Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Tale of One Great Meal

About Coquette, I said almost a year and a half ago it had "Some growing up to do if it wants to run with the big boys."

Well, Coquette has grown up. A lot, in fact. Not only is Coquette running with the big boys, in some ways it is setting the pace. Take for instance the fact that Chef Michael Stoltzfus has melded the higher end cooking of places like Restaurant August (where he trained under John Besh) with the farmer's market driven menu of the new American Bistro.

A shining example of this is his salad of market vegetables which arrived last Friday studded with cubes of kohlrabi, spears of baby carrots, tender peas, cherry tomatoes and more on a taut pool of yogurt. No more, very little less. The flavors of the salad changed with each bite leading the diner on a treasure hunt through the garden. It was simple. It was elegant. It was the best salad I've ever eaten.

Another salad played on the classic combination of ham and eggs. But here it was big leaves of Bibb lettuce topped with a soft poached egg and crispy fried strips of pig ear. If Stoltzfus sold those pig ear strips by the can, he'd put Bac Os out of business.

Most restaurants in town have a version of shrimp in a spicy sauce (see remoulade, BBQ shrimp, "BBQ Shrimp" at Stella!). At Coquette, briny shrimp coated in tempura and fried to the color of a California girl's hair get tossed in a sambal vinaigrette to become a most welcome change of pace and a good way to start your meal. Or maybe you choose a clean white bowl, the bottom painted with shaved asparagus, crabmeat, and candied orange. A waiter will come by and pour a puree of pearly white aspargus puree. Their is a lusciousness, a flirting between ocean and plant, the two never really uniting, but having a good spring fling.

There is a homemade pasta dish, here echoing not just traditional New Orleans food, but also that of Stoltzfus's childhood home of Maryland. Thus, you get a golden brown fried softshell crab sitting on top of chitarra pasta in a brown butter sauce with peas. Breaking into the crab sends out a tidal wave of crab and fat which mingles and coats the pasta. This is great eating.

Scallops are de rigueur in fine dining now and Coquette has a good version of those as well. On this night, they came over a parmesan sauce with strips of fried chicken skin. Good if a tad oversalted. "Rene you are nitpicking," Lindsay says. As always, Lindsay was right.

But then came the star of the show. A smoked pork shank removed from the bone and tossed in a rich dark stock and studded with morel mushrooms. Beneath it sat a raviolo filled with cream cheese and an egg yolk. There was also a cigar of pork bone filled with aromatic and fatty marrow. You do the math.

Pre-dessert here came ice cream sandwiches made with a cinnamon macaroon and stuffed with ice cream flavored by horchata that refreshing Mexican quencher. This was followed up with a goat cheese mousse served with barely macerated Ponchatoula strawberries and a brittle, which I thought was a very clever alternative to creme brulee. Fried dough of any kind is Lindsay's krytonite and Coquette has beignets with a chocolate dipping sauce and salted caramel. That is never a bad way to end a meal.

There was of course cocktails, wines, and impeccable service. But like good lingerie, it is better to leave a little to be desired. Get yourself to Coquette. The next great New Orleans restaurant is really hitting its stride.

Coquette - Birdie/Eagle
2800 Magazine Street
(504) 265-0421


Awren said...

Just because, I believe you that Coquette is awesome.

But man, I've had too many mediocre meals there with quite shit service.

True, last time I was there was when you wrote that article, so maybe it is time to turn over a new leaf and visit again.

Rene said...

Hot Foot Awren,

Give it another try, I am glad I did.

PS You are too young to be this cynical. Wait until you are at elast 25.