There’s nothing nutty about the Coucou Café (except in the food) – the word doesn’t mean “crazy” in French and is used as a friendly way to say “hi.” Located in Paris’s ninth arrondissement, the place has had some great write-ups in the French press – not surprising since it was opened by the owners of three topnotch restaurants, Le Pantruche, Caillebotte and Belle Maison, with chef Pauline Labrousse in the kitchen – so my friend Terry and I were really looking forward to lunch there the other day.
It’s a bright, cheerful place, with bar seating and high tables in the front room and normal tables in the quieter back room. Bouquets of dried and fresh flowers, displays of fruits and handsome loaves of dark bread add a homey touch.
All day long, this “coffee shop” (to distinguish it from a French café) offers small plates, including that North American – now international – staple, avocado toast; scrambled eggs with lentils and a choice of bacon or gravlax on toast; red-lentil hummus with ginger; pork rillettes with pickles; and vitello tonnato. The daily specials were a starter of pulled pork with barbecue sauce and a main course of rascasse (scorpionfish).
I chose two small plates instead of a starter and main course. Although I love avocado toast, I wasn’t going to order it because it’s something I can make so easily at home, but Terry pointed out that it would be much fancier in a restaurant, so I decided to try it. She was right – nothing like my simple mashed avocado on toast with a sprinkling of chili powder. The bread was cornbread, buried under a mountain of good things: ripe-to-perfection avocado, Mimolette cheese shavings, watercress and crispy fried onions. On the side was a spicy avocado sauce. All the various flavors blended and contrasted nicely.
The vitello tonnato was an interpretation of the classic Italian recipe, which is usually made with cold veal slices and a mayonnaise-y, tuna-flavored sauce. This tasty version seemed to be made with roast beef and was dolled up with pickled beets, boiled potatoes, hazelnuts and big capers.
French-style hot dishes are also available at mealtimes. Terry ordered the rascasse with cauliflower (cooked tempura-style), a foamy citrus sauce and pomegranate seeds. She enjoyed it but didn’t seem overwhelmed with joy.
For dessert, we shared the vanilla-flavored cheesecake. Like a New York-style cheesecake, it had a very dense texture, which was a bit too dry, while the crumbly crust was on the soggy side. Not terrible, but not terrific either.
If I lived in the neighborhood, I would happily go back to the Coucou Café, but I don’t see it as a destination, unlike its sister restaurants.