“Waiter, waiter, do you have frog’s legs? “ No, madam, it’s just the way I walk.” Well, the old jokes are not always the best and, besides, at Coco J’Adore, Manhattan’s Meatpacking District’s hottest, most adorable new bistro and late-night bar, they do indeed serve frog legs, and rather scrumptious legs they are, too. (Note to would-be frog legs eaters everywhere: No, frog legs do not taste like chicken. They taste like mild baby goat with a touch of salmon, but don’t let that put you off.)
Coco’s menu is in fact a patchwork of the Mediterranean. Italian gnocchi, for instance, come with a distinctly Spanish sounding “gremolada” and even Belgium rears its small but gastronomically adept head in a dish of moules marinières served with French fries — which, as everyone knows, owe their gustatory etymology to the Belgians, not the French.
Barely a single dish escapes this cross-breeding, this mélange. Baked St. Marcellin cheese — itself a sensory throwback to the 1970s — is served with an Italian “bagna cauda,” that wonderful anchovy-based sauce, which the Piemontese of northwest Italy have got down to a fine art. It is umami overload, although, if I’m being honest (as every restaurant critic must be), it is not a match made in heaven.
What Coco J’Adore has, and make no mistake it has it in spades, is chutzpah — French chutzpah, Italian chutzpah, a bit of Spanish and Catalan and a lot of Mediterranean chutzpah. But you know what? It works. Because while any old stuffed-shirt can be a food purist, it takes an original thinker, like owner Mario Carta, and an original doer, like chef Simone Venturini, to pull together a menu so disparate you might wince at first glance but which tastes so good in the actual preparation that soon you actually want to sing. (Except in the case of the St. Marcellin and bagna cauda, that is. In that case I’m afraid it’s a dirge.)
Add wonderful lighting, bright white globes or gilt chandeliers that look like a cross between an exploding bombette firework and a disco ball, and the party really starts to heat up. Add performance artists and guest DJs and a late-night crowd that is, ahem, easy on the eye and the mood starts to sizzle. The decoration is as pastiche as the food, and all the better for it. Exposed brick walls sit happily alongside gilt-stenciled wooden posts. Pert little gilt chairs stand stiffly and primly at attention. Made rather saucy with their fretwork backs and frou-frou feathered pillows, these chairs seem equally as inviting as the Art Deco-style club armchairs across the room. Oh, good gracious, is there any end to the loveliness of Coco J’Adore?
Carta, a longtime New York restaurateur whose name has been behind favorites like Chouchou, Casimir and Pardon My French, has always known the secret of tickling his customers’ fancy, but at Coco J’Adore he has outdone himself. That floor-to-ceiling entryway of pale pink roses just made for daring dalliance. Those sea-green velvet booths, just made for liaisons dangereuses.
The French, I feel sure, must indeed have a word for it, but whatever that word is, it is far too deliciously improper to print in a family magazine.
For more, visit cocorestaurantnyc.com.