The culinary groupies of chef Daniel Rose at Spring in Paris couldn’t wait to claim their tables at Le Coucou on the unlikely edge of Lafayette Street. I say “unlikely” because the culinary ex-pat’s first American kitchen is about as close to steamy, derelict Canal Street as you can get. But you may not notice when Uber deposits you at its small front porch with the neon bird logo flying overhead, because it anchors the sidewalk at 11 Howard, the new hotel in Soho by Aby Rosen in what was once a Holiday Inn.
Forgive my seeming lack of patriotism: I never rushed to taste Chicago-born Rose’s Parisienne seduction at Spring. But I’m curious to explore what he’s doing now in partnership with Stephen Starr (the Philadelphia restaurateur whose upscale Manhattan ventures seem to seed as easily as dandelions).
From day one, the big cheeses of the food world and our town’s everyday affluent have been pouring into the Roman & Williams elegantly dressed bar, gallery and dining room, with its march of chandeliers that call your eye to the scars of the original, ungentrified ceiling. Certainly, it can’t be easy mastering his act with our town’s collective gastroscenti gathered in a space larger than he’s used to.
From my table I can watch Rose, in his denim apron, furiously plating dishes in front of the wide, open kitchen or racing across the room to deliver a special nibble to a fan. He seems surprisingly boyish. Even so, tall candles on thick white tablecloths and a seasoned staff signal Le Coucou’s welcome grown-up aspirations. Add to that the fine dining reach at not unreasonable prices—hors d’oeuvres starting at $11, gourmandises from $18, fish and meats $36 to $45. Plus the compelling appeal of the a la carte menu, a liberation from ambitious chefs demanding high tariffs for tasting menus.
Citing André Soltner as his inspiration (while disarmingly noting that he never actually got to eat Soltner’s cooking at Lutèce), Rose offers his own take on classics with creative liberties, confessing his quest for finding the best American products. The veal terrine is a remarkably complex mosaic painted with olive oil and lime zest. Veal tongue is paired with white sturgeon caviar and creme fraiche, and wears a bright pink radish, thin like a jewel.
For me, Delaware eel in a curry vinaigrette suffers from breading and frying, but the friend who orders it disagrees. He’d certainly be as enthusiastic as I am about ribbons of deep-fried wagyu tripe with bits of green tomato and olives—that is, if I were sharing. The rustic bread is essential for tasting the whipped fluff of lard with black pepper and garlic. One evening recently, it was duck fat with the same texture, full of flavor. Another excuse to indulge.