According to Coquette's Michael Stoltzfus, his "No Menu" Tuesday prix fixe series was never supposed to be a quote-unquote summer promotion, something that many New Orleans restaurants do once the temperatures hit the point where no one wants to leave their house.
"We thought it would be a way for us [in the kitchen] to have fun and experiment," Stoltzfus says. "It was never really about getting people in the door." However, he notes that since kicking the series off on June 2, Tuesdays are now the restaurant's best weeknight. "We have a wait list for reservations," he says.
Although themed dinners weren't originally the way this program was conceived, they just started popping up, since a hallmark of Coquette's dining ethos is to prepare and serve what's in season. One week, the dishes revolved around chantarelle mushrooms. Another week, the theme was "The Chicken or the Egg?"
The format of preparation and execution is also experimented with. Some weeks, it's a full team effort conceiving and preparing every dish together. For the most recent dinner on June 16, dishes supporting the central theme of The Pig were distributed to each individual chef for the first time. "Each person did one course," Stoltzfus says, noting that the team did ensure individual efforts worked and flowed together as a whole.
The June 16 dinner started off with two small bites (a piece of house cured salumi and fried hogshead cheese) followed a blood pudding prepared like a rich pate with edible flowers, popped sorghum, sunflower seeds, and a root beer glaze. ("That course was very much out of our comfort zone," Stoltzfus says.)
The second course was a tête de chochon preparation, a thinly sliced piece of cured meat and fat from the back of the pig's head. It was served with an arugula and peach salad.
For the third course, Stoltzfus said that the hot and sour pork and crab soup with chantarelles went through many iterations until they figured it out right before service. The entree course, a rustic Italian porchetta preparation, was served family style with sides of baby wax beans, sweet fresh corn, and pan fried potatoes. Dessert was a pair of freshly fried mini bacon doughnuts with a side of blackberry sherbet.
The hidden gem of the night was the optional wine pairing. For an additional $35, the head of Coquette's wine program Ryan Plas will pour accompanying wines tableside while talking about the region, the flavor profiles, and the tasting notes in a thoroughly unpretentious yet passionate manner. "He's our secret weapon," Stoltzfus says.
Indeed, the wine pairing experience, along with the obvious glee and enthusiastic service from the front of house staff, was as enjoyable as the food consumed. Of particular note on June 16 was an Alsatian pinot blanc accompanying the rich blood pudding as well as a decanted Brunello di Montalcino from a 3 liter bottle that was the perfect lusty pairing to the family-style porchetta course.
"We'd love to do something like this year-round," Stoltzfus says, although that hasn't been officially decided yet. "This has been a huge challenge every week, but really cool. It gives us the opportunity to be creative. It's not about being pretentious about what we do, it's about us having fun."
Stoltzfus points out that this kind of dining experience is unique at this level and price point - not just in New Orleans, but in the larger dining community. "The few places that do this kind of thing, it's more like a $150 and four hour experience."
Customers have enjoyed the absence of choice in dining, he says. Front of house feedback indicates that it's relaxing to "just order drinks and let the kitchen feed you." Stoltzfus pauses and laughs. "You know, I really wish there was another place like this that I could go eat at."
Call Coquette at 504-265-0421 to make reservations. The June 23 menu will feature summer vegetables (although will not be vegetarian) like okra, tomato, chantarelles, squash, and eggplant.