The city’s best new restaurant comes from a Philadelphia-based restaurateur and is helmed by a Chicagoan chef who’s spent half his life living in France. Perhaps it took a band of outsiders to give New York something truly new—a restaurant the city didn’t know it needed until it was upon us.
But need it we did: Such are the crowds flocking to Le Coucou that even for the well-connected it’s nearly impossible to score a table. Is it because of the space, a majestic, exposed-brick-walled palace designed by Roman and Williams, all glowing chandeliers and tall taper candles, romantic and supremely elegant? Is it the service, warm and welcoming, precise yet surprisingly laid-back? Neither hurts, but truly, it’s the food that diners have fallen in love with. Part Escoffier-inspired haute cuisine, part brightly flavored midcentury nouvelle cuisine, chef Daniel Rose’s menu is unmistakably old-school French—think quenelles de brochet in lobster sauce or an entire rabbit served as three dishes. Yet Rose reimagines the traditional canons through a kaleidoscope of American ingredients, adding his own light, playful touches to produce more bold, clear, precise flavors than anything this city has seen in years.
If you’re very lucky, the kitchen might send out a small bowl of turtle soup, with veal pinch-hitting for the traditional meat in the classic delicacy—a perhaps tongue-in-cheek nod to Rose’s traditional training. After all, as the saying goes, you have to first know the rules in order to break them effectively. And Rose has certainly been schooled in the rules of classic French cuisine: He studied at the Institut Paul Bocuse and worked in a succession of Michelin-starred restaurants before opening Spring, a tiny spot in Paris, where he gathered accolades for his modern French fare. He returned stateside earlier this year at the behest of Stephen Starr, the restaurateur whose other recent openings include Upland and The Clocktower. As at his other hits, Starr has provided his star chef with a glamorous playhouse and is allowing him to play.
With its glamour, Le Coucou eschews the current trend toward pared-down, bistro-style dining. By most modern measures, it’s a resolutely unfashionable place, beloved simply for serving incredible food. And we’re all the luckier for it. 138 Lafayette St., 212.271.4252