NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Cochon is the French word for pig, an important fact when you tell your friend that you made reservations for eight, and she says that one of our dining companions is a vegetarian.
This being my first visit to New Orleans, I wanted to try what was considered to be an important restaurant, not necessarily the best or the most popular. Food magazine Bon Appetit called Cochon Restaurant one of the 20 most important restaurants in America, crediting it with “raising the bar on rich culinary traditions of the Louisiana bayou and gave the NOLA dining scene what it was missing — a passionate pork-filled point of view.”
You picture French-inspired architecture and wide open balconies when you think of restaurants and other eateries in New Orleans. Cochon is in the middle of the Warehouse district, an area with more of an industrial feel. More Henry Ford than Louis Armstrong. But, you aren’t at Cochon for the scenery. You’re there for the pig. The glorious pig.
Cochon is part of the Link Restaurant Group, named for its owner Donald Link. His Beard awards and reputation precedes him. A 7 p.m. reservation made two weeks before was a necessity. Traffic in and out of the space was steady all evening long. The menu is a modern take on Southern cooking. And, not surprisingly, pork is everywhere. The neighboring boucherie Cochon Butcher, also owned by Link, provides the cured meats and sausages that dot the menu. Smoked ham hocks and greens, boudin (homemade sausage and rice balls that are breaded and fried), paneled pork cheeks, and smoked ribs are all over the small plates. Some of my companions ordered the day’s soup — a shrimp and white bean soup in a rich tomato broth that saw ordinarily silence at the table as it was devoured and the bowls mopped with rolls — and another small plate, such as a plate of cured meats or mac and cheese.
The boudin is a stand out app. Three balls were served with a homemade Dijon mustard and pickled pepper strands. The boudin were cooked perfectly with a crunchy outside and moist filling. By the end, I was looking for more of everything. More boudin. More peppers. More pig.
My boss and I each had the Cochon, a traditional Louisiana patty made with shredded pork. Fork tender and immensely flavorful, the shreds hold their form, supporting homemade pork rinds on top and sitting atop a bed of sautéed turnips and cabbage. In terms of flavor, texture contrasts and overall sensory satisfaction, it may have been one of the 10 best dishes I have ever had.
And the vegetarian? She left it up to the chef who turned around a toad in the hole, but with crispy Brussels sprouts hiding under the corn bread.
An extensive wine and signature drink list, along with local craft beer, balance the meals. Dessert was not an option as the eight of us were full, but not uncomfortable.
So, is Cochon good? Yes. Is it great? Yes. Is it popular? Yes. Is it important? Ah. The big question. Cochon is a transferable restaurant. It could open in any medium to large city in America and be the focal point of the local dining scene. I don’t know enough about New Orleans to say that it is important to the city. But, it certainly earns the title bestowed by Bon Appetit.
Cochon Restaurant is located at 930 Tchoupitoulas Street at Andrew Higgins Drive in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. Reservations are accepted by phone and online. Dinner and drinks for eight was $350 with tip.