ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
He’s never come out and said it, but I get the impression from dining in Chef Michael Stoltfus’s restaurant that his main goal is to keep the restaurant in a state of flux. That’s not uncommon among our gourmet eateries, but Michael takes that direction a few more steps farther than most. In my review of a few years ago, I used the phrase “The menu is written in sand.” That still applies, even the patch of sand and the handwriting is different from the last time.
Coquette was one of the two or three best restaurants of 2009. (It opened late in 2008.) The menu went off in many directions from the beginning, but about half of the entree choices were familiar food. But then he got original, and with a daily list of about six entrees it was frustrating to figure an order that merged with one’s idea of a satisfying dinner. By building a main course out of one or two small plates, that brings the variety up to par.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The restaurant market is ever in need of restaurants that back away from all traditions without making us crazy. Chef Michael fills that role rather well. That said, this is not the place to go with a friend who is very conservative about his eating preferences. You are here to be edified by the chef. If that doesn’t work for you, it might be an uneasy repast.
The direction of Chef Michael’s menu lately points to rustic, almost primitive foods. He goes after exquisite raw materials that come from careful farmers, butchers and fishermen. It is likely that several dishes will be vegetarian, or close it. Don’t write those off as not your bag.
Chef Michael Stoltzfus and dining room orchestrator Lillian Hubbard are a couple that came together in New Orleans because of family connections after Katrina. Michael learned his craft on the eastern shore of Maryland, which has much of the same seafood we do here in New Orleans. Both worked with John Besh at Restaurant August. Lillian and some of her staff were in the dining room at nearby neighbor Commander’s Palace.
The building was an 1880s-era townhouse. It was an auto parts store for a long time until a 2004 renovation. It hosted a succession of three previous restaurants. When the last of these shut down, Michael and Lillian jumped in.
The building is spacious and a bit grand. Dining rooms on two floors. The downstairs, with its oversize bar, tall ceilings, tile floor and mirrors, has an unambiguous old New Orleans feeling. The brick-walled, windowed upstairs is actually the more pleasant place to dine, with almost too much space between and above tables. The stairs to the second floor are a bit more challenging than most, so if you have a problem with climbing, reserve a first-floor table.
More ruminations appear in our Dining Diary. Click on any of the dates below for those reports, each written a few days after a meal at Coquette.
The menu changes constantly. Dishes marked with a » are the sort of things they do best.
»Fried Gulf oysters, blood orange, baby fennel, sorrel
Grilled baby carrots, cashews, charred scallions, guajillo chile
»Seafood stew, collard greens, shrimp toast
Louisiana rice shrimp, crawfish tails, hogshead cheese
Charred broccoli parmesan, white anchovy
Crudités; seasonal preparations
Smoked catfish dip, celery root, beets, pistachio
»Fried chicken, hot paprika, whipped honey, cucumber
»Hanger steak to share, pimiento cheese, cabbage
»Red snapper romesco, Tuscan kale, celery root
»Quail, chaurice sausage, crowder peas, parsley, scallion
Butternut squash, farro piccolo, brussels, cipollini onion
Smoked pork jowl, cabbage, creamer potato, mustard
»Fried catfish, pink-eye peas, smoked onion, sunny side egg
»Duck for two, dirty rice, bay leaf, baby turnips
FOR BEST RESULTS
Reservations are essential, especially when there’s anything going on in town that attracts the gourmets and bar patrons.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Maybe it my old Creole palate, but I often feel that the food needs a little touch of something. Some of the ingredients seem almost too fresh, if that makes any sense.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Sidewalk tables
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted