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The Furor Over Le Coucou Explained

I am always reticent about visiting restaurants where the word of mouth appears to be overstating the importance (and the quality) of a restaurant. And when combined with how difficult it usually is to secure a table at a reasonable hour at a restaurant that fits that description, I managed to avoid visiting Le Coucou until yesterday. But when my friend, Brian Caldwell, was kind enough to extend a reservation to lunch yesterday, I figured it was time to break my prohibition.

If I was writing about any other restaurant that served me the same meal that I ate yesterday, I wouldn’t bother writing a blog post about it. I mean what can you write about quenelles, crepinettes and braised neck of lamb that hasn’t already been written? And how could anyone possibly make versions of those dishes that would cause me to say more than, “the bisque homard was really good." But the furor that was unleashed on the food world when Le Coucou first opened, especially from friends of mine who made claims like "it is a return to the type of food people really want to eat" and "the quail dish was so good I wanted to order it again for dessert", made me want to write a piece not about the food, but about why the food caused that type of reaction for them.

First let’s talk about the food itself. The best way for me to explain it is if you are someone who had the pleasure of eating Parisian bistro food at places like places like Allard, Chez Pauline, A Souseyrac etc.; Daniel Rose has done an excellent job of replicating the food from that era. But dare I say he has improved it (despite the domestic ingredients not being as good as what they source in France) because the chefs in the classic French bistros were mostly self-taught. But Daniel’s food has the type of polish that you find in food that comes out a contemporary kitchens where the chefs have paid their dues for years. That means the cooking at this restaurant is star-worthy, when one might not have felt the same way about a dish like the duck with olives at Allard. But my tomato stuffed with tuna, the quenelles de brochet and a slowly-braised lamb’s neck stew were all top notch and I would happily go eat them again (I note that invitations from readers will receive strong consideration.)

But if that is all the food is, why such strong reactions? I tried to think of other restaurants that still cooked in this style and I realized that Relais Louis XIII (which earned its name by being located in the Parisian house where Louis XIII himself was born), whose kitchen is run by former Tour d’Argent chef, Emmanual Martinez, serves food that one might compare to what Daniel Rose serves at Le Coucou. Except, and no offense to Daniel who does an excellent job at Le Coucou, the food at Relais XIII is better. In fact if I tell you that the quenelles at Relais XIII are two or three times as good as the version at Le Coucou, I might be under-exaggerating. Yet the dining room at Relais Louis XIII is likely to be half empty when you visit, while you will probably have difficulty securing the table you want at Le Coucou.

The missing link between the Relais Louis XIII’s of the world and the Le Coucou’s of the world is one if in fashion and the other is not. Because the very same people who are raving about the food at Le Coucou, are not making sure they are eating this