Le Coucou opened in late 2016, the first New York restaurant of Daniel Rose, who previously ran a restaurant called Spring in Paris. In the Bowery area, the restaurant has wood floors and exposed brick walls but also chandeliers and some banquette seating, so this is not standard issue hipster fare decor other than the gloomy lighting. Neither is the menu, which is very much classical French, with retro dishes like sole Veronique and pike quenelles. There was a full a la carte offering rather than the no-choice tasting menu of highly tweezered weird ingredients that seems almost obligatory these days.
The wine list was mostly French with some additional US wines. Examples were Keuka Lake semi-dry Fingerlake Riesling 2015 at $56 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for $23, Domaine du Pelican Arbois Chardonnay 2014 at $96 compared to its retail price of $33, and Jean-Louis Chave St Joseph 2014 at $168 for a bottle that will set you back $78 in a shop. There were prestige wines too, such as Domaine Paul Pernot Les Pucelles Puligny Montrachet 2009 at a stiff $370 for a wine with a retail price of $108, and Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2012 at $1,325 for a bottle whose current market value is $764.
To start with, tomato stuffed with tuna, olives and herbs was pleasant though nothing to set the pulse racing (13/20). By contrast, sweetbreads with cream, tarragon and maitake mushrooms had lovely texture and came with a copper pot with additional sauce, rather than the artful drops and smears favoured by so many chefs today. The sauce itself was lovely, with deep flavour, creamy and aromatic with herbs. This was a rich, old-fashioned delight, and I happily mopped it up with some extra bread (16/20). Crab with buckwheat pancakes and lime was much less successful. The crab was fine in itself but was a bit salty and had unnecessary basil, and the buckwheat pancake was chewy and actually hard to cut through (barely 11/20).
Halibut was cooked accurately and came with daikon done in the style of sauerkraut, with a properly made beurre blanc. The astringency of the sauerkraut worked well with the buttery sauce (14/20). A whole rabbit was served in three separate dishes, the loin tender with a vinaigrette using the kidneys, with the hind legs with a mustard and onion sauce and the forelegs prepared as a pot au feu, each served in separate copper pots to the side of the plated loin. This was a very enjoyable dish, the rabbit avoiding the dryness that can often afflict this particular meat, the mustard and onion sauce having a pleasing bite to it (14/20).
Strawberries had that rarest of things these days, real flavour, served with almonds and tarragon (ah well, they almost managed to keep it classical), and although simple the flavour of the fruit was lovely (14/20). Lemon pancakes with lemon confit and lemon ice cream were fine though for me could have been a little sharper in balance with the sugar, and the pancakes themselves were not very delicate (13/20). A millefeuille of raspberries with creme legere (lightened pastry cream) had decent pastry, and the fruits had reasonable flavour (13/20).
Service was reasonable, and the bill came to $265 (£205) per head before tip, though that involved considerable indulgence with the wine list. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle then a realistic cost per head might be around £90. I liked the format of Le Coucou, with its choice of dishes and appealing menu. The best things that we ate were very good, and the only issue was one of consistency: there was a wide gap between the best and the worst plates of food, and on average it was right on the border between 13/20 and 14/20 but the inconsistency suggests that caution is in order. Overall though, it had enough going for it that I would consider trying it again.