Pity the poor chicken. It gets a bad rap in the U.S. It’s been relegated to fast food status with chicken nuggets, Colonel Sanders, and Boston Market. These take out options may be filling and satisfying for many, but those seeking a higher quality meal often find that even chicken dishes in restaurants are disappointing. Why bother? Better to prepare chicken at home and order steak or fish when dining out.
Leave it to the French to solve the problem. Chef Antoine Westerman, whose restaurant in Strassbourg, Le Buerehiesel, celebrated the cuisine from his native Alsace, moved to Paris and opened Coq Rico, which won rave reviews from the critics and a loyal following. Last spring, Westerman opened Le Coq Rico, in New York’s Flatiron District and now chicken lovers have a new place to dine. We decided to visit for an early dinner on Sunday and were not surprised to find the restaurant fully booked.
Le Coq Rico’s upscale decor emphasizes that this “bistro of beautiful birds” is on a mission to elevate the lowly chicken to another level. Subdued lighting creates an intimate feeling. Colors are also low key with white walls and ceilings, gray banquettes, and black tables. Whimsical touches – framed squares of white feathers on the walls, and eggs on shelves outside the restrooms, accentuate the chicken theme.
Unfortunately, we were only two people, so didn’t order one of the restaurant’s whole birds. (Next time, we will definitely come with a group.) We did, however, watch other tables enjoy an entire chicken. On the menu, these are listed by breeds and the number of days they enjoyed farm life before being “harvested.” (Servers avoid using the term “slaughter.”) The choices also differ depending upon availability. Possible choices include: Brune Landaise (110 days); Plymouth Barred Rock (90 days); New Hampshire (120 days); Rhode Island (120 days); and the Catskill Guinea Fowl (130 days).
Fortunately, there are other choices for those dining as a pair or solo. (A bar overlooking the kitchen is a favorite place to perch for single patrons.) We began with the Offal Platter (above), which included a liver, apple and heart brochette, glaced wings, roast chicken liver on horseradish toast, and spiced croquettes. Don’t be put off by the description of these ingredients as “offal,” defined as “waste,” “byproduct,” and, in general, parts of the animal many consider inedible. Trust Westerman to transform this appetizer into something not only edible but quite incredible. Each item was unique in taste and texture. Presentation added to the appeal of the dish.
For our main course, we shared the stuffed Brune Landaise Chicken for Two, served with sautéed pumpkins and spinach. Our server correctly described the dish as a chicken breast with stuffing. Truth be told, this earthy bird and its accompaniments reminded us of Thanksgiving dinner. This was a dish we would order again. A green side salad was all that was needed to complement this entrée.
With our meal we enjoyed several glasses of wine: a rosé, Domaine de Grangeneuve Grignan-Lès-Admémar; a California Charnonnay; and Cabernet/Merlot, Château Fourcas Dupré.
For dessert, we went with L’Ile Flottante, a soft meringue with red praline and creme anglaise. This floating dessert was light and refreshing.
Service throughout our meal was polite and professional. The sommelière told us that many members of the staff had come from the Paris restaurant. Their enthusiasm for Le Coq Rico was apparent. And from everything we saw and experienced, that enthusiasm is spreading. Le Coq Rico has landed in New York at just the right time.
Le Coq Rico
30 East 20th Street
Interior Images: Asia Coladner
Cuisine Images: Sideways