Le Coq Rico: A Beautiful Bird

It came as a shock to learn last week that I have a number of symptoms associated with ‘Untreated Francophilia.’ They vary in both severity and in the type of activity one chooses to engage in. Less acute symptoms, for instance, might include planning the next trip to Paris, within minutes of having returned home from France. Markedly more severe symptoms include the stalking of French restaurants, cafes and patisseries wherever you happen to find yourself. Experts say the only cure for French Stalker Syndrome is total immersion in French culture—a month or two in the south of France would be therapeutic.

But finding it impossible to jet off to France any time soon, I head downtown for a few hours to check out a new French outpost in the Flatiron District, Le Coq Rico: The Bistro of Beautiful Birds.

This all-bird bistro, the younger sibling of a restaurant by the same name in Paris on the edge of Montmartre, is the fifth restaurant of the three-star Guide Michelin chef Antoine Westermann. He, like Gabriel Kreuther, the owner of the eponymously-named restaurant I blogged about a few weeks back, hails from Strasbourg, which is the goose capital of the world. Talk of birds come easily to Alsatian chefs, as does talk of wine.

The restaurant is U-shaped, with two long storefront spaces—one serving as a bar, the other having a long counter with a view of the kitchen—are joined at the rear by a modern-bistro style dining room, with handsome table settings identical to those at Le Coq Rico in Paris.   

With my companion engaged in conversation with the receptionist, I slip away to explore another part of the restaurant.

Which is when, rounding a corner, I come face-to-face with a chef wearing a spotless white jacket and a half-smile. Are you our chef? I stammer. He is! But are you Chef Westermann? He is! If I’m pleased to meet him, he, with all that Gallic charm, insists the pleasure is his. We make small talk, he asking if I had been to the restaurant before (no), and I how long Le Coq Rico had been open (three months). At which he obliges me, and I snap this photograph before scurrying back to the main dining room to find my companion looking around for me, wondering where this girl had gone.  

So, what’s the story on this bistro of beautiful birds? Well, France has long been known for its chickens from Brest, which are thought to be the most succulent birds in the world, as they roam free and are infused with the flavor of local bugs, leaves and seeds. It’s the roaming free and the digging deep that makes them so flavorful. The maître d' explains that their chickens at Le Coq Rico are organically raised on farms in Lancaster County and up in the Catskills. Meanwhile, all around us, whole birds, meant to be shared, are coming to the tables.

For a starter, we share the duck rillettes, an incredibly meaty, decadently rich spread served with fresh-pickled vegetables and a basket of bread that’s baked in-house. Gluten-free or not, it demands a nibble. By the way, nearly everything on the menu is gluten-free, if not the bread. Isn't it perfect?

Traditionalists, we order a classic Rotisserie roasted chicken served with a mixed seasonal salad—the chicken, moist and tasty, comes with a small pitcher of a clear jus that is irresistible. Indeed, when the jus dribbles across the plate to mix with the field greens, they, too, became irresistible. 

It's then two side dishes—compliments of Chef Westermann!—come to the table, a side of macaroni and cheese and a medley of chanterelle mushrooms and baby limas. We were blown away by the veggies, leaving nary a bean nor a mushroom on the plate.  

Of course, we should have had dessert, as each confection sounds more decadent and divine than the last. Take your pick, what shall it be? L’Ille Flottante, a soft meringue floating in a pool of crème anglaise? Or a very raspberry soufflé with vanilla Bourbon ice cream? Or what about a peach poached in a verbena infusion with summer berries and verbena ice cream? To round off the list is a classic, a long-time favorite—profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce dripping over the choux pastry onto the vanilla ice cream. The very thought sets my taste buds a-tingling. All the more reason to go back soon.  

But what do you think of the idea of a restaurant all about birds–be they capons, guinea hens, Cornish hen, squab, or ducks? Would you like to try it? Drop me a note, I'd love hear from you. But if you like chicken as much as I do, so, Le Coq Rico is the place for you.

Le Coq Rico, at 30 East 20th Street, is open Monday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and every day from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. for dinner. On Saturdays and Sundays, they are open for brunch from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The bar is open every day from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.


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Merci beaucoup... See you back here next week, when I will have a surprise for you.

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