in New Orleans, I was (no surprise here) watching a food program on either the Food Network or Cooking Channel. They did a short piece on Cochon Butcher, the less expensive offspring of Cochon—a more upscale restaurant. So we added Cochon Butcher to our list for our March return to New Orleans.
We jump to Lafayette where we were encouraged by a local restaurateur to vote for Lafayette online in Southern Living magazine’s “South’s Tastiest Town” contest. And so we did. And thus discovered that a new restaurant had opened—Cochon Lafayette. Could it be related to the New Orleans restaurant with a similar name? Yes, it could.
“…In the past few years, a wave of new eating has rippled through Lafayette—propelled largely by chefs and entrepreneurs returning home and finding a bevy of sophisticated mouths to feed.... By far the most high-profile homecoming is that of Donald Link, from nearby Crowley, and his business partner and fellow James Beard Award winner, Stephen Stryjewski, who have opened a branch of their wildly popular New Orleans restaurant, Cochon, in Lafayette's south end....
“…Just over three decades ago, Paul Prudhomme brought his brand of Cajun cooking to the world at his legendary New Orleans restaurant K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen; this is Link and Stryjewski reversing the process, to the great benefit of all involved. As more visitors and natives have found, it turns out Lafayette is a nice place to linger” (Brett Martin at bonappetit.com).
“Many New Orleans entrepreneurs and chefs who have branched out to open restaurants in Acadiana featuring ‘Cajun’ cuisine…fall way short of replicating the true regional fare. Now, an acclaimed New Orleans chef has come to town, and he has gotten it right. What’s more, he has elevated the authentic Cajun dining experience in Lafayette to a new, more refined level, while offering creative interpretations of the classics. You won’t find the typical fried shrimp, crawfish etouffée, dinner salad, and house Chablis here….
“The new Cochon is surrounded by trees and overlooks the Vermilion River that runs through the center of Lafayette.
The handsome, contem-porary structure…features a 2000-square-foot deck,
a bar that seats up to 50 (where you can also dine),
and a terrace adorned with citrus trees where guests can relax with cocktails or order from the full menu and the bar menu.
Inside the spacious dining room, there is an open kitchen, and you can watch the chefs go to work at the wood-burning hearth, which is always fun to observe” (Lisa LeBlanc-Berry at ourhouse.biz).
Link and Stryjewski believe in using local food purveyors—so local that the deck is abutted by a small garden that provides the herbs used in the kitchen and some of the salad greens.
The lunch menu contained a short list of entrees that included: beef meatloaf with tasso gravy and mashed potatoes, grilled tuna salad with lemon garlic vinaigrette, roasted chicken thigh salad with winter greens and buttermilk dressing, a beer battered fried mahi-mahi sandwich with pickled cabbage and tartar sauce, a pulled pork and coleslaw sandwich with onion rings, pan fried catfish with green chili rice and roasted peppers, and oyster and bacon sandwich. Many of these sounded intriguing, but it was the small plates and sides that captured our attention.
While we studied the menu, we snacked on a basket of cornbread squares. So good were these that we looked forward to the rest of our meal with anticipation.
We started lunch with the boucherie plate which is very similar to the affetatti misti at Ancora in New Orleans. So similar in fact that one of the items was the hogs head cheese (bottom left) which is “the Italian version of head cheese.... It is a sort of sausage-meets-terrine made of cooked pork pieces and spiced broth set into a firm gelatin mold. Thinly sliced, you can eat it cold with crusty bread or warmed to release the gelatin broth's saucy goodness…” (menuinprogress.com). Cochon’s texture wasn’t as fine as Ancora’s and more resembled the German-style head cheese I knew (and hated) as a child in Iowa. While both versions were delicious, on the texture issue alone I give Ancora a slight—very slight—edge.
Rounding out the plate were the restaurant’s version of “slim jims” (top left) which had the requisite chewy texture and salty taste that you find in the version sold near almost every mini-mart cash register; lightly smoked and very moist country ham (top right); dry cured and chewy house-made capicola (bottom right); and, in the center, were house made pickles (since Chuck doesn’t eat pickles these were mine—all mine) and a small cup of duck rillette.
To me, this last was the star of the tray. Chuck looked at it with great misgivings, taken aback I think by the thin layer of duck fat on the surface. I spread some on one of the small pieces of toasted bread and exclaimed “This is so good!.” When will I learn? Soon we had the battle of knives as we each raced each other to empty the dish.
“Rillette is like a rough version of pâté. Meat…is slowly cooked in fat/lard until tender enough to shred apart easily. The meat is then mixed with some of the cooking fat and seasonings. To store, the mixture is compressed into containers, and sealed in…, yes, you guessed it, the cooking fat again! ...Typically, the meat for rillette is pulverized into an almost paste-like consistency, making it easier to spread across a slice of bread or a cracker…” (ouichefcook.com).
Next came my favorite dish of the day—a plate of grits topped with a fire grilled sausage with peppers. What set this apart was the grits. They were coarser ground that most grits and were very rich. I asked our server if they contained cheese and, after conferring with the kitchen, came back and told me that they were made with just butter and milk. I have to conclude that the richness comes for the butter—lots of butter. The sausage was smoky and peppery, but the grits were something else. So good that Chuck, no big fan of grits, was also scraping the bottom of the bowl. And they rose to another level when mixed with the juices from the sausage and peppers.
Then came the charred onion hush puppies with pickled chile mayo. Hush puppies can be unbearably heavy, but not so these larger-than-a-golf-ball puppies. But, of all the menu items we sampled that day, these would be the ones I wouldn’t order again. Not that they weren’t good. But there are more intriguing items we didn’t order—like the fried chicken livers with pepper jelly toast. But that may have pushing Chuck too far.
Rounding out the meal was a dish of white beans with bacon and pork and seasoned with pepper. I have now become a devotee of white beans (as opposed to red beans). I think because you can easily find small white beans which tend to become creamier and more tender than the red.
We couldn’t leave without dessert and waivered between the warm sticky pecan chocolate pudding with bourbon vanilla ice cream and the apple cobbler topped with a cornmeal biscuit and house made salted caramel ice cream. The latter won.
I don’t know if the entire dish is baked next to the open wood fired oven. I suspect that the apple filling (crisp apples lightly flavored with cinnamon) was assembled in the back kitchen with the cornmeal biscuit added later. But the use of cornmeal in the biscuit added a crunchy quality along with the light dusting of sugar on top. And salted caramel ice cream has become one of my favorites. I really like the balance between sweet and salty.
This was a great lunch. A 5.0 Addie lunch. A lunch that has me eager to return. Especially for more of those grits.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.