Cochon Restaurant in New Orleans
photos courtesy of Cochon
I see a menu with things like "bacon," "pork belly," and "fried pig's ear," and, friends, I become giddy. I am aware that there are others (bless their hearts) who don't share this enthusiasm. But I'm a little zealous. So when I recently sat down to lunch at Cochon, chef Donald's Link's porcine ode and one of New Orleans' most buzz-worthy restaurants, I whipped out my cell phone to immediately text all of my friends about the feast they were missing. Pork cheeks with a cornbread cake! Oyster and bacon sandwiches! Pork ribs with watermelon pickle! The vegetarians weren't amused. But, my dear carnivores, get thee to the Crescent City.
My friends indulge my pork obsession. My good friends point me to the next great restaurant discovery where I can indulge myself. I'm not sure exactly how many articles have been written about Cochon since it opened in 2006, but I'd be willing to bet a fair share ended up in my inbox. So when I found out I was going to be in New Orleans, you better believe a meal at Cochon (French for "pig") was at the top of my to-do list.
Off the Menu
On a lonely corner of Tchoupitoulas Street in the Warehouse District, Cochon stands tall. The lofty, modern interior is a study in wooden-slatted walls, reminiscent of a vegetable crate, and exposed brick. A local lunch crowd--people in suits casually stopping in for a bite--seemed to dominate the scene. But scattered throughout the tables, I saw several representatives of the foodie world. For them, this was more than a meal. It was an odyssey. Furrowed brows studying menus. Ooohing and ahhhing over the options. Consulting with the well-informed staff to make sure they aren't missing any of the menu's stars.
On the Menu
First up for me? Pickled pig tongue with tomatoes and pea shoots. I'd never had pig tongue before, and I was anticipating something a little dense and chewy. But Chef Link's preparation was more like pickled charcuterie, cut to about the thickness of a CD. The slight tang of vinegar punctuated the basic porky-ness of the cut.
Then on to the fried rabbit livers with pepper jelly and fresh herbs. (Hey, I said I love pork. Not that I only eat pork.) I grew up on fried chicken livers, so I was curious to try the rabbit variety. Slightly bitter and earthy, they were a little smaller and darker than chicken livers. But that pepper jelly and the fresh mint made them sing.
Louisiana cochon meets its match, low-and-slow. Cooked for hours over low heat until the meat falls off the bones, it's masterfully shredded like pulled pork, reassembled into a patty (much like a crab cake), and seared. Turnips and cabbage form the base; fresh cracklins, the pinnacle. The result is nothing short of lip-smacking goodness.
My final foray into Cochon's pig bonanza: pork cheeks atop a cornbread bean cake with mustard cream. It's hard to pace yourself through a meal of such intense flavors and courses, so I have to admit I was struggling towards the end. That is, until I tasted the cheeks: rich and meaty, but with a certain delicateness to them. There wasn't a bite left. And I pity the waiter who tried to take the plate away too soon.
On the Other Side of the Menu
So, I love pork. Did I mention I also hold whiskey in high regard? Cochon pays homage to the brown water with a fantastic selection of American whiskeys. Bulleit, Van Winkle, Eagle Rare, A. H. Hirsch, Noah's Mill. The list reads like a who's who of small-batch producers. And one of the biggest scores? A whole section dedicated to moonshine. If you're a little intimidated by straight 'shine, go for the "Bayou Beer" -- Catdaddy moonshine mixed with draft Abita Rootbeer. You might even rethink your football-season cocktail of choice.
Cochon 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, (504) 588-2123; www.cochonrestaurant.com