Going out to eat is expensive. Maybe I should refine that statement. Going out to eat at places that are worth going to is expensive. Food is cheap. Food that is properly cooked and served is not.
And therein lies the joy of Coquette‘s No-Menu-Tuesdays. The concept is simple: On the last Tuesday of every month, the restaurant offers a prix fixe menu for no more than $50 per person. The menu is unknown until the diner sits down, though you can call ahead and inquire as to the theme of the meal.
If you’re not familiar with Coquette, let me explain why this concept is so mind-blowing. Coquette is a posh restaurant that serves posh (and, by all accounts, excellent) food to posh people. It’s even located on a posh street in a posh neighborhood. As such, it’s expensive. The cheapest dinner item, fried catfish with an egg, is $22. Yikes.
But on the last Tuesday of February, we got a six-course meal for $45 per person. Let that sink in.
I was forced to do a double-take when our bill arrived.
“Less than $100 before tip to come to Coquette? Better get the hell out of here before they realize they forgot to charge me for something.”
But they hadn’t. It wasn’t a dream. It really was that cheap.
Now, as much as I love a good deal, we’re not here to talk money. This isn’t a financial help blog, and I’m not Dave Ramsey. This is about food. So, how was it?
In a word, terrific. The night’s theme was pork. Coquette, in conjunction with some Adolfo Garcia joints, had broken down a whole pig and used its parts to create the individual dishes. I had to restrain myself from squealing with joy upon seeing the menu, and no, that’s not a pig pun.
Confusingly enough, our meal began with cobia. The only connection to the pig this dish bore was the delicious red eye vinaigrette drizzled over the fish. That sauce alone made me forget that this whole meal focused on pig had begun by serving fish. The dish was a perfect starter. The cobia had been lightly smoked, imparting a delicious oak flavor, while a blood orange segment was laid atop each slice of fish, adding the perfect notes of acid and sweetness.
This was followed by the item I looked forward to most: jowl. Paired with a fried oyster, slices of fried rye bread and turnips, this was the most pleasantly decadent plate of the night. Salt and fat were perfectly balanced. No element was too present or too absent. The plate was perfectly orchestrated.
After finishing the jowl, I felt as though I had achieved a hollow victory. I didn’t think any other dish that night would surpass what I had just eaten. But I was wrong.
Out came a simple stew, made from the pig’s trotters (a.k.a. feet). In the bowl was garlic aioli, mustard greens, carrots and rice that had been dehydrated, then fried. It may not have been the best-looking plate, but by God was it the tastiest. The rice was incredibly crunchy without feeling undercooked. When mixed in, the garlic aioli came together wonderfully with the trotter broth. Even the veggies, normally my least favorite part of any meal, were packed with flavor.
I could have eaten this dish all night long. This was a wonderful example of simple food made with simple ingredients that was elevated simply by cooking it to perfection. The ethos of countless restaurants was perfectly captured in this one simple bowl of stew.
I now knew that nothing could top what I had just eaten. Yeah, I said it before, but the past is in the past. This is now, and nothing can beat that stew.
Unfortunately, this time, I was right.
The next offering was probably the most underwhelming. Gnocchi with fried headcheese and a kohlrabi chimichurri. Sound delicious. Tastes… eh.
Look, this is Louisiana. If you drive from Baton Rouge to Lafayette, you’re going to pass about 2.7 million gas stations advertising homemade boudin balls. Some of them are great. Some of them are just OK. But all of them are just as good as the fried headcheese. The gnocchi wasn’t spectacular either. Good, but nothing set it apart from gnocchi I’ve had in the past. And the chimichurri? All but forgotten, completely lost amongst the incredibly fatty, fried taste of the headcheese. There wasn’t anything really wrong with this dish. There wasn’t anything right with it either.
But if the headcheese was the most underwhelming dish of the night, our next course was easily the most disappointing. It was advertised on the menu as “blood pudding.” I had no clue what that meant.
Our waitress was kind enough to explain that it was a play on bread pudding that featured blood sausage. It was sandwiched between pork carnitas and a foie gras and pear butter. I love carnitas, I like blood sausage well enough, pears are my absolute favorite fruit, and foie gras is simply one of the most delicious pleasures God has ever given to man.
But this dish was a dud.
If there is one thing I learned in my time cooking, it’s that good food often comes down to a careful balancing of three elements: salt, fat, and acid. Take care of these three things, and you’ll likely make a delicious plate of food.
This dish was all fat. I get it, you’re highlighting pork, one of the fattiest meats. You want the meal to be decadent and indulgent. But this was not the way to go. Every flavor within the sausage and butter completely melded together, leaving me feeling as though I was chewing on a handful of lard. The food was hardly seasoned, leaving no flavor distinguishable.
The lone positive element of this dish was the carnitas, which were just about as good as the ones I make at home. I finished only them, leaving the “blood pudding” and butter in a sad, lonely pile on the plate. Brooke took one bite of hers and didn’t touch it afterward. I should note that the table next to us also didn’t care for this dish, and our waitress, upon returning to see we hadn’t finished it, remarked that this was certainly the most unpopular dish of the night amongst both diners and the waitstaff.
As much as I had loved the first three dishes presented to us, the two most recent dishes had us down. I was upset, frustrated almost, that the meal had been so inconsistent. Yes, it was bound to go downhill after the stew, but I didn’t think the meal would decline as steeply as it had. It was up to dessert to finish the experience on a high note, and I’m happy to say it delivered.
A delicious cremeux was topped with praline bacon. This was the one dish in which pork was not the star of the show, but rather a component that complemented other flavors. A chocolate-peanut butter mousse, praline crumbles, and salted caramel rounded out the dish, and all combined provided an incredible burst of flavor that fell short of being overly sweet. The creamy textures of the mousse and cremeux were balanced by the crisp bacon and praline.
All told, this incredible dessert saved the day. It redeemed the past couple of dishes and finished the meal on an exceptionally positive note.
Food: Good, with flashes of greatness. I refrain from saying great overall, because the middle of our meal simply wasn’t as good as the beginning and end. The trotter stew was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten at a restaurant in a long time. The “blood pudding” was among the worst.
Service: Great. Our waitress was attentive and knowledgeable, answering every one of our questions without hesitation. Glasses were never empty, and we never felt as though we were being hovered over.
Atmosphere: Great. Coquette is refined with being pretentious and relaxed without being lazy. Much like Lüke, it echoes of a French brasserie, though Coquette’s version is far more comparable to a joint you’d find in Paris today.
Overall: Of course, we’ll never eat this meal again. It was a one-time menu, and that alone is reason to have shown up. But this particular experience was more than enough to bring me back to Coquette to try offerings from their standard menu. If what they serve every night is half as good as the best they served on a rainy Tuesday, it won’t be long before I count Coquette among my favorite restaurants.
UPDATE: The post has been edited to reflect that Coquette does not in fact serve their standard menu on No-Menu-Tuesdays.