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Eaters’ Journal 7/16/16: Le Coucou, By Chloe, Maple, Dizengoff, and More

Field notes from Eater editors about recent meals around New York City

Le Coucou: How refreshing it is to have an exciting, incredibly polished restaurant open in downtown New York that isn't Italian. That isn't loud and tiny. That isn't uncomfortable and overpriced. I was completely charmed by my first visit to Le Coucou. They put effort into the lighting (spotlights on the food but soft lighting on your beautiful face), the dishware (copper pots and silver serving trays abound), the (complimentary!) bread and butter, the mignardise, the plush seating, even the pen in the checkbook at the end of the night. The waiters are so well dressed that when I approached one for directions to the bathroom, I found myself staring into the unsmiling face of one Bobby Flay.

Most crucially, the food is on point. If I could, I would eat Daniel Rose's pike quenelles with lobster in sauce Americane every night of my damn life. We went a little nuts and also ordered the leeks (lovely), the fried tripe (pretty good but I wouldn't need it again), the oeuf Norwegian (gorgeous presentation and delicious but unnecessary), the duck (incredibly good), and the rabbit, which at $35 could actually feed two people as it encompasses four dishes. Le Coucou is expensive yes, but not overpriced. And like at Stephen Starr's other recent ventures, the portions are surprisingly generous. A couple could order the rabbit, a couple of starters, a dessert, and two glasses of wine each and get out for around $100/head. Add in the (free!) bread, petit fours, potential for a food celeb sighting, and it might just be one of the best deals in town. Amanda Kludt


By Chloe: Even jaded New Yorkers stop and gape when they pass By Chloe on Bleecker Street. Any hour of the day a line straggles out the door of the vegan hotspot and down Macdougal Street. The other day a friend and I decided to brave the line. It was about 2 p.m. on a weekday, and we hoped the lunch rush would have subsided. No such luck: Our wait in the line was 45 minutes, then we waited an additional half hour for our food to arrive. Meanwhile, the dining room was totally packed, mainly with milling customers who had already ordered and were hoping to find a seat. An atmosphere of panic prevailed, as dishes paraded out of the kitchen with excruciating slowness.

Sure there were hippies and diehard vegetarians in the line, but a predominant constituency appeared to be middle-aged moms with their tween girls in tow. Our order was called out item-by-item as we sat at a cramped communal table. The "classic burger" — sporting a patty composed of tempeh, lentils, chia, and walnuts — was awful, the bun dry and the patty like a piece of cardboard. The oven fries on the side, however, were good (we’d ordered both potato and sweet potato varieties). The kale salad was comparable to any other in town, not bad, just not distinctive save for the almond "parm" and the shitake "bacon." Our meal ender was a cinnamon-espresso cookie, flat and crunchy, and it was really excellent, leading us to think that maybe you should go for the baked goods at By Chloe instead of the savory. — Robert Sietsema


Maple: In the balsamic-vinaigrette-and-green-goddess-sodden landscape of desk salads, there is none so robust or venerable as the Cobb salad, an intrinsically satisfying combination of a pleasing variety of fats and proteins (animal, vegetable, dairy) distributed amongst a generous pile of plant clippings. When instantiated with even minor regard for its ingredients and composition, it works in any context—creamy dressing or vinaigrette, tossed or chopped, on a plate or in a bowl—and conveniently for the Way We Eat Now, low carb.

Little surprise, then, that the delivery service Maple, whose concept more or less aligns with what I want from a work lunch—healthy(ish), substantial enough food to drag me through the rest of the day, delivered to my grim particle board desk at an okay enough price—has added a Cobb Salad to its list of menu Standards, making it an item you can always count on when navigating the tiny maelstrom of its ever-rotating menu. What is surprising is just how bad the Cobb I had this week was? Maple is generally as skilled as any other Midtown nutritional dispensary in choosing produce (the farro/cauliflower bowl is quite solid), but for all its technological innovation and supply chain mastery, it simply cannot seem to figure out how to cook a fucking chicken. One does not expect a Humm and Guidara chicken for two to be gently resting atop their desk salad, but basic edibility seems like not too much for ask for? It's rude to the greens, avocado, and cheese that it was packaged with—all fine, like most Maple produce—and to the chicken who gave its life so that I could hit my macros.

I suppose one could ask if this is a question like is this a problem of technique, or one of standards—what is Maple's platonic ideal of a chicken breast?—or proceed, a few steps further, and ask if one should be eating cold, pallid, mass-produced salad chicken at all, when there's a perfectly reasonable alternative out there, like Soylent or choosing your own death, and I can't really argue with that.

The Maple cookie is still really good, though.Matt Buchanan


Al Di La Trattoria: My hunt for good eats in Park Slope continued this week with this very popular, longtime Italian restaurant on 5th Avenue. It’s a beautiful and charming restaurant, and the whole experience was a welcome departure from the slightly chilly service of of some trendy places. For some reason, the waitress telling us the specials verbally felt old school, though to be honest, it’s possible that I just haven’t been to a casual restaurant that doesn’t write its specials on a chalkboard in a while. (I did, after all, live in Bushwick for a couple years.) We ordered the mussels, a black spaghetti, and a tortelli filled with corn and mascarpone. The food was rich and well portioned, and both the mussels and the spaghetti were spicy without being unbearable. The crowd was definitely on the older — read: close to retirement, if not already there! — side. I didn’t fit in, but it still felt nice to be in a place where I’m the one doing the restaurant a favor, instead of the other way around. — Serena Dai


Achilles Heel: Hell’s chicken is served on Sunday nights at Achilles Heel, the bar at the edge of Brooklyn, and of the Andrew Tarlow empire. The birds are cooked over live coals and finished in cast iron, all on an outdoor grill that evokes a medieval torturer's dungeon. The birds dangle from hooks affixed to a scaffold, like gallows, as they await the rack, or rather the grill. After being seared over burning coals, the chicken, its skin burnished and blistered, is entombed in cast iron before being butchered and served. There is something rather macabre about the whole affair, but the result is an unexpected complexity of flavor and litheness of flesh. The bird is tangentially perfumed by the smoke, but the real flavor is from the feed and breeding — this bird has character, with a gaminess more commonly found in duck. — Nick Solares


Blessings Herbs and Coffee: Some friends who live in Flatbush are brunch fanatics, and they keep me apprised of their dining adventures. Just recently they raved about a new brunch spot in their neighborhood and I joined them there last weekend. With no sign out front and located right on Flatbush Avenue, Blessings offers a plain green façade to the street; inside is a tiled white coffee bar with some stools and other miscellaneous seating, and a narrow dining room beyond that. As we entered a jazz trio played. Five or so brunch dishes are printed each day on the chalkboard, and we picked pancakes with fruit and a tuna melt. The pancakes were generous, but a bit doughy, and the tuna melt was fantastic, though it was more like a toasted cheese sandwich. Not a bad spot for brunch seven days if you happen to be in the neighborhood, but no alcohol licenses currently. — Robert Sietsema


Dizengoff: My brother recently moved to Philly and was sending me photos of Federal Donuts, so I thought I’d finally try out our little taste of Michael Solmonov here in New York. Full disclosure: I don’t think hummus and pita alone will ever be a destination meal for me. (It fills you up, but come on, hummus is not actually a real dinner.) That said, Solmonov and executive chef Emily Seaman’s version is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had. The pita is fresh and big and puffy. The tomato combo on the hummus is rich and layered. A side of pickled peach paired perfectly with it, adding the right amount of tart to balance out the creaminess of the hummus. I’m excited to see what else Solmonov brings to New York. Maybe he’ll even open a place where I don’t have to go into battle for a seat. — Serena Dai


Santina: My goodness how the prices at Santina have crept! Case in point: The egg sandwich which was $17 just a year ago, is now $24. Which is almost as much as the delightful and expertly prepared fritto misto I enjoyed instead. The tangle of crisp calamari, shrimp, scallops, shishito peppers, onions, and olives came expertly battered and fried, requiring only a spritz of lime to achieve optimum calibration. To start things off, the cecina remains a sure bet, don’t be afraid to ask for extra crepes when you invariable tear through the first serving. Price hikes aside, Santina is still among the most civilized places to eat in the Meatpacking District. — Nick Solares


John Brown Smokehouse: My brain hasn't stopped thinking about smoked meat since Eater's Barbecue Week last month, and now I'm trying to hit up all the 'cue parlors I've never been to before. Two weeks ago, that was John Brown Smokehouse in Long Island City. The burnt ends and pulled pork were so good that I went back last weekend for more. This time, I dipped into the specials as well. The house sausage was moist and crumbly like good morcilla, and very spicy. I also loved the pecan-smoked wings ($1 apiece) slathered in a thick, peppery sauce. Good collards too, with a 2:1 ratio of greens to meat. One thing I really like about this place is that it's not trendy — no vintage fixtures, reclaimed wood, or old-timey knicknacks, like you find in some of the acclaimed barbecue restaurants these days — and there is no bullshit in terms of ordering or getting your food. When I was there last Saturday, many of the people waiting in line with me were what I perceived to be European gastro-tourists, so I guess word gets around. — Greg Morabito

Top photo: Le Coucou by Nick Solares

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