Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cochon - New Orleans

There are few restaurants I can think of that are so simultaneously in the moment and rooted in tradition as Cochon. With nose-to-tail dining and in-house charcuterie all the rage, Cochon's menu appears to be all over the latest trends: pig ears, rabbit livers, boudin, pork cheeks and ham hocks abound. Yet for Chef Donald Link, who also runs the more upscale Herbsaint, all of this is really nothing new: for him, this kind of whole hog dining descends in a not-too-crooked line from his family's Cajun, and ultimately Germanic, traditions.[*] We stopped into Cochon for a late lunch during our New Orleans visit and got some prime seating - the "Chef's Counter" in the back of the long, wood-paneled space, just to the side of the pass and the open kitchen - where we got to drool over every dish as it went out.

This made it all the more difficult to decide, yet we ultimately went with the oyster and meat pie, grilled shrimp with chow-chow, an arugula salad with pumpkin calas, and the boucherie plate. Before those came out, though, we would get to try another bit of the pig:

In addition to bread, Cochon serves fried pork rinds, with a little cane syrup for dipping. How can you not love the place? And yes that's a beer with lunch. I was on vacation, and it was at least 2pm. It isn't your concern.

The oyster pie seems to be a Cajun tradition, with lots of oysters cooked down with the Cajun "trinity" (onions, green bell pepper, celery) thickened with cream and flour to make the filling; the oyster and meat pie appears as a not-uncommon variant. In my vicarious experiences here in Miami from folks with Louisiana roots, I've seen it done either as an actual pie with a cracker-y crust (as Chef Kris Wessel does at Red Light) or, as with Cochon's, like a turnover (as Chefs Chad Galiano and Kurtis Jantz did with an oxtail pie for this Paradigm dinner). The filling of this oyster and meat pie was dense and loaded with flavor, and I liked how the oysters made the flavor transition from briney and seafood-y to rich and meaty, more like the umami-rich dark Chinese oyster sauce than like fresh oysters. The crust was flaky and buttery with just the right amount of crisp on the exterior.

The arugula salad came with pumpkin calas (little fried rice balls, reminiscent of a hush puppy), pecans, tasso and some crumbly (goat?) cheese. Mrs. F thought it was oversalted, though I disagreed. Someone didn't feel like waiting for me to get a pretty shot of these grilled Louisiana shrimp with a neon-green chow-chow relish. A nice combination and some fine shrimp, but I suspect there are more exciting items to try on the menu.

This, though, was the real pièce de résistance of the meal for me: the boucherie plate, featuring (clockwise from top left) pork rillettes, a dried sausage (struck me as a saucisson sec style), bologna, headcheese, and sopressata, all prepared in-house. It was possibly the most delicious headcheese I've ever tried. Sliced thin, it was almost translucently golden with gelatinous goodness, dressed up with enough spice and herbs to hold your interest but not so much as to overwhelm the pure porky flavors. Rich and smooth, this practically melted as it hit your tongue.

The sopressata, as you can see, was pressed rather than ground, with some good spice to it. The other sausage was ground, had been dried further and was sliced thin, and tasted more sweet than spicy to me. The rillettes were creamy and rich, and were nicely brightened up in combination with either the creole mustard (hidden behind the ramekin) or the thin-sliced sweet pickles. The pickled green tomatoes (all the way in back) were also a nice "palate-cleanser." The only item here that didn't really do it for me was the bologna, sliced very chunky and thick. But the rest of it was, hands down, some of the best charcuterie (or, I suppose I should say here, boucherie) I've ever tried.

These stewed greens were, to me, almost as magical as the head cheese. Generously studded with pork, they had a velvety rich texture, and were just loaded with flavor, with a perfect balance of salt, sugar and vinegar. Again Mrs. F said "too salty." Again I disagreed.

You can see Chef Steven Stryjewski (who worked his way up from line cook at Herbsaint to co-chef and co-owner of Cochon)here hustling his butt off behind the line. I heard one of the guys on the line say they'd done over 200 covers this day - during a Tuesday lunch service. There's a reason they're so busy. Cochon was one of the first new restaurants to open after Katrina tore its way through New Orleans, but its Cajun roots run strong and deep. In a great example of the "everything old is new again" phenomenon, Cochon does Cajun that's fresh, contemporary and relevant.

930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Cochon on Urbanspoon

[*]There's the German thing again. I feel as if I've underestimated the Germanic influence on New Orleans, particularly after stumbling across this, suggesting that Germans settled in the Mississippi Delta in the 1720's, a few decades ahead of the Acadians.


  1. Ohhh man you're killing me slowly with these delayed New Orleans posts. Besh, Link, what's next a Boswell uppercut??? ha!! I wish I was a Viking fan so I'd have an excuse to book a flight this week.
    Who dat!!!!

  2. Good prediction. We followed Cochon lunch with a Stella dinner. Quite a day. That one is coming next.

  3. Going to N'awlins for Jazz Fest April 30-May 2. First trip to NO! Gonna need recs from you, Chef K, and Chef Chad fo sho!