The opening of Le Coq Rico in March 2016 was a much anticipated happening, at least for myself and the Frenchie in me. This Paris transplant, courtesy of renowned, three-Michelin-starred Alsatian chef Antoine Westermann, is famed for mastering the art of poultry. I had never made it to the original Montmartre outpost, but have always been intrigued by the hype around the poultry-centric menu. After all, how good can chicken be, right?
The New York incarnation of Le Coq Rico, a.k.a “The Bistro of Beautiful Birds”, is located in a large, modern space in Flatiron, built by the same architects as in Paris. The bar at the entrance leads to a main black-and-white dining room, around which is a second area where the best seats in the house stand under the open-kitchen counter : this is where you want to be to observe the chefs at work and experience rotisserie chicken at its best.
Sit at the chef’s counter
Le Coq Rico serves a contemporary French brasserie fare for lunch, brunch and dinner, where poultry turns up in almost every plate on the menu. Chef Westermann is a pioneer of this kind of “haute-poultry” cooking, paying tribute to American Terroir and local farming. So what makes these birds so special? The heritage chicks are raised in open farmland from 90 days for the Plymouth Rock, to 130 days for the Guinea Fowl (the industry standard is 40 days). They are then hand-selected, braised in their stock, threaded on to a rotisserie, and served whole, family style. Along with a large selection of birds (classified by age: the older, the tastier – and pricier!), the menu also has an entire section dedicated to eggs. Every dish uses high-quality ingredients cooked traditional French style.
Let’s start with the highlights. Le Coq Rico’s menu undoubtedly includes some stellar standouts. Their “Eggz” appetizers are all deliciously rich and decadent, especially the Oeuf en Meurette (which is a rare find outside of France). Their Daisy Gold Potato Purée are possibly the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever indulged in… Seriously, wow. And the most surprising dishes are their superb egg-based desserts. Up until my meal at Le Coq Rico, an île flottante was just a boring pudding I would associate with French cafeteria food. Le Coq Rico takes L’Ile Flottante to another level, with the most remarkable execution of this classic French dessert. A must-order.
Now, the star of Le Coq Rico is… Le chicken, bien sûr! Or at least that’s the assumption. At $95 (minimum) for a chicken, I was expecting to be feathered away… but was sadly disappointed. Our highly-engaging waiter suggested we go the whole bird route, although it was just the two of us (one bird feeds up to four people). We ordered a New England breed of chicken called Plymouth Rock.
The portion was huge, but we still managed to wolf the whole roast down to the bone – regretfully not because we couldn’t get enough of the finger-licking meat, but for the sake of desperately trying to find the “aha” flavor moment (that, and we’re just pigs 😆 ). Don’t get me wrong, it was far from tasting fowl, the chicken was moist, with a great amount of jus. But I’ve honestly had just as good rotisserie at Whole Foods 😐 . I recognize it was most definitely just an unlucky experience, but I was left with a great deal of frustration. I was about to put on my best Parisian attitude and complain, but the service was so overly friendly and attentive, I chickened out… The (mostly Frenchie) waitstaff does a tremendous job from start to finish, making up for the most expensive chicken you will ever eat! If you want to make the most of your meal (and money) at Le Coq Rico, don’t put your eggs in one basket, and order a bunch of different dishes to share.
Drinks wise, Le Coq Rico has a full bar, including a great selection of Coq’tails 😛 , French and American wines (the sommelier also does a wonderful job guiding you towards the right bottle, beer and cider.
Make a reservation online
Despite my disillusionment at Le Coq Rico, I’ll keep coming back for the mashed potatoes and the amazing desserts. I’d still recommend testing out one of their “beautiful birds” at least once, just don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and expect a bill that will make you lay an egg!