New Orleans, Louisiana
Apparently, a trip to New Orleans is an obligatory race to see how many calories one can intake, how high one can boost their cholesterol, in the course of their stay. The only prize is the satisfaction of one’s own gluttony.
My trip happened to be four days short, and it was with four days-worth of cream, butter, pork fat, and bourbon coursing through my veins that I decided to go for the whole hog.
To fortify me for my finale, a high-class stripper act for the lovely TSA officers at MSY, I swung by Cochon, Donald Link’s super-hyped gastrobutchery (that’s what I’m calling it), for a quick lunch before heading to the airport.
Having spent my friends’ appetites on a string of indulgent meals (*amateurs*), I went alone.
Arriving a bit early, I ducked into Cochon Butcher, the restaurant’s charcuterie and sandwich shop next door, for a look.
Cochon Butcher is small. There are about four high tops and a counter along one wall with stools. There’s a modestly sized refrigerated case of house-made products (packaged and ready for sale) and a walk-up cashier station beneath a giant chalkboard menu dominated by meaty selections.
Apparently, Cochon doesn’t serve any of Cochon Butcher’s charcuterie. So I talked myself into snacking on a plate of Cochon Butcher’s house-made meat products (“Charcuterie” $14).
The charcuterie selection here changes often. Thoughtfully assembled, the meats are garnished with some excellent pickles (more sweet than salty or sour); grainy mustard; fat, marinated green olives; and crispy, thin flatbread flocked with sesame seeds.
My plate consisted of about half a dozen thinly shaved slices of each chorizo and spicy fennel sausages. Both were well-made, though I liked the fennel sausage more. Speckled with pockets of white fat, it had a full, rounded flavor with an aggressive bite.
There were also just as many slices of duck prosciutto, which were cut just a little thicker than the sausages. With a full rind of soft fat, the strips of prosciutto – made from the breast – were much more tender than waxy, though shockingly salty.
The little cup of pork rillette, thick and flavorful, was also good, especially spread on the flatbread with mustard.
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Like Cochon Butcher, Cochon is minimally designed. Preferring wood to metal, the place looks like it might have been sponsored by IKEA, making it the perfect backdrop for the yuppies that filtered through over the noon hour.
At Cochon, I ordered six dishes – all first courses – and a dessert. I’m sure my server thought me mad, but played it cool. It was a considerable amount of food for one person.
To see all of the photos from this meal, CLICK HERE. To see the photos of each dish, click on the individual dish titles below:
Wood Fire Oyster Roast ($11)
Pumpkin calas, pecan & tasso bacon. ($8)
Pickled peppers. ($8)
Chili-garlic aioli ($10)
Warm Hog Head Cheese
Field beans and ravigote. ($10)
Fried Rabbit Livers
Pepper jelly toast. ($9)
Oyster & Meat Pie ($8)
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Cornmeal cake with coconut-lime sorbet & dulce de leche. ($7)
The first set of three dishes that arrived were the best.
The “Wood Fire Oyster Roast” was excellent. Five to an order, these large oysters were fat and juicy, bursting with oyster liquor. Coated in a spicy chili butter and served warm, they were delicious, by far the most memorable dish of the day.
Chef Donald Link’s personal take on a Southern classic, the “Fried Boudin” yielded three large croquettes, each with a golden, crisp breaded exterior. If I’m not mistaken, Link braises pork in water (not stock) and mixes the cooked meat with rice and seasonings. I half-expected the interior to be wet and slightly mushy like an arancino. Instead, the even mixture of rice flecked with pork was surprisingly light and fluffy. It was like a very fancy version of a hush puppy, though it was a bit less flavorful than I had expected.
The lightly dressed “Bitter Greens” salad was a little over-seasoned, but otherwise very good. The greens (a variety including mizuna and arugula) were pert and fresh, topped with creamy goat cheese and dotted with soft pieces of tasso ham coated with dressing. Although there were supposed to be pecans in the salad, I encountered none. The best part of this salad were the pumpkin calas that anchored three corners of the plate. These savory fritters were wonderful. Cochon should considering adding a bowl of these calas as a side dish.
The remaining dishes ranged from mediocre to disappointing.
The chili-garlic aioli coating the pieces of “Fried Alligator” was good, but, like most alligator I’ve had, the meat was tough and sinewy. I admit that this may not be a fault of the dish, but rather a matter of personal taste.
The “Fried Rabbit Livers” were terribly dry and chalky, a reminder why so many shy from livers. It’s a pity, because everything else on the plate was wonderful, especially the sweet pepper jelly, which had a devilish bite.
A pasty with a meticulously crimped edge, the “Oyster & Meat Pie” sported a wonderfully soft, flaky pastry crust. The filling – a mixture of rice, chopped pork, and minced oysters – was more akin to what I thought the inside of the fried boudin would be like – wet and slightly mushy. Unfortunately, for having both pork and oysters in it, it was shockingly flavorless, relying on the spoonful of zesty, tomato-based condiment for excitement.
Like the Fried Boudin, the “Warm Hog Head Cheese” had a beautiful, fried crust. But the interior – a jumble of meat, collagen, and fat – was cold and stiff, not at all the melting seduction I was expecting. It tasted as if the square of pre-breaded head cheese had just been pulled from the icebox and deep-fried just long enough for the crust to cook. The creamy ravigote was bland; it lacked the balance of acidity and salt that the delicious, accompanying bean salad had.
You won’t find anything terribly creative on the dessert menu here. It’s a short and sweet survey of Americana, the type of simple desserts that I tend to like. There’s Root Beer Float, Mississippi Mud Cake, and “Pineapple Upside Down Cake,” which I ordered.
Buttery, sticky, and caramelized, the dome of cornmeal cake was very good. But there was hardly any pineapple caramelized on the turned-over bottom for this dessert to earn its name. The accompanying coconut-lime sorbet, dices of ripe pineapple, and a lovely dulce de leche sauce were fantastic together. They could have served this tropical trio in a bowl, labeled it “Argentinian pina colada,” and called it a day.
Cochon has been universally praised. Enthusiasm for this restaurant and its food seems unbridled. It has developed a cult following.
I don’t get it.
Or, perhaps, I do. In an age where the words “pork” and “fat” – especially when used together – have become a clichéd cue for obligatory excitement and cheer, it’s not surprising that a restaurant named Cochon would cause such mouth-foaming
What is surprising, however, is that I found myself at a restaurant named Cochon marveling at the oysters and accusing its pork of being bland.
It’s apparent that Cochon puts a great deal of care into its craft. There’s an emphasis on high-quality and fresh ingredietns. Everything was well-crafted, well-plated, and thoughtfully composed. I especially enjoyed the use of fresh mint to temper the spiciness of some of the dishes (it was wilted into tumble of alligator nuggets and perched atop the fried rabbit livers). What Cochon did well, it did very well.
But none of the dishes I tried was anything that couldn’t be found in dozens of good restaurants around the country, or even in New Orleans.
Although I didn’t get to sample any of their main courses, I’d be more inclined to return for the restaurant’s bread rolls, which were like a hybrid between a good Parker House and a well-crusted brioche (i.e. lots of butter), and the service, which was helpful, efficient, and warm.
I understand that mistakes happen. At my meal, unfortunately, there were a few. The head cheese could have been thawed out a little longer before going in the fryer. The rabbit livers could has used a little less time in heat. And I wish that the salt in my salad could have been redistributed throughout the other dishes.
Yet, despite these mistakes, it’d be unfair of me not to acknowledge that the food at Cochon is categorically good. It just didn’t leave this little piggy squealing for more.
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, Louisiana