Plaudits: James Beard Finalist 2012 - Outstanding Chef, Donald Link; Times-Picayune Top 10 Restaurants
In town for a weekend trip, Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I hit up as many New Orleans restaurants as we could stomach. The first stop on our four restaurant cycle: Cochon.
For a restaurant recognized as one of the city's best, Cochon is a decidedly low-key restaurant. For one, seemingly every inch of the restaurant is covered in light-colored slatted wood, from the walls to the furniture. In reality, a few walls remain unforested, relying on a color scheme of a dull vermilion and goldenrod with exposed brick and large windows to the front of the restaurant. In the back is the open kitchen, along with a six kitchen bar. Seating is otherwise ample, starting with full booths on one side, to a number of four-tops in the center of the space, to a row of half-booth twos on the other end. It's buzzy and light in the atmosphere sense, with even our early brunch experiencing a positive casualness, and a pretty full seating all-in-all.
To start, Texas and I decided to split two appetizers and an entree. On my end, I ordered the smoked tomato braised pork cheeks with creamy grits and pepper salad. Overall, this dish was definitely emblematic of good but not great; the pork cheeks were tender and good-stringy, the grits were on point and the tomato-based broth was warming. But there was just something missing from it that would have made it more than just a pile of good ingredients.
Texas's choice was a wood-fired oyster roast which was also perfectly fine, but nothing to call home about. Each had a nice smoky flavor to it, and they certainly were pleasant. But considering the other oysters we had on that trip, these were fairly pedestrian.
As the entree, we went with the restaurant namesake: Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins. On the plus side, the cracklins were some of the best pork rinds I've had in a long time. The pork was also cooked pretty well... and yet, there was very little spice or flavor to recall after the first few bites. Yes, it was a good piece of meat, and yes, it definitely felt Southern. But for all the promise of big flavors and New Orleans cuisine, this one fell a bit flat for us.
As a side, we ordered macaroni and cheese casserole, which favorably compared to some other takes of the childhood favorite that we've had here in DC. Good creaminess, a nice baked-in flavor, and a more-than-adequate side.
The problem, I guess, was the hype. If this was a restaurant we had walked into off the street, we would've been real excited. But since this was one we had set aside to try, we were a little disappointed with what we had. Good, but not the great we were led to believe.
Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe: Chatty to Energetic
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: Head a little south to New Orleans' Garden District, a quaint and charming section of town much like Alexandria: cute shops and antique boutiques.