“I sometimes have to pinch myself when people tell me just how much they enjoy the food,” says Daniel Rose, executive chef and co-owner of Le Coucou, the hottest French restaurant in town. “I am surprised every day by the ways in which Le Coucou resonates with people.” The New York Post even went so far as to call it one of the best New York restaurants of the century.
While Rose is new to the city, he’s been a star of the Paris culinary scene for the last decade, a status hard to achieve by talented French chefs, never mind one who is a native American. His restaurant Spring, which focuses on classic French cooking, became an instant hit in Paris (as did his second spot, La Bourse et La Vie, which opened to rave reviews). “What Daniel has achieved in Paris, as an American chef in the most classically traditional culinary environment imaginable, is remarkable,” says Stephen Starr, Rose’s partner in Le Coucou and the restaurateur behind such popular spots as Upland and Buddakan in New York.
What’s revolutionary about Rose’s cooking is how he makes the time-honored seem modern. What’s old is new, particularly in his kitchen, where he distills the classics to their essence and maximizes flavors with carefully sourced and inventively combined seasonal ingredients. Rose, who earned his cooking stripes in Europe, training with culinary masters at the Institut Paul Bocuse (which ignited his interest in cooking), as well as with Jean-Pierre Bruneau in Brussels and Yannick Aléno at Le Meurice, says he didn’t adapt his menu or cooking style for the New York market. “Every time I try to cook what I think other people may like, I am less successful than when I make what pleases me,” he explains. “I’ve tried to keep the tastes as close to those that are familiar to me in Paris.”
Rose has often said how important the integrity of ingredients is for his cuisine; and while New York has a rich bounty of specialist suppliers, well, it’s not France. “Each ingredient is from a very specific purveyor. We source in many different places, from the Union Square greenmarket to specialist fish purveyors that source both locally and, for very special pieces, from Japan,” he says. “The careful sourcing of ingredients is a very important part of why Le Coucou is so well received.
While chefs are often reluctant to single out their favorite menu item, Rose likes one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the Tout le Lapin (rabbit), which, he says, is “joyful and generous and very French.” Other menu items of note at Le Coucou include appetizers like the poireaux (made with leeks and hazelnuts) and the huîtres tièdes, beurre aux algues (oysters warmed with seaweed butter), “Gourmandises” dishes such as the quenelle de brochet with lobster sauce, and entrées like canard et cerises (duck, cherries, and black olives) and bar noir cuit sur les écailles (black bass, beurre blanc, and fermented daikon).
Rose says he’s thrilled with the team assembled for Le Coucou, calling them “exceptional. The effect is definitely something more than the sum of its parts.” For the the sweets menu, Rose works with executive pastry chef Daniel Skurnick, who likes to pay homage to classic desserts by updating such favorites as chibouste à la vanille (red wine cherries) and mousse au chocolat. Aaron Thorp, formerly of The Standard, oversees the 600-bottle, largely French wine collection and the selection of spirits, which come from small French or domestic distillers. There are vintage Chartreuse, Cognac, and Armagnac offerings, too. The tonics are made in-house.
Le Coucou, located in The Howard, Aby Rosen’s latest hotel project, was designed by Roman and Williams, the duo behind many of New York’s most stylish hotels and restaurants. For Le Coucou’s interior style, think loft via the Marais, with whitewashed brick walls lined with blue-gray mohair banquettes, concrete ceilings, and pewtered chandeliers. Without the often stark minimalism popular in so many city restaurants, the space skews casual but with white-oak tables covered in linen, Thonet arm-chairs upholstered in olive-green velvet, and antiques placed throughout the box-within-a-box-styled space.
Le Coucou is open daily for breakfast and dinner. For more information, go to lecoucou.com or call 212-271-4252.