Friday, March 13, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: A New Breed of Butcher @ Cochon Butcher

Tuesday, March 10th's dinner, a reward for miles and miles of butt-busting bike-riding along the levee (what a charmed life I live between deadlines), was a challenge. The criteria of said challenge were these terms:
  • Thou shalt eat something fancy
  • Thou shalt eat something from a place thou hast not visited
  • Thou shalt not exceed $20 for dinner, including tax, tip, and all courses
Now, these rules weren't that tough, but it's the combination of the three that make it difficult. I know plenty of great places to get mind-blowing food for just a handful of bucks, but part of the mission was to try somewhere new, which meant those were out. Most of the places I've wanted to try were really upscale restaurants, which blew the third rule out of the water. Then, in a stroke of inspiration, lent by my new traveler and food blogger friend Dan of NolaCuisine.com, I remembered that he'd just been raving about Cochon BUTCHER. I'd looked at their menu just the other day, playing with the idea of stopping in, and guess what? It fit every part of the bill. (Dan -- blast! That's two meals you've inspired within 24 hours!)

So away we went, Boy and I, driving off toward the city lights in search of meat.

We arrived at Cochon, the restaurant (one of the most fabulous new restaurants in New Orleans) by the bridge in the Warehouse District, and started peeking tentatively into neighboring buildings to see where, if one were a butcher shop/wine bar/deli, where one would hide. The answer? 'Round the corner to the side of Cochon on a semi-sketchy alley next to a grocery.

Stark, industrial, and somewhat cold in vibe upon entry, the first thing you can't help but notice is the cold displays of fresh, raw, cured/smoked/encased/sliced MEAT. Glorious, glorious meat, shining, glistening moistly under bright white lights behind shiny glass. A floating cabinet housing strings of cured meats glowed even more brightly above the case and counters. A little creepy, reminiscent of any neo-horror flick, where you'd expect a man behind the counter with crazy eyes and yellowed gloves to pop out of? Why, yes, but look at all the MEAT! All made on the premises!

Anyway, once you turn your head to face the rest of the place, the illusion is dispelled anyway--with the floating wood shelves of candles, bookcase of house-made products to take home, and cozy little contemporary bar tables--so I recommend just walking up to the counter and ordering. Boy and I, we went for the Cuban sandwich with that Southern favorite, milk-fed suckling pig -- Cochon de Lait. Two, please!

To go with all of that, we also ordered from the bar menu the 'tartiflette' (pictured left), described as "baked fingerling potatoes, Butcher bacon, shaved onion, and Reblochon cheese." For just $7, we figured this would be the perfect accompaniment to our sandwiches, since we didn't know that the sandwich was a sandwich plate yet.

The tartiflette was delicious, although much smaller than expected. No more than seven or eight bites of cubed tender and buttery potatoes, it was basically a buck a bite. However, the rarity of the delicate but tart Reblochon cheese makes this seemingly expensive cost actually very reasonable. The Butcher bacon was superb, a smoky, pure flavor permeating the melted cheese sauce, and the sweet, soft onions are a mild background player. Fresh thyme sprinkled on top of the whole thing gives it a distinct flavor that you'll find a lot in fine dining around here, I've noticed. With so many high-end restaurants accessible to everyone in this city, New Orleanians have discerning taste which requires fresh herbs.

The scent of the Cochon de Lait hit the air before the sandwich hit our tables. Savory, delicate, pink thin-shaved pork was piled thickly on pressed soft lard rolls, which is much more appetizing than it sounds. Essentially, these rolls are made mostly of butter or fat (i.e. lard) for a rich taste--solidly present throughout the entire sandwich--and a soft feel. Since it's pressed, the outside crust has a lovely crunch to it, but not a flaky one that makes a big mess; rather, due to the density of and original softness of the bread, the crunch is pretty much just in feel and taste without any of the side effects of French, Italian, or traditionally crusty breads.

The cochon itself is tender and juicy, with the edges that hang out of the sandwich dryer and slightly toasted due to the pressing of the sandwich. To add more moisture to the succulent cochon, a layer of coarse Creole mustard (not to be confused with that crappy yellow stuff commonly served in the rest of the country) and melted cheese lubricate each bite. Every once in a while, you get a nice little kick in the mouth from the subtly hidden jalapeno and poblano peppers, which sounds a little scary but totally isn't. The heat is subtle, countered by the sweetness of the crisp, cool pickles. As partner and chef Warren Stephens says, "[We] hide them well."

The rest of the sandwich is made of these thin-sliced, sweet, crisp pickles that are simply fantastic with the luscious meat. Some of these delectable sweet pepper jelly-remisicent pickles are also split in half lengthwise and served on the side for that extra nip when you need it. Also served on the side are a handful of the most delicious potato chips I've ever had.

Made fresh daily, every chip is the epitome of what makes a plain, salted chip perfect. As a bit of a chip freak, I have enough expertise in potato chip comparison to make such a bold sweeping statement. The amount of salt is exact, a light, fine ground salt basically melted on to each piece. There are no annoying thick granules to coat your fingertips since the salt has already permeated each potato crisp, a major plus that makes up for the slight oiliness that is a necessary trait in a kettle-cooked or homemade potato chip. Cut thin but not too thin (think a thickness similar to that of Pringles chips), these chips are light, airy, and satisfyingly crunchy with every single bite. Not only that, but like the lard rolls, the result is a fabulous piece of food that doesn't annoyingly break and scatter all over you. Not only that, but rather than the cheap-o pale yellow in mass-produced chips like Lay's, these potato chips are golden with gorgeous brown toasted centers.

All these crispy and crunchy textures come together in such an exquisite symphony of harmonious flavors and feels that needs to be experienced to be believed. The whole sandwich plate is just so well-constructed taste and texture-wise that at $12, it's really not even possible to go wrong.

Who'd have thunk? Cheap eats in the trendy Warehouse District at an establishment by one of New Orleans' most renowned chefs, Donald Link. That's something beautiful, right there.

3 comments:

  1. This place sounds so simplistic and wonderful! There is NOTHING of this caliber up north.

    Miss you!!! Tell the Boy hello!

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  2. That is a delicious looking panini.

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  3. It was, in fact, very, very tasty. But then again, Donald Link is a highly accomplished award-winning chef in these parts :)

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