Everything On The Hog Is Good

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That is not only the title of a Nathan Williams tune, but it’s also the credo of southern Louisiana cooking, and the unifying theme behind Donald Link’s new restaurant, Cochon. It seems that I was dining there the same evening as fellow N.O. metroblogger Chris Martel (see earlier post). Only I suspect that we may have enjoyed the experience a bit more than Chris, as my party managed to quaff down a handful of mint juleps, at least 3 bottles of wine, along with 8 or so small plates, 5 entrees, 3 desserts, and, oh, some after-dinner bourbon as well.

Mind you, this gluttonous repast took 4 hours. Chef and co-owner Stephen Stryjewski was gracious, but I’m quite sure he and his staff were glad to see us stumble off at 12:30AM.

Stryjewski and Link (of Herbsaint) spent 3 years developing the Cochon concept, placing it in a lofty, noisy industrial space on the far edge of the warehouse district at Tchoupitoulas and Andrew Higgins. A planned opening last August thankfully did not come off, but the Katrina-imposed delay did not do a whole lot for their business plan.

There was a soft opening a few weeks before Jazz Fest. A first Sunday of the Fest story by food critic Brett Anderson in the Times-Pic about Link and his restaurants that mentioned Cochon probably helped bring hungry diners to Cochon’s doorstep.

So what about the food? As Chris mentioned, vegetarians should probably steer clear. I started with the wood-fired oyster roast ($11), about a half-dozen very large, plump oysters that had been subtly smoked open in their shells and finished with a mild garlic butter. These babies just melted in our mouths. Spoon bread with okra and tomatoes was a sweet counterpoint to the cochon rillette and spicy fried boudin, which I agree were among the standouts in the small plates. We also got talked into the head cheese ($6), which was way too rich for me, but satisfied the 2 male meat-eaters in our party. Smoked ham hocks with braised greens ($8) did not live up to the waiter’s enthusiasm, but the side of lima beans ($5) were heavenly — smoky with bits of bacon, and firm, not the mushy, watery blobs you might expect to encounter.

The oven-roasted gulf fish — red drum that night — and louisian cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins ($18) were the best entrees of the night. The cochon was cut from pork shoulder — it is presented as an upscale pulled pork sandwich, minus the bread, and with the pickled turnips and cabbage substituting for coleslaw. We finished with a somewhat too oily German chocolate cake and a not-lemony-enough lemon buttermilk pie, but we were beyond sated by that point, so weren’t too disappointed.

K and I then hit a few bars on Frenchmen street, where, dare-I-say-it, more bourbon was imbibed, but I blame Mike, the keyboardist we’d met out at the Fest, a young Dr. John look-a-like who can pound the ivories pretty damn good. I can say that we decided to forego huffing a balloon full of nitrous oxide. It might have interfered with our beauty sleep.

As if Tuesday’s night’s food orgy wasn’t enough, the next day started with a crawfish etoufee omelette at Slim Goodie’s diner on Magazine, and, I hate to admit it, but I had lunch with a friend at Domelise’s a few hours later, scarfing down most of a small oyster po’boy. And I didn’t even walk the few blocks home. And even worse, then I took a nap. It’s vacation, OK?

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K and I reconnoitered just in time for a free happy hour at our friend’s hotel, the Embassy Suites. We then walked over to Lafayette Square, where Marcia Ball was playing as part of a free Wednesday music series. It’s sort of an unofficial gathering spot for people who come in for Jazz Fest, and a good place to relax or dance or shop for crafts. Or stand in line to buy beer or daquiris.

Then came an hour of my life I’d rather forget. It’s traumatic just thinking about writing about it. We spent at least an hour in a hellish search for sustenance — to lay a gastromomic foundation for the evening’s assault on our livers — and came up nearly empty-handed. A typical Jazz Fest problem — being in the wrong part of town, even for a slice of pizza, when you just need a little sumting to tide you over. We considered stealing a large plastic cup to then use to appropriate some pretzels and goldfish out of the Embassy Suites Happy Hour cache, but thought better of jeapordizing our friend’s accomodations for the remainder of the festival.

I can’t even discuss where we ended up. Next subject.

On to the House of Blues for the Brass Band Blowout III. Normally, I don’t set foot in the HOB, much less during JF. But a friend called with an extra ticket and i hadn’t seen him during this visit, so I said yes. Dragged K along for the ride. Now the Fest is one white event, and the clubs are normally full of my Caucasian brethren at this time of year. But stepping into the HOB last night, I felt like I’d gone home to DC, maybe to a Chuck Brown go-go show. Whitey had pretty much left the building (and I’m sure the metal detectors at the door were not specially brought in for the event. Nope, that would be profiling).

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The show opened with the Soul Rebels, who were just occasionally inspired, but the obviously local crowd was havin’ a house party, so the music was mostly a means to an end. Next up was the Hot 8, joined by Trombone Shorty on trumpet. He performed his signature, Irvin Mayfield-type long-winded, side-breathing thing, and the crowd went wild. K and I got instructions on how to properly shake our booties from a nice young man. I will admit, however, that after a few hours of bumping and grinding and being pushed, shoved, tripped over, and bumped and grinded, that we didn’t make it through the headliner, the Stooges.

Probably a mistake, but I think my feet are thanking me today.

5 Comments so far

  1. Laurie (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 4:42 pm

    Cochon de lait.

    Boucherie!

    Laurie


  2. El Senor (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 11:58 pm

    Marry me or I’ll kill myself.


  3. Therese (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 12:15 am

    I’ll go to any restaurant named “Piggy”.


  4. Mike Hoffman (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 11:46 pm

    While people continue to rave about Cochon (especially my friends who know the chefs), I had a mediocre experience there. The food was good, the atmosphere lacking, the staff was still trying to get its service together (like any new restaurant) – but my beef (no pun intended) is that for the same price, experiencing every course and alcohol, with no doubt I could have gone to any number of great New Orleans restaurants and had a better overall experience.

    Was it bad? No. It just wasn’t that good.


  5. Professor (unregistered) on May 6th, 2006 @ 12:03 am

    I was born in a restaurant named after a pig. Le Cochon Grand.



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