Friday, January 28, 2011.
Searching Magazine For Food. Finding Coquette.
The first sign of spring on our thermometer came today. After going down to 25 last night, it went up to 71 by the time I hit the road for the South Shore. January will go out like a shivering but fluffy bunny.
Mary Leigh called to invite me to invite her to dinner. Our first idea was Superior Grill, which she likes and I haven’t tried in years. The place was completely mobbed, with dozens of people standing around outside waiting for tables. Next target: Nacho Mama’s. That’s in the stretch of Magazine Street that has become the most densely visited by young restaurant goers. Many of the eateries there have a hangout aspect. Nacho Mamas had a line outside, too. Even Salu, the new Spanish place on the corner of Magazine and Pleasant, where no fewer than ten restaurants have come and gone over the years, was busy.
We continued rolling down Magazine, astonished by the number of people walking around. Past the Rum House, whose dozen or so sidewalk tables were full. Joey K’s: same story. Things didn’t loosen up until we came up to Washington Avenue and Coquette. Mary Leigh loves Coquette, ever since her French class had a field day lunch there last year. My own last few meals there have been less impressive than the ones I enjoyed a year before.
The place was busy, but we got a good table upstairs. We were served by a friendly, exotic-looking young lady whose name had two consecutive a’s in it. I joshed with her a bit until Mary Leigh started looking uncomfortable, at which point I eased off.
The first course was good. I had a half-entree of cavatelli pasta dish with a creamy sauce. ML, who has picked up a taste for gumbo, took a chance on a sort of gumbo z’herbes the chef was preparing tonight. It was very different from the seafood and chicken gumbos she was accustomed to, and I was proud of her for approaching this one with an open mind. She even liked it.
Her entree was easy enough to settle on: a sirloin strip steak, grilled, the “butlered” into big chunks. It was more than she could finish, which was a good thing, because I needed to abscond with some of it. The entree I ordered was less than appealing. It was described as lamb neck with lamb sausage. I’ve had lamb neck chops before and liked them. This was slow-cooked and very tender, but the flavor was unappealing.
At some point, now that he’s attracted a steady clientele, Chef Michael Stoltzfus must expand this menu. We gave it a pass in its early years, and accepted with a nod his explanation for having only a dozen or so total appetizers and entrees. He said that the menu changed so often (this is true) that he couldn’t imagine anyone ever becoming bored with the selection.
That sounds good, all right, but it doesn’t recognize that not every dish on there will appeal to a person’s long- and short-term tastes. The shorter the menu, the more likely it becomes that a customer will fail to find anything that he feels like eating–no matter how often the menu is changed.
It’s time for Coquette to rethink its culinary strategy. There are too many other excellent bistros on Magazine Street competing with them not to.
Coquette. Garden District: 2800 Magazine. 504-265-0421.