’D COME BACK FOR THE RABBIT POT-AU-FEU WITH ROOT VEGETABLES POACHED IN RABBIT BOUILLON. WOULD I LIKE THE FOIE GRAS SUPPLEMENT? BUT OF COURSE. CLEAR, MAHOGANY BROTH WAS RICH WITH THE BONES OF MANY BUNNIES, BUT LIGHT. IT SEEPED INTO THE PARSNIPS, CARROTS AND BABY TURNIPS. NICE WITH A LITTLE BIT OF FOIE GRAS.

I REMEMBER THE COMELY SOMMELIER RECOMMENDED A CRISP AND CHALKY GREEK WINE, WHICH I’D NEVER HEARD OF, BUT I’M A BIT FUZZY ABOUT WHICH DESSERTS WE HAD AT WHICH LUNCH. I’M PRETTY SURE THE RICE PUDDING REAPPEARED. I HOPE IT’S ON THE MENU THE NEXT TIME I GO BACK. AND THE NEXT.

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