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8.5
NYC

Le Coucou

PHOTOS: Noah Devereaux

Some people really enjoy fancy restaurants. The white tablecloths. The multi-course menu. The waiters with slicked back hair and difficult-to-place foreign accents.

I am not one of those people. I once hijacked a very thoughtful multi-course Valentine's Day plan and made the case for going to Shake Shack instead. (It can be very romantic under those twinkle lights in Madison Square Park). I usually end up dropping some piece of food on white tablecloths. I love great restaurants, but the pomp and circumstance of old-school Fine Dining has always made me feel like I'm a passenger on the Titanic or something.

And yet, I love Le Coucou. In many ways, Le Coucou is a fancy French restaurant - white tablecloths, candles on every table, a menu full of complicated French dishes whose names you might not always recognize, dishes that come out in copper pots. But servers talk to you like a normal human, and the chef, an American who's known for opening the excellent restaurant Spring in Paris, walks around in a black t-shirt rather than a chef's hat. You could, in theory, wear jeans.

Noah Devereaux

Most importantly, the food is exceptional. Everything we've eaten here has been executed just right, and dishes feel like ever-so-slightly modernized versions of traditional French cooking. We'd never eaten a quenelle de brochet before (it's kind of like a flan made out of seafood, which sounds terrible but is actually incredible) but we're fairly certain there's no better one in the United States. The duck comes with a side of foie gras and a little duck heart, and you can also eat pheasant or rabbit or veal tongue. (Don't worry, there are oysters and salad and lobster tail and dover sole too.) Seriously, all of it is great. And while prices are high, they aren't offensive.

A meal at Le Coucou registers a few ticks above a place like L'Artusi or Maialino on the Nice Night Out scale, but definitely below your Le Bernardins of the world. There aren't many places on that level - think of it as a newer, more downtown-y stand in for something like Marea. On our last visit, we sat across from Rachael Ray dining with Kathy Griffin, and saw Clive Davis on our way out. Make of all of that what you will.

By the way, I did drop some endive salad on the white tablecloth. Didn't even feel bad about it.

Food Rundown

Endives au Jambon

A saucy, tangy salad with crispy prosciutto on top. This is the salad we dropped on the table. Great way to start, whether you have the eating skills of a child or not.

Salade de Homard

A big hunk of lobster tail with some greens. Straightforward, tasty, though if you want lobster, we'd recommend getting your fix in the Quenelle de Brochet. Read on.

Quenelle de Brochet

If you're not familiar with Lyonnaise cooking (if you are, that's cool), a quenelle de brochet is a sort of flan/omelette made with pike fish. It's silky and smooth, almost with the consistency of fresh, soft tofu. It comes sitting in a broth that's like the best lobster bisque you've ever had, along with a chunk of lobster tail. If you still can't picture it, just order it - this dish is probably like nothing you've ever had, but absolutely incredible.

Bourride

Bourride is a bit like a lighter version of bouillabaisse - you'll get a copper pot filled with a clear fish-based broth, with a piece of black bass and a bunch of seafood floating inside, plus some intense aioli on the side to mix in. They're very accommodating about letting you share, even with things that come in one big pot, and we recommend doing that here.

Canard et Cerises

Perfectly cooked duck, with a little bit of foie gras, and a tiny duck heart. You don't have to eat the duck heart if you don't want, but you really do have to eat the foie gras. Get this.

Pavé au Chocolat

A damn good piece of extremely rich chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream. Order dessert if you want, but know they also give you some petit fours (this is a fancy restaurant, remember) if you only need a little bite of something.

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