Friday, 3 June 2011

Cochon = Pig

In past years, when someone asks me for restaurant recommendations in New Orleans, I dish out two suggestions: Jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace (an event, rather than a restaurant) and Cochon. I then amend this suggestion by sheepishly admitting that I have never actually eaten at Cochon, but reassure my friends that it has an impeccable reputation. Then I quickly follow up with my raving review of Cochon Butcher, the wonderful bucherie next to the restaurant. After giving these recommendations, my thoughts drift away like steam swirling off my morning cup of coffee. I envision the decadent bread pudding soufflĂ© at Commander’s and the blue ribbon worthy pulled pork sandwich at Cochon Butcher…

…There I go again…I can’t help but let my mind wander back to those life changing culinary experiences.

Last week, I had the pleasure of dining at Cochon with Liz, Rick and their friends from Maryland. As is tradition at many of New Orleans’ restaurants, we ordered half a dozen small plates to share with each other. Those of us who were brave enough, ordered entrees as well.

As we waited for our food, I admired the rich wood interior of the restaurant. It is hard to describe the style of the asymmetrical dining room in Cochon. I would say that it is half modern, one quarter rustic and one quarter Asian: a fusion combination that only works in New Orleans (especially in the warehouse district where Cochon is neighbor to a gas station, the Ugly Dog Saloon, and a somewhat distant neighbor to the Civil War Museum, The Ogden Museum of Art, and the National WWII Museum). Ah! Variety is the spice of life, especially in the warehouse district.

Now on to the food! Our waiter informed us that Cochon “does pig best.” So after much anxiety over the menu options, I took our waiter’s advice and opted for the BBQ ribs (He seemed like a pretty trustworthy guy. After Katrina, he moved to New York, tried to make it in the Big Apple, and ultimately made his way home. That is enough evidence of good sense in my book). The ribs came out fiery and tangy. They were smothered in a homemade barbeque sauce that dripped down my fingers and rust-washed my napkin. Finger-licking goo-ood. I shared my eggplant and shrimp dressing with the table: a dark stew, thick as gumbo, with flavors teetering on the edge of perfect balance. I tried some of Liz’s pork brisket. That first bite sent me straight back to my Grandmother Rosella’s kitchen. I could smell the carrots slow roasting in the oven…mmm! The twice-baked potato was as rich as the Rockefellers. I sampled a mouthful of hush puppies dipped in house-made aioli, and had several helpings of fire roasted stuffed bell peppers. The one dish that I wish I could have tried was the oyster and bacon sandwich. Liz described it as one of those items that you order over and over again regardless of all the wonderful options on the menu. I’ll have to save that for another day.

Cochon is notoriously “heavy.” Most people do not make it to dessert, and sadly (and I mean sadly) we did not have room for dessert either. But we were tempted by the thought of homemade blackberry ice sandwiches, wedged between two fresh baked oatmeal cookies. I also had my eye on the pineapple upside down cake made with cornmeal and bathed in dulce de leche as well.

Now, when I recommend Cochon, I will actually have the eating credentials to back up my claims. The restaurant certainly lived up to its reputation.

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