Last Updated on Thursday, 04 November 2010 17:18
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Cochon fills a niche that went begging for attention for decades. Inspired by the many small butcher shops found throughout in Cajun country (but rare in the New Orleans area), it cures and smokes its own meats and sausages. With that resource Cochon creates a unique menu. It's related to but different from barbecue. This is home-style Cajun cooking, but the kind made from smoky-cured meats. There are seafood dishes, but they're in the minority on the menu. Not even crawfish shows up often. The result is convincingly Cajun and distinctive.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The kitchen starts with the best possible pork and other meats, and performs with great care the time-consuming, careful process of turning it into andouille, boudin, cochon de lait and dozens of other specialties. It's been so well received that after a couple of years Cochon added a retail butcher shop and deli to its operation. The menu is riddled with high miscellany: pig's ears (really--not the pastries called pig's ears), rabbit livers, pork cheeks, and alligator, to name a few. Preparations and sides are thoroughly country in style. All of this convinces visitors from other places that they are eating real Louisiana food--and they are.
Co-owner and chef Donald Link grew up in westernmost Acadiana, and from the day he began cooking (in his teens) he wanted to build a menu around the Cajun butcher shop. Before he finally did, he went back and forth in the 1990s between New Orleans and San Francisco, winding up as sous chef at Bayona. In 2000, Susan Spicer and Link partnered in Herbsaint, a very successful French-Louisiana bistro that Link now owns himself. Link, with partner and co-chef Stephen Stryjewsky, was assembling Cochon (French for pig) when Katrina brought everything to a halt. He opened it in 2006, the first major new restaurant in New Orleans after the storm.
It's a former factory, with floors of bare concrete and a battered brick wall along the sidewalk. The rest of the design has an almost Scandinavian look, with varnished, horizontal wood along the back walls. Tall ceilings, interesting lighting, an open kitchen with a food bar, and even a nice treatment of the sidewalk at the entrance (with a few tables out there) complete a handsome, casual environment. The chairs, with their slatted, flat seats, are not comfortable for long dinners.
ESSENTIAL MENU [*=Recommended]
»Fried rabbit livers with pepper jelly toast
»Wood-fired oyster roast
Grilled shrimp with chow-chow
»Artichoke stuffed crab with garlic
»Fried alligator with chili garlic aioli
Caramelized onion and grits casserole
Fried cauliflower with chile vinegar
»Fried boudin with pickled peppers
Spicy grilled pork ribs with watermelon pickle
Fried pig ears with cane syrup mustard
»Paneed pork cheeks, baked peanuts, radish-turnip salad
Shrimp and deviled egg gumbo
Soup of the day
Mushroom salad with fried beef jerky and lemon
»Mixed green salad, fried black eyed peas, jalapeño vinaigrette
»Bitter green salad, fried pig-ear strips, strawberries, goat cheese
Cucumbers and herbs in vinegar
»Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins
»Rabbit and dumplings
Ham hock, sweet potatoes, pickled greens, black eyed pea ham broth
Smoked beef brisket with horseradish potato salad
»Oven-roasted fish "fisherman's style"
Oyster and bacon sandwich
»Macaroni and cheese
Broccoli rice casserole
Twice-baked stuffed potato
Eggplant and shrimp dressing
Mississippi mud cake
Ponchatoula strawberry shortcake
Pineapple upside-down cake
House-made ice cream and sherbet
FOR BEST RESULTS
The menu has almost three times as many appetizers as entrees. Making a meal entirely from the small plates is a very god plan. Know that despite the rustic sound of the menu, the prices are those of a gourmet bistro--entrees in the high teens and low twenties. This is not unreasonable, given the quality of the meats and what goes into them. The restaurant has received so much national attention that it's very busy in time of heavy tourism. I would not come here at any time without a reservation.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu needs more variety in the entree department. More than a few dishes here seem to be more about making a menu statement than providing a good eat. (The smoked hamhock with okra and blackeye peas is a prime example.)
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +2
- Service +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +1
- Sidewalk tables
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Monday lunch
- Open all afternoon
- Reservations recommended
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Cochon, even as good as it is, is certainly the most overrated restaurant in New Orleans. The national attention it captured in the months after Katrina was such that if you read the New York Times or Gourmet (to name two examples), you'd think that it was the only restaurant in town. Gourmet named it best new restaurant in New Orleans in 2006, and came back to name Butcher (Cochon's attached deli) the best new restaurant in 2008.
Visitors to New Orleans walk away from Cochon satisfied, as do younger New Orleans diners. Both groups may be eating these dishes for the first times in their lives. Those of us who grew up with the stuff (this requires a certain age) might be less impressed. Beans and ham hocks are good, but can only be lifted so high.
Donald Link published a superb cookbook in 2008 called Real Cajun. There's no question that he knows what it's about. He and Stryjewski are expanding the crusade with a new location of Cochon in Lafayette in the near future.
|< Prev||Next >|