Food Fight....Cochon vs. Herbsaint
Had lunch at Cochon....Supper at Herbsaint. Herbsaint delivered a knockout punch with their Green Chile Grits w/Shrimp.
Early rounds saw Cochon bullying Herbsaint against the ropes with a very credible housemade sausage link served over a grits cake with a mix of roasted peppers and garlic.
Herbsaint's braised short rib of beef over crispy potatoes was also a strong dish...
Cochon's petite shrimp and crab pie was good but the quality of the pastry starred over the filling...I doubt that was the chef's intent.
Finally....the word on the street about the brown butter banana tart[Herbsaint] is correct....it will be one of the best desserts you ever put in your mouth.
Cocktails were strong and appropriately mixed...service was good but rushed at Herbsaint as the kitchen was ready to go home at 9:30 as we were informed at the door by the hostess and again by the waitress as we took upward of 5 minutes to place our appetizer order. We decided to forego our entrees and stick with the tapas so the lads in the back could commence with the cleaning and head to the house.
Trip report - Cochon for dinner tonight
Started off by needing to cancel reservation for last week. When I called they had no record of it but it didn't matter since I wasn't actually coming. Reservation for tonight proactively confirmed by phone (I so prefer the "we'll call you" vs. "you call us" approach) and in fact I had to change time and count tonight and they handled that perfectly well. It probably helped that the time was later and count 1 instead of 2, however.
Walked the 0.99 miles (per mapquest) from hotel to restaurant to work up a literal sweat. Passed August (full) and Mothers (closed by a few minutes or I might seriously have bought something right before dinner) and then finally, among others, Emerils (also full). Almost everything outside was deserted; Canal St. had maybe 10 people in 5 blocks walk by me.
Room is nicely laid out, with different size tables, banquettes along the side, a bar across. Noise level was above average, in that "were having a good time" way, not bothersome loud. Furnishings are modern/contemp, wood, blonde, low.
I chose to eat at the kitchen barstool area, as I was a single. Well received by hostess, but then nothing from the servers. When I did get one's attention she was nice but had too many tables. When I then got another's attention, and asked that I get to the ordering, everything from there was very smooth, and in fact I later on had both their attention if I needed it. Service was friendly but not overbearing in the whole. I will say that there was ample opportunity provided throughout the meal by the servers to receive complaints and though I had them I did not choose to say them aloud; so negative parts of my review herein are not due to service issues, just the kitchen.
Menu is focused, as you must already know, on small plates. It is definitely a place to come with 6 people, not 1. Wine list was average and average priced. I did not inquire as to drinks or beer possibilities but presume they are full service. I got 3 small plates, 1 large plate, 1 side, 1 glass of wine, and desert. About $67 with 18% tip. Certainly you can eat for less (I like to order too much.)
A tate on the house of a baked oyster was excellent. I am guessing truffle oil. Muffins were fresh today but not fresh tonight, but good - sweet and small. I believe the butter had something mixed into it, possibly honey?
Shrimp and crabmeat pastry is a flaky empanada served hot in the middle. The stuffing is good but not plentiful and too finely chopped/diced. The pastry itself is very good.
The fried boudin balls are three very well-fried (not well done, but rather done well) balls with boudin filling inside, served with a standard spicy mustard. Good, not great, as we say in my family.
The pork rillette comes with the identical mustard and some very good bread and butter pickles. Served cold with a few toast squares, I found it quite underseasoned.
I am a huge fan of hot sauce and Cochon has its own, which is excellent. Which also reminds me that I can't find any Crystal on the supermarket shelves anymore; are they oob?
Main course was the oyster and bacon sandwich, which is essentially a blt with fried oysters in cornmeal on grilled white bread with a bit of mayo. It was good, but ultimately disappointing. First, it fell apart in my hands, and was not served cut. Second, the bacon was clearly added from a much earlier cooking time - it was cold when the rest of the sandwich was hot, and too chewy.
The side was roast corn, roasted in the oven in its own husk (kept at 725-750 F with pecan wood per the chef I asked). $5 is a bit much for one ear of corn, but I love corn. It was not cooked through in the middle and was oversalted to my taste. It also was not well cleaned of its silks, which doesn't actually bother me but certainly would some.
Desert was a) unnecessary and b) the 2nd best thing. I was steered away from my clear personal choice of lemon buttermilk pie towards the german chocolate cake with butter pecan ice cream, but that was just too much. At that point one of the chefs lobbied hard unbidded for the ice cream sundae, which was apparently just added this evening. I caved to the pressue and was rewarded with a not too sweet cinnamon ice cream in a nice shell with cherries and a great cherry sauce light topping.
A dish I did not order was the ribs, which sold out while I was there. I also saw but did not taste one of their briskets, which looked great, but I only have eyes for my wife's and my sister in law's (in that order, baby) brisket anyway. I will also say that I did not eat the fish, but will tell you if you do that it clearly has been pre-cooked and is being finished in the oven.
In total, it was a strong but not overwhelming experience. Certainly it has the burden of tourist/foodie expectations at this point, but it should frankly live up to them better. The value is there but the tastes are not. Temperatures and seasonings were quite off on more than one dish, as described above. I give a qualified endorsement, and wonder if you would be better off in a group for drinks and appetizers before moving on to another meal down the way.
3 out of 5 stars.
I tried the fish ("camp style" or "fisherman style", can't remember), and thought that it was the only thing that really reflected the taste/aroma of the wood-burning oven. Certainly NOT precooked and finished in the wood oven on the evening I tried it...in fact, I thought it was the highlight of the meal.
I have found Crystal in the store again recently, but the sauce seems to have more vinegar bite than it did. Has anyone else noticed this?