Shortly before chef Antoine Westermann’s New York restaurant, Le Coq Rico, opened in March 2016, I walked by the under-construction space and was struck by the motto on the restaurant’s temporary signage: “The bistro of beautiful birds.” Birds, and especially chicken, tend to not get much thought on restaurant menus besides the occasional mention of the pedigree. I was intrigued (especially when it opened and quickly earned two stars from the New York Times), but hadn’t had the opportunity to visit until recently, when I dropped by for brunch at the invitation of the restaurant. And folks, not even exaggerating, you haven’t had chicken until you’ve had it from here.
As you’ve probably guessed, chicken is the name of the game here, and it (and duck) makes appearances in several applications: on an offal platter; in several creative egg preparations (including deviled, slow-cooked, and poached with red wine reduction and smoked pork belly), in a burger topped with seared duck foie and pineapple (brunch only), and in several terrines. But the real star of the show is what’s coming off of the custom-built rotisserie, which diners who sit at the long kitchen counter can watch spinning. Whole birds include Brune Landaise, Plymouth Rock, Catskill guinea fowl, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Rohan Farm duck. Each breed is listed alongside its age at slaughter; Brune Landaise, for example, is 120 days old, while commercial chickens are usually slaughtered at somewhere around 75. If you’re looking for a chicken that’s gussied up a little, you can order the poule au pot (New Hampshire hen cooked in a broth, with seasonal vegetables and stuffed cabbage), stuffed Brune Landaise for 2 (with butternut squash, ginger, and spinach fricassee), squab en croute (squab breast wrapped in puff pastry with cabbage leaf and duck foie), and Westermann’s Baeckeoffe for 2-4 (a Brune Landaise cooked in a traditional Alsatian earthenware vessel with artichokes, potatoes, dry tomatoes, lemon confit, and Riesling jus).
If it’s your first time visiting, however, we suggest you start simple, with a Brune Landaise, the chicken with the mildest flavor, according to our server (that and the Catskill guinea fowl are the only whole-bird brunch offerings). Perfect for up to four people to share, it arrives at the table in sections, with crisp golden skin. On the side is a simple salad and an insanely delicious chicken jus that takes two days to make. The chicken itself is nothing short of profound. After my first bite I said “So this is what chicken is supposed to taste like!,” and my dining companions were equally blown away. Not only is the chicken itself delicious, it’s perfectly cooked, juicy and with expertly rendered skin. I can’t wait to return and dive deeper into the chicken breeds.
As this was brunch, we also ordered a couple other things, all of which surpassed expectations. Leeks vinaigrette were slowly cooked until meltingly tender and served upright atop a rich hollandaise. A side of brioche, made according to Westermann’s family recipe, was stop-in-your-tracks delicious. A selection of three beignets (plain, chocolate ganache-filled, and strawberry-rhubarb-filled, respectively), were about as tasty as doughnuts could be. And for dessert, eggs got another command performance in a must-order traditional île flottante, an orb of praline-dusted soft meringue floating in a pool of luxurious crème anglaise.
Westermann’s Le Coq Rico isn’t just a paradigm shifting restaurant when it comes to chicken. It’s also a top-notch French restaurant, with something for everyone. A word of warning, however: After dining here, you’ll never look at a plain old chicken breast the same way again.