When I read about Le Coq Rico (“The Bistro of Beautiful Birds”) in Patricia Well’s “The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris” I instantly circled it an exclaimed to Anna that we had to go. Why? Because it is a restaurant that focuses on poultry. When I told Anna the restaurant sounded like an upscale chicken shack I was greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm. But, with my responsibilities for our trip being culinary in nature while Anna planned…everything else, I put it on our list of places to go.
It turns out that it is tough to get a table at Le Coq Rico. While they are open for lunch and dinner every day of the week, it is a popular place. I tried to squeeze us in for lunch on our first day in Paris when we visited Montmartre for a grape harvest festival, but had no luck. Sorry, they said, we are booked solid. Determined to get a table, I downloaded the European version of Yelp, The Fork, and managed to get a table for one of our last nights in the city. In hindsight, this was a great idea, since Sacre Couer provides one of the better views of the city for a post-dinner stroll.
The concept of Le Coq Rico is pretty simple, which makes it even more brilliant, in my opinion. The menu focuses on poultry, including without limitation, chicken, guinea hens, duck, etc., and there are a few main courses that include fish, but the spotlight is on the fowl. Eggs are given their due, and so are the array of side dishes that showcase the vegetables in season. But really, when you come here, its all about the bird(s), as it should be. After a week of dining at restaurants ranging from brasseries to Michelin Star restaurants, Le Coq Rico in my mind best exemplifies what I like so much about traditional French cooking: no bullshit, great wine pairings, and if you are lucky, you are seated and served family style with your fellow dining companions. The food is sourced locally, so the ingredients speak for themselves.
We actually got seated next to another couple from Boston who were foodies themselves, so in the spirit of the Three Musketeers we looked at the menu and decided “all for one, one for all” and had at it. For our starters, we selected The Poultry Giblet Delicatessen Board, which is a chicken sampler of livers, hearts, fried wings, and spiced croquettes. Truly fascinating and delicious, the board focuses its attention on the lesser parts of the bird. I found the hearts and liver to be particularly good, and so did the couple from Boston. For them, it brought back memories of eating chicken livers in a traditional Jewish household. We also ordered the Meurette Egg, which is an egg poached in red wine and served with bread and bacon. Both starters were awesome, but begged the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
For dinner we opted to split the Bresse Chicken, which serves 4 (which at 92 Euro, breaks down to 23 Euro per person, so not bad). This comes with a perfectly vinegary tossed salad, amazing pommes frites, seasonal vegetables, and macaroni and cheese, so its actually reasonable when dining with a group. What is particularly cool about ordering the chicken for 4 is that the restaurant cooks your bird to order on a rotisserie, and once it is finished, it is brought out to the table, carved up, and served family-style. The salad and vegetables helped cut through the richness of the macaroni and cheese, and the frites were easily some of the best we had in Paris that week.
Desert equally shined, as we split the Floating Island and Chocolate Millefeuille. The Floating Island was both delicate and decadent, mostly because of the cream anglaise. The meringue was incredibly light, even more so than a macaroon or marshmallow. However, the Millefueille truly was something to rave about, as the puff pastry was perfectly thin but not overpowered by the chocolate layers, which helps in appreciating the contrast in textures and flavors in this dessert, which is no easy feat to make.
Le Coq Rico is opening a New York City location this coming fall, and I can say without a doubt that I would go back, as it is a wonderful concept and restaurant that embodies what I like most about french cuisine – great ingredients, awesome wine, and no attitude. That being said, I hope I find myself back in the Paris locale, rather than New York, if I had to choose.