Three New Soho Restaurants

Dining well in Soho has been a challenge in recent years. Good news: In the last two weeks Adam and I tried three new chef-driven establishments that give serious hope to anyone venturing AboCa. All of the photos are courtesy the restaurants, except for the exterior of Paowalla.



Where: Sixth Ave. and King, where Mekong was.
Who: Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt, formerly of London’s beloved River Café, and general manager Annie Shi.
What: The kind of sweet, pretty restaurant you expect to find in Brooklyn or San Francisco more than Manhattan nowadays, unfortunately.
Why: The atmosphere is stylishly low-key, but the food has zest. The southern French/Italian menu changes daily; we had a fennel salad, salt cod with braised artichokes, malfatti with butter and marjoram, a perfectly cooked hanger steak, and a decadent side of cranberry beans. Service is polished and charming, the likes of which you don’t find often at a new restaurant.
Caveat: We went on a hot night and let’s hope the A/C wasn’t working—the servers were visibly sweating—because if that’s management’s idea of an acceptable temperature, we’ll have to put the restaurant on summer hiatus each year.



le-coucou-entranceLe Coucou

Where: In the new 11 Howard hotel, formerly a Holiday Inn; the restaurant has its own entrance on Lafayette.
Who: American chef Daniel Rose, who took Paris by storm with his restaurant Spring, and mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr, whose New York City restaurants include El Vez, Morimoto, and Buddakan (but most of whose holdings are in Philadelphia).
What: Everything about Le Coucou screams Manhattan. Grand and dramatic, it’s the antithesis of a cozy neighborhood restaurant. Rose has set aside his light touch in favor of classic French food: pike quenelles, sole Véronique, oeuf norvégian, halibut in a pond of beurre blanc, chocolate mousse…. I yearned for an elastic waistband.
Why: They don’t often make restaurants like this anymore, especially not downtown, and certainly not on Lafayette. Bonus points for a name that’s fun to say and the best logo in recent memory. (Check out animated ones on the Menus page.)
Caveat: The food is extremely rich. It’ll be interesting to see if the kitchen lightens it up to please fitness-crazed New Yorkers. The early word was that Le Coucou is refreshingly quiet, but we found it much louder than, say, North End Grill.



Where: Spring and Sullivan, formerly the site of Mezzogiorno.
Who: Chef Floyd Cardoz, who rose to fame at Tabla, although he’s locally better known for North End Grill and White Street.
What: The menu is creative Indian with an emphasis on freshly baked breads. We had tamarind margaritas, roasted green chickpea chat (highly recommended); shishito pakoras; egg Kejriwal (amusing back story); black pepper shrimp; roasted eggplant; and a fish dish that we can’t remember much about, except that we liked it. The room won’t win any awards but it works.
Why: Floyd Cardoz finally has his own place! That means there’s none of the playing it safe that characterized his time below Canal. Those of us who have to be wary of spice will want to ask about each dish in advance.
Caveat: The service was miss-and-hit: Our server went MIA, but whoever was playing safety picked up the slack with grace.