After reading Bill's post re needing new discussion, I agree, and so here it goes:
Last night I ate at Herbsaint. A few weeks ago, at Cochon. It wasn't the first time for either. About halfway through last night's meal, it struck me that I am consistently underwhelmed with Donald Link's restaurants. I think the ideas, the concepts, etc. are fantastic, but the follow-through leaves something to be desired. Certain dishes, of course, are undeniably fantastic. The spaghetti with fired-poached egg, the charcuterie plate at Cochon. Overall, though, I feel that the actual cooking isn't done spectacularly.
For example, last night I started with the spaghetti, and my housemade bacon slice tasted burnt. In my opinion, if you're going to declare something housemade, it should be noticeably better than store-bought. This was not. It tasted like the lean, ultra-crispy bacon my parents bought from the crappy grocery store growing up. Why bother making it in-house? My own homemade bacon is significantly better. I am not a professional.
For my entree, I had the "jumbo" shrimp w/ onion relish and bacon spoonbread. Absolutely delicious in my head. On the plate, not as delicious. The onion relish was unseasoned. Just some wet onions. The bacon spoonbread came out nicely, though some actual chunks of bacon would have been appreciated. The "jumbo" shrimp (noteably un-jumbo, average shrimpy little shrimps) were slightly overcooked.
I feel the same about most of Cochon's dishes, although it was long enough ago that I don't remember the details... Such wonderful ideas, and you would think they could be better executed.
I'm of the opinion that people who rave about these places convince themselves that they're wonderful before a bite of food enters their mouth. Understandably so, because the ideas are really hard to let go of...
I've not been wowed by Cochon. Good (not great) apps. and some very disappointing entrees. Used to love Herbsaint. The food was "off " our last 2 visits. So much so, that had it been our first, I'm not sure I would have returned. As if no one was watching what left the kitchen. Pork belly was way overcooked. In addition, and the dish was reworked with new sides that aren't nearly as good as the original pairings.
Just got back from NOLA and we ate 2 nights in a row at Cochon eating every item on the menu between our group and I really enjoyed the experience. Fried Pig ears were great, pork cheeks, oven roasted Red fish all great. The charcuterie plate and the Buttermilk pie weren't my favorites but overall I think it was excellent. I know a few of the folks at Cochon and they really put their hart into that place so it is on the top of my list when in town.
re: Chef Gio
See, Chef Gio, that's just my problem with it. I'm sure they put their heart into it. I believe that nothing but soul goes into planning that menu. It just doesn't come out quite as well as it should. The pig ears? The ones I got were fried sticks of...well...fried. If they didn't actually put any pig ear in the fried, I wouldn't have known. The pork cheeks? Sort of dry. I had a pork cheek sandwich at La Petite Grocery, not my favorite place, that was much, much moister.
And the other problem is that your reason for going there is because you know the staff. It just supports my argument. You want it to be something great, but it really isn't.