On the ground floor of SoHo's 11 Howard hotel, the French bistro is a collaboration between Roman and Williams and chef Daniel Rose, and it's shaping up to be downtown's next big thing.
BY JENNY ADAMS
In SoHo, a confluence of blue chip talent has emerged at Le Coucou, located in the buzzed-about 11 Howard hotel. It’s the latest collaboration between the restaurateur Stephen Starr and design firm Roman and Williams, who are coming off last year’s well-received launch of the California-inspired Upland in Gramercy Park. Joining them is chef Daniel Rose, after a two-decade run in Paris at the perpetually packed Spring and La Bourse et La Vie. While it’s his first American project, it’s clear the francophile’s eye for the grandiose made the trip across the Atlantic.
“The space isn’t massive—around 85 seats—but it certainly gives the impression of volume because the ceilings are so high,” Rose says. “The designers and I spoke a lot about civilized comfort. We looked at photos of private homes in Paris.”
On the right side of the front room, in a small, memorable bar area, a pastoral French mural extends up and around the arched ceiling; ornate floral arrangements adorn the walls. The marble bar top adds a “heartiness that anchors the space,” says Robin Standefer, of Roman and Williams.
The adjoining dining area makes clever use of light, mixing sun rays that shine through the towering front windows with ambient cast-glass wall sconces and iron chandeliers inspired by those of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Guests sit on vintage Thonet armchairs in olive velvet, surrounded by exposed brick walls painted chalk white, which were their own discovery. “The romance and sturdiness of 18th-century French buildings captured our imagination,” Standefer says. “We were so relieved to see some [original] masonry that became part of the new narrative of the space and made the perfect canvas for linking our New York and French concepts.”
Glass doorways lead into the second half of the restaurant, outfitted with seating
that includes grey-blue mohair banquettes. If the front room’s power comes from the windows, in the back it stems from the open kitchen. “We cook like we’re hosting a party inside of a home,” Rose says.
It’s from this comfort that the dishes arrive. Rose’s breakfast bestseller is poached eggs on a pomme dauphine with choron sauce. His seasonal dinner specials rotate, and in autumn include duck with cherries, foie gras, and black olives.
The rich recipes play off the beauty of the design. “To eat here, it’s about size,” Rose says. “I can’t serve something dainty in a place like this, so the space naturally informs my cooking. Just like you look up and see the mural in the bar area—like a necklace peeking out of a shirt collar—I want you to look down at the table and also find something unexpected.”
At Le Coucou, wonder is part of the design language. As hard as it is to fathom, the building was previously a Holiday Inn. Rose, too, defies convention: an American chef who built a career in France, then migrated back to the States. Though maybe it makes sense, after all. Just ask Rose: “Paris is the birthplace of the restaurant, but New York is where it’s been perfected.”
(Photos: Ditte Isager)