Like a well-crafted story, the rabbit at Le Coucou unfolds in three parts, each with its own intricacies to decipher. Act one, the saddle, debuts as two rolled, offal-streaked medallions served with a sherry vinaigrette made from the animal’s heart, kidneys, and liver. The dish’s second act: a pot-au-feu of the rabbit’s front legs in light, vegetable-studded broth. Soon, a cook or server will stop by with the slow-cooked, mustard-marinated hind legs; buried under wine-softened onions, they make for a rousing conclusion.
The $36 entrée, collectively called “tout le lapin,” or “all of the rabbit,” leaves an indelible impression. It’s the dexterous handiwork of Chicago-born chef Daniel Rose, who comes to New York City via Paris, where he’s been a darling of the dining scene. Nearly two decades after first crossing the Atlantic, he’s returned with Le Coucou, an atmospheric and nostalgic French restaurant in the tradition of the country’s enduring brasseries. Having moved his family to Kings County, the 39-year-old Brooklyn dad plans to devote at least a year to nurturing this collaboration with empire-building restaurateur Stephen Starr in Soho’s snazzy 11 Howard hotel.
With apologies to Paris, New Yorkers should try to hang on to Rose for as long as we can. The affably poised leader, typically dressed in an ash-gray apron over a black polo shirt, is easy to spot among the sea of chef’s whites and towering toques in his substantial open kitchen. He’s a charming, ubiquitous presence in both dining rooms as well, hitting up tables to chat with guests and dole out complimentary tastes of duck hearts or marinated vegetables. The personal touch resonates in a place with such clearly outsize ambitions. His attitude seems to have rubbed off on the staff, all of whom are surprisingly laid-back despite the restaurant’s somewhat formal trappings (white tablecloths set with tall candles). Beverage director Aaron Thorp, meanwhile, commands a convivial crew of sommeliers who will get chatty over a deep list of mostly French wines.
Even as the city experiences a Gallic dining boom, Rose’s pristinely executed contemporary takes on French classics feel refreshing. Meals begin with gratis bread baskets showcasing local bakeries like Sullivan Street and Roberta’s alongside herb-whipped lardo from mangalitsa hogs. Small share plates highlight more offbeat ingredients, like seaweed butter melted over warm oysters, or pickled milkweed, which accompanies a veal terrine. When it was still in season, Delaware eel got crisply coated in buckwheat and dunked in a curry vinaigrette. And crunchy breaded wagyu tripe ($12) gets welcome acidity from green tomatoes and olives.
Excess abounds. Appetizers inch upward to $38 for seared veal tongue topped with crème fraîche and golden osetra caviar. “Here’s your gefilte fish,” Rose jokes as he sets down a $26 quenelle de brochet, an excellent dish of Lyonnaise-style dumplings made from ground pike (and served with lobster claws). Also impressive is the chicken crépinette, essentially a fancy ground patty wrapped in caul fat and layered with rosy slices of pluot and foie gras.
And while the rabbit is a showstopper, don’t overlook Le Coucou’s other main courses ($36–$48). Filet mignon comes with roasted potatoes and shredded oxtail, and Rose pits the sweet-sour combo of cherries and black olives against slabs of duck breast and foie gras. Dover sole is another winner, the supremely flaky fish laid over a white-wine-enriched sauce sweetened with grapes.
The restaurant’s designers, from the vaunted team at Roman & Williams, are Hollywood veterans, and they’ve imbued Le Coucou with a similarly grand, theatrical feel. Massive chandeliers hang from high ceilings; it’s a setting sensational enough to make rice pudding enchanting. Then again, in pastry chef Daniel Skurnick’s hands, that humble dessert gets a much-needed shakeup with the addition of pistachios, dried fruit, and rice flour crisps. He spikes the caramel dripped on top with a secret ingredient: Chartreuse, the French liqueur originally developed by eighteenth-century monks. They would’ve loved it here.
138 Lafayette Street, 212-271-4252