Hail To King

King

Three girls three. That’s how this tale of a boîte-to-be begins. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt were working at the infamous River Cafe in London and they shared a dream. An introduction to Annie Shi, a general manager at the cutting edge Clove Club brought forth a further meeting of the minds, plus some hopes, fantasies and luckily for those of us on this side of the pond, a plan. New York City. As luck would have it, they scored the about-to-be-vacant-after-10-years space belonging to Mekong, and the rest in these short weeks gone…is history. This charming, kicky, cozy, irrefutably sublime bistro is every bit as good as the word on the street has been.

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It’s a concise, continually changing menu leaning keenly on southern Italy and northern France, a modern European take on comfort dishes, classic dishes, dishes with refinement…sparked by creativity.

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There are several tables in the small bar for dining as well as stools for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great cocktails. On the lighter side but that bartender will do a strong classic for you in a second.

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The menu includes the date because at the very least it partially changes daily.

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Carta di Musica, a favorite of mine is thin, crisp, crackling and treated to a pool of buttery oil.

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Highly enjoyable bottle from a well rounded and well priced list. Definitely one to have with food. Big and fruity, good tannins, long finish.

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Salt cod on grilled polenta was a fusion of cool, creamy, whipped, warm, crunchy. Layers of satisfaction with a nod to northern Italy’s favorite carbohydrate and an homage to the preferred dish of the Vikings, baccala, imported from them to the Veneto in the 15th century. The sweetness of the polenta counterbalances the saltiness of the cod. It’s a great bite with a glass of red wine but I think I’d love it for breakfast as well. Breakfast wine up to you.

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Fresh ricotta with lentils and marinated anchovy was lovely. The anchovies provide a umami quality offering depth and complexity to those earthy stalwarts, the lentils. Perfecting the plate is the familiar pair of lush ricotta and bitter greens. All together, comfort at its level best.

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Hand cut tagliarini with chanterelles and parmesan was both hearty and delicate. It gives you that sense of place, maybe a cozy trattoria on a snowy Italian afternoon? Though its hook translates seductively as a contemporary dish of an evening in west Soho.

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To paraphrase a favorite Preston Sturges line from The Lady Eve , the halibut roasted over lemon leaves with braised spinach and baby artichokes was a poem. Each bite was a delight, traversing from spinach to fish to artichoke and back again. I couldn’t stop eating it. And the lemon leaves…ahhh. Our lovely waiter suggested we sniff them and then lick them. In all earnestness!  He was right, the fragrant lemony aromatic fills your senses and somehow lends a deeper understanding to the French-ness of the dish.

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Slow cooked Florentine fennel was soft, deep and carmelized. A pleasing side dish.

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Prune and cognac are classic companions and though this prune and cognac tart wasn’t grand, it was definitely good. A thin riser of pastry laid with a cozy cover of custard that suspended juicy prunes and was lightly baked.

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The atmosphere is bright and spirited with the intermingling of a busy kitchen and chatty clientele, almost like a big family dinner with every recognizable character at the table. Except it has an understated elegance, is nothing short of charming and neighboring diners don’t eat off your plate.

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The always evolving menu provides an ideal canvas for the chef’s mastery and style. Their appetite for timeless dishes enhanced with an edgy imagination appears effortless, and offers the warmest of invitations. Flavors are straightforward, satisfying, beguiling. Service is on point, everyone working seems to be having a good time and interested in sharing that with the room.

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Alchemy is in play here, this trio of women, the food they create, the ambience they’ve fostered…the magnetism is inescapable. It’s the kind of place you wish was in your own neighborhood but wouldn’t think twice about hopping an uber to pretend that it is.

King

18 King Street with entrance at Sixth Avenue

917.825.1618

Closed Sunday. Monday-Wednesday 5:30pm-Midnight Thursday-Saturday till 1am

The Other Japanese

Autre Kyo Ya

You can’t leave this restaurant and not feel like you’ve just arrived home from a delightful trip far far away. . This post is about a lovely late spring dinner but every season is supremely celebrated here.

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It’s an intricate balance of French and Japanese influenced cooking with timely ingredients found locally and in Japan that are then applied to more traditional French techniques. West meets east then congas through shifting seasonality to create something else entirely. Chefs Shuji and Takashi both worked at Kyo-Ya and also come from backgrounds that include French training for Shuji as well as Takashi’s experience from Kajitsu, the lovely Japanese focused vegetarian restaurant in midtown.

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They took over a restaurant called The Barrel but the decor is very fitting for them. Elegant but comfortable. Warm and glowing.

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They have sake, wine, beer plus an interesting cocktail list, lighter and Japanese focused with elements like yuzu citrus jam and edible flowers. Plus there’s a cocktail hour from 530pm – 7pm with $1 oysters. So no excuses for not going.

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The menu is less extravagant than the mothership of Kyo-Ya, their mainly kaiseki restaurant on East ninth street. And while that restaurant, near and dear to my heart and tastebuds is remarkably unique, the thinking here too is intriguing and creative.

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Hand made plates.

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Goma-Tofu Cocktail with house-made sesame tofu, bonito-kombu broth & hanaho flower.

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A chilled and layered broth in a martini glass with excellent house-made sesame tofu that has just enough texture to keep it lively. Beautifully leveled tastes that incorporate hojiso, the sprigs of the shiso plant studded with tiny cupped flowers with seeds and miyoga, the young tender buds of the Japanese ginger plant. Executed masterfully and very inventive.

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Hokkaido Sea Urchin Consomme Gelee with onset-style egg. Delicate uni topped with edible flowers, an utterly opulent slow poached egg ever so gently cooked, in a gelée crossed with the very present sweetness of parsnip puree. The chilled broth melts on your tongue, the citrus aromatics really brighten and balance the richness of the egg. It’s smooth, viscous, ethereal. A fabulous dish.

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Gindara Tsubu-Miso, Miso marinated black cod with roasted shallots & pickled kohlrabi, you might think ubiquitous but you’d be wrong.

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Next are several dishes involving mushrooms, oysters,  seafood tempura, daikon and custard. All distinctive and gratifying.

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From the spring seasonal menu, White Asparagus and Seared Scallop with scallop dashi sauce, candy beet & watermelon radish. A playful combination of creamy, crispy, sweet and mild.

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Sakura Ebi Kamadaki Rice, the claypot rice dish of the evening, assembled and served at the table.

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Kakiage, mitsuba greens, myoga, ponzu, yuzu-kosho. Toothsome kernels of rice flavored by fish and smoke. It’s a refined but deep layering of tastes.

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They serve sake with true panache.

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Between Kyo-Ya, the ultra serene cocktail bar Angel’s Share and Sunrise Mart, one of the better places for Japanese food shopping in the city and just next door, the owners have created a mini empire in the East Village. And at Autre they also pay attention to execution and beautiful presentation. And they succeed. Autre, opened less than a year ago is a bit more casual, more affordable than its counterpart and less exotic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not stellar and its own experience. Because it is and it is.

 

Autre Kyo Ya

10 Stuyvesant Street between Second/Third Avenue

212.598.0454

Open:

Tues-Wed 5:30pm–11pm (last call 10:30pm)

Thurs-Fri 5:30pm-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sat 11am-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sun 11am-10pm (last call 9:30pm)

DINNER & WEEKEND BRUNCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mimimimimimiiiii

Mimi

Everyone’s been talking about it. Me included. Just hadn’t put pen to paper (finger to key?) for months and finally another lovely dinner a few nights ago propelled me to a mention at last. Holy holy holy, this is the real deal. If the real deal is a group of under 30yr olds opening an intimate, classic but edgy, comfy but sexy, bold with a soupçon of bygone fare cloaked in a French boîte headed up by a 25yr old chef. Because that’s what this place is.

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Grab a table outdoors for some street life with your rosé or white negroni, then score one of 27 seats inside for the kind of meal you’re ever grateful to be in NYC for.

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Chef Liz Johnson and her kitchen co-horts including fiancé Will, are confidently cooking with dynamite. She weds the urbane with the odd and eccentric, often taking long forgotten dishes and warping them into innovative, considered creations. It’s ingredient driven, imaginative and definitely outside the lines. A little Japanese, a touch Scandinavian and you’ve got the most non-French yet still French bistro around.

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The menu is handwritten and changes at least weekly if not more often. Just because your best friend had a dish they loved doesn’t mean you’ll get to try it tomorrow. But you could get a differently realized version. Sourcing matters deeply to Chef Johnson so it all depends on what’s available. Add to that a hefty amount of creative spark and I swear no one will ever be bored dining here. The owners, all similarly aged compatriots are completely involved but have wisely let their chef…cook. Louis Levy, brothers Evan and Daniel Bennett, and Camilla Deterre oversee, design, serve, and make pretty great cocktails. Like my very pleasurable French 75.

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I was fortunate to have first dined here last winter, sans phone so sans photos. Kind of refreshing. And as it was soon after they’d opened, sans crowds too. The menu I had was epic. As the menus continue to be. Ms Johnson seems to enjoy the constants of clams, shishitos and renditions of citrus or smokiness in her oeuvre. There’s pork fat galore, veal stock, cod sperm and broths of blood & body parts. She’s gone way beyond the currently popular bone. The dishes smack of layers of something deeper, unidentifiable, intriguing. Her cooking is to food what Edward Scissorhands…um…scissors were to shape. Wildly artful. We do not bear witness to her agenda, it’s more like absorbing her calculated free fall.

The menu is divided into four sections, three of which are appetizers. Hmm, okay. There are appetizers, cold appetizers, and hot appetizers. Interesting. The choices are inviting, making selection a full time occupation. Tonight for us it was seafood focused but carnivores will be consumed with revelry here. We started with the Madai, part of the Japanese sea bream family and considered a luxury fish there. An absurdly good crudo, anointed with brown butter and a kind of lemon coulis & cream. That taste could linger in my mouth forever and that would be fine.

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But I did the proverbial ‘died and went to heaven’ homage for the Gnocchi Parisian with a brandade cream and yes, shishito peppers. If air could be eaten and satisfying, this is what it would taste like. A plate of silk velvet. I wish I had my own table at Mimi’s and the staff would bring me bowl after bowl in a never ending parade. I don’t think I’d ever tire of it.

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I missed the early spring version with Hokkaido sea urchin, white asparagus and sesame seeds several months ago – and may never forgive myself.

Not a drop of that luscious sauce was going back to the kitchen so the sudden arrival of bread was timely. Don’t know if it’s made in house but it’s as good as everything else here. A crust with bite, the bread’s heady liquor dissolving into soft yeasty pockets. The butter is sensational. I alternated slices with remains of the brandade cream and the butter. A sin worth living for.

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On an earlier winter menu, there was Surf clam with leek vinaigrette, almonds and brown butter, a favorite of mine. Others at the table flipped over the Blanquette de veau, Skate amandine with razor clams, and a classic, wildly gorgeous Pate en Croute. Hard to recall details now but I do know it was all superb.

Mediterranean Turbot with Manilla clams, grilled squash and saffron had an unexpected sweetness. The fish that is. Flaky and firm, perhaps with a bit too much of the citrus vinaigrette. Overall though, slamming.

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Beautifully cooked Golden Snapper with sweet Manilla clams, brandade stuffed in a cuttlefish sauce plus charred shishitos. Nutty, earthy, mild brine, lovely.

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Now when it comes to Bibb lettuce, one might think oh salad, not worth missing a more exciting dish but one would be wrong. So wrong. I don’t know what’s in this champagne vinaigrette – it’s fragrant, light but not trivial and the incredibly fresh greens with the acidic pops of picholine olives makes this a plate to go out of your way for.

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The almost mythical Chocolate Tart demands it’s well deserved reputation. Black cocoa infuses the creaminess, keeps it from being cloying and balanced with the chilled scoop of milk sorbet, it’s glorious. It’s not too much, it’s everything right.

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The design is visually subtle, but ultra sophisticated and arty. It’s a stainless steel cocktail bar, spun aluminum lights, there’s marble, velvet, hand drawn murals, and formica tables. It’s clever and unassuming. Good jazz on the sound system and we have Paris meets the Greenwich Village of The Beats and of now.

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The staff is winning and very passionate about the food they are offering. Gracious service combined with an interest in the diner’s take. It may be the first time I believe a server when they say, oh that’s really fantastic if asked a menu question. The wine list seems to be oddly half Bordeaux and they are focused on suggesting pairings for the food. I only had a glass of Pinot Noir after cocktails but will amend this on my next visit.

It’s a neighborhood spot for those lucky enough to live nearby but the rest of us are lucky too. There are subways and ubers so any neighborhood scene is fair game for claiming. Plus an enchanting destination restaurant such as this is always welcome in the dining sphere. Now you just have to snag a table.

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Mimi

185 Sullivan Street between Houston & Bleecker

212.418.1260

Open Monday-Saturday serving past midnight and Sunday for brunch

 

Le Coucou est Arrivee

Le Coucou

If you were lucky enough to dine at the infamous restaurant Spring, in Paris, particularly during the early days in the 9Arr when Chef Daniel Rose made time to cook plus visit with diners – count your blessings. It still holds court in a more expanded version in the 1Arr or maybe you checked out his newer bistro digs, La Bourse et La Vie in the 2Arr. But if you haven’t yet made it to any of these, you can still count your blessings, as now you may dine domestically at his shiny new spot here on the continent of North America in New York City.

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It’s elegantly swank. Old world meets mod in an interior designed by the illustrious Roman and Williams. Inside the boutique Howard Hotel with its own entrance just off the corner of Lafayette and Howard Street, it’s an oasis of glamour in the last vestige of edgier Soho. Triple hung glass windows face the street and wide glass doors herald your arrival. It makes for a rather heady approach as you’re greeted by a whisper of an inviting lounge to your right and the smaller of two magnificent dining areas to your left. Sparkling chandeliers, an abundance of charm, and several hostesses decked in varied styles of pale blue clouds float over to welcome you. Your heart may skip a beat. Blondie’s The Tide Is High is playing in the background. It’s all so beautiful. This looks to be an exceptional evening.

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A Chicago native, a student philosopher, a chef with a deep love for classic French cuisine, Daniel Rose found himself in cooking and doing that in France. He may have fully immersed himself in the culture but he brought along midwest hospitality and a curiosity about people. He thinks about food. He thinks about what taste means. He wants you to love it. And his fervent passion for ingredients, for quality, allow him to embrace his dishes with tradition but lace them with his personality.

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White clothed tables, vaulted ceilings, brick walls, pewtered-steel chandeliers with hand-blown glass shades, bluish banquettes and vintage chairs give the ambience a wry sophistication.

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First a perfect summer cocktail, the #2 with Rosé, Aquavit & Elderflower, accompanied by some of New York’s finest bread. Olive rolls from Sullivan Street Bakery plus two different breads from Roberta’s. It rarely gets better than these. We asked for seconds later in the meal, seemingly for sopping up fabulous sauce but really – because we fell under the yeast spell. The breads were offered with three delectable accompaniments,  whipped mangalitsa lardo combined with pepper and garlic, radishes in an anchoiade and a lively Vermont salted butter.

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The menu divides in three parts, with tapas-esque plates to share (mais bien sur, this is NYC after all), hors d’oeuvres, starters and main courses. You can switch it up any which way you’d prefer. And I definitely have my eye on several dishes to return for.

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I kept my slightly warmed oysters with seaweed butter all to myself but later shared a starter. I’m usually table generous but parting with a bite here is kind of an effort. I want it all.

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Huitres tiedes, beurre aux algues were lovely. Oysters and seaweed effect a perfectly arranged marriage and the heat plus butter lend an earthy richness to the shell’s liquor.

You might think tomatoes, peas etc would certainly be an enjoyable dish but maybe not the one you’d be consumed with discussing the next day and yeah, yeah – you’d be so wrong. Really wrong. Salade de tomatoes et mangetout rafraichis aux fraises is possibly one of the most delightful composed salads I’ve ever eaten. Divine little strawberries scattered with pistachios was almost surreal. The tomatoes were sweet even next to the fruit and all of it is bathed in a deeply flavored tomato sauce. A gorgeous combination of tastes that redefine fresh.

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A companion loved his un-shared Salade de Haricots et Oreilles de Cochon, a white bean salad with crispy pig ear and anchovy, wonderfully light and brimming with subtle flavor.

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I caved on the Asperges au vinaigre de bois, mimolette. I grudgingly extended an invitation. A delightful asparagus with smoked wood vinegar and mimolette. The honeyed deep carmelized flavor of the cheese with that fudgy finish is magic with the smokey vinegar and the green stalks.

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From the Gourmandises section,  we did share what will likely become the signature-don’t-miss-it-all-the-rage plate, but it deserves the glory should it be heralded. Oeuf Norvegien…egg, salmon and a cold artichoke heart with a surprise of chive cream. Bagels and lox – you’re on notice.

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Caille frite, buckwheat fried quail in herb butter and lemon confiture. No bone beyond the leg, as meaty as quail can be, juicy, crisp, greaseless, excellent.

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Quenelle de brochet, sauce américaine should live on an exalted list of quenelles you need to know. Pike quenelle with lobster sauce, ethereal, barely tethered to this earth in a deep, rich stock of shells and dressed with a piece of perfectly cooked claw meat. There’s not a lot of zest here, like most of the dishes, it’s not loud but clearly redolent of lobster flavor. Its delicacy also seems to be its strength.

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My best of list lengthens with each arrival from the menu, to be fair, a combination of two visits. Fleurs de courgette farcies were new to me, or I had just missed them on an earlier menu perhaps – don’t make the same mistake. Lobster stuffed squash blossoms with yogurt, mint, dill and cucumber. I could just look at them and be satisfied, very much eating with the eyes…but then you make that delicate cut and the heavens pour forth.

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Canard et Cerises, served with cherries and olives, the duck breast was lovely, a gorgeous preparation accompanied by an excellent seared foie gras.

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The Bourride with halibut, Santa Barbara spot prawn, mussels, and clams in an ethereal fish fumet was mine all mine. Served in a glistening copper pot, ladled at table, it’s delicate yet rich, a warmth that reaches down to your toes. This fumet is meant for worship. Plus you get to dip in fabulous toast with aioli for that understated zing.

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Cotes d’agneau de colorado, aubergines, tomato farcies – lamb rack with eggplant and sensational lamb braised shoulder stuffed tomatoes. A classic dish that goes way beyond its origins. It reminds us that old world is now world.

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Dominique, a sommelier, slyly recommended a Greek wine for our food choices and it was absolutely on point. From Santorini and a real menu find priced below $60, it was cool and creamy, with a bright floral acidity balanced with a dark mineral complexity. Sensational with the food.

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Hedging dessert on the first visit, we went for the cheese course offered as one, three or five cheeses. Uh huh, no choice – we had the five. All made in the United States, another example of how the Chef takes advantage of more local ingredients. Defined by this country if not the farms of Chinatown. Missed the names on my first visit. There was a chèvre from Indiana and something fabulous from Oregon. Ha. But a great representation.

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Voila! On another visit, and going for the equally satisfying three cheeses, I scored names from the delightful Amandine, Chef Rose’s sommelier here from Paris. Some of the names apply to the big five plate from a previous visit. A Red Hawk from California, Savah Schaff from Pennsylvania and the Hooligan from Connecticut. Sublime.

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From day one, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders. Seasoning is spot on. Chef Rose doesn’t over do, he orchestrates the combined ingredients to sing in harmony and leaves a dish just at the precipice of transcendence.

A few of his cooks from Paris are here for the opening weeks, including his sous chef. Service is perfection. At the moment there seems to be three people on the floor for every diner but at no time is it precious, it’s professional but warm and charismatic.

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Dessert had been impossible on my first visit after that cheese course, but the post prandial sweets sent out by the kitchen were wonderful. On another visit I had less cheese and shared more desserts so I could enjoy more of pastry chef Daniel Skurnick’s wizardry.

This Chiboust à la Vanille is like a dream. For me it had every component I love in a dessert…a toothsome and none too sweet pastry crust, and a gossamer vanilla cream with a mix of sweet and sour cherries to further the flavors along.

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Riz au lait Coucou, his take on classic rice pudding with pistachios and chartreuse was sumptuous, airy, delicate.

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Dishes are not unreasonably priced, appetizers are mostly less than $15 and mains fall between $20-45. With slim profit margins in today’s dining climate, this is rare given the artistry of the food, service and mise en scene. Le Coucou is a marriage of sorts between Chef Rose and Stephen Starr of Starr Restaurant Group. Usually a producer of high voltage money making restaurants, Mr Starr is finding a balance between those and something like this, a highly refined classic bistro, and a labor of love.

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Somehow the Chef knew what diners needed now. Classic traditional comfort turned on its head. Butters and sauces we’d forgotten we missed. But he allows for a quirky and modern take to assuage any guilt. This bohemian magnetism draws you in from the moment you call for a reservation and find yourself listening to the Grateful Dead as hold music. This is not your Grandmother’s Lutece. It’s the 21st century version.

Le Coucou

138 Lafayette Street at Howard Street

212.271.4252

Open daily 5pm-10pm