Le Cochon Noir

Parkside restaurant wants more dry-rub BBQ in a sauce town, and its food makes a pretty good argument.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 14, 2010

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Dry Bones? Hardly: Dry-rub ribs from Le Cochon Noir worthily rep the St. Louis and Texan BBQ prep methods in Philly

Photo by Michael Persico

Le Cochon Noir aims to change our local preference for wet-sauced ribs, and it’s armed with a 2,000-pound smoker and a killer dry-rub for the battle ahead.

The ribs here, according to owner Jamal Parker, head in the direction of St. Louis-style but possess some Texas influence too, and the key to their success is a rub whose constituent components are as closely guarded as nuclear launch codes. The rub’s savoriness speaks of cumin and cinnamon, but Parker, in a follow-up phone call, would only tell me that it’s made in-house.

Order a third of a rack of pork ribs and you’ll receive a plate of Flintstone-sized bones, plenty for one person. The meat goes through a three-day process that begins with trimming, stops for a 24-hour rest after being massaged with the spices and ends in a six-hour smoke. They’re never touched by flame, and you have to work to gnaw the meat off the bone here, which allows the sweetness of the meat and the smoke to mingle in a carnivorous duet. You can make it a trio with a smear of the worcestershire-scented sauce that comes on the side, but it’s more crutch than necessity.

As great as that rub is, however, a great dish requires more than just smart seasoning. Unfortunately, the black angus London broil, smoky and tender, was undermined by its presentation, its juices bleeding all over the plate, studded with little islands of separated horseradish cream.

Far more uniform in concept and execution was the pulled-chicken quesadilla, each wedge a marvel of sweet-smoky interplay, the chicken—sourced from a whole rotisserie bird—lifted to a level of intricacy that quesadillas rarely approach.

Snapper soup showed more respect to its eponymous turtle than it usually gets. Again, habit and repeated local exposure mean that most Philadelphians expect snapper soup to be little more than a vessel for Old Bay and sherry. At Cochon Noir, though, the soup is about textures and subtlety, the broth pillowy and light, the snapper chunks generous and toothsome, the flavor kissed by the scent of smoke.

Sides could have used more seasoning; the mustard greens fared better than the macaroni and cheese, probably because mashing up the sweet cloves of garlic added a grace note to the greens. Mac and cheese, on the other hand, was almost devoid of seasoning, and at a place that specializes in this style of food, that’s a big disappointment.

Playful strawberry-shortcake crepes are more fluffy American-style pancake than their skinny French counterpart, but a nice riff on a classic. But the bread pudding is what really brings it home. Dense and structured, it arrives with little fanfare, just a blanket of homemade caramel and as many forks as the table requires. It’s straightforward and joyful.

Just like the space itself, which, for now, at least, is a work in progress. Cochon Noir has fallen victim to the usual paperwork delays of the byzantine Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board—it’s BYO for the time being—but that hasn’t stopped it from asserting its personality. The space is airline-hangar huge, which means that the sound of whatever blues or jazz group is performing is mitigated enough to allow conversation to happen. The walls serve as galleries for local artists who are feted the last Friday of the month. Construction is under way for a wine room that will house seating for 15 to 20, a cold kitchen and 2,600 bottles.

Clearly, this is an ambitious team. And a brave one, too: Trying to convert a wet-barbecue town to dry rub is no easy task. But Cochon is going about it methodically, and there are enough grace notes along the way that it should ultimately do well. Executive chef Daniel Rosen picks the basil, jalapeños and more from plants just outside the building. A recently installed beehive on the roof will mean fresh honey on the menu next summer. There are plans for outdoor seating and island-inspired music, too.

So while Le Cochon Noir hasn't converted Philly from a sauce to a dry-rub town quite yet (and, honestly, isn't likely to anytime soon), it’s still making a pretty convincing and delicious case.

Le Cochon Noir
5070 Parkside Ave.
Suite 5100E

Cuisine type: Lovingly prepared barbecue and other American favorites.

Hours: For food, Wed.-Fri., 11am-11pm; Sat.-Sun., 5pm-11pm. Music goes until midnight.

Price range: $9-$35.

Atmosphere: Great music and a wide-open space: Perfect for the BBQ-and-live-music concept.

Food: Thoughtful and, when it hits the right notes, addictive.

Service: Low-key and very friendly, with lots of justifiable pride in the place.

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