Au Pied de Cochon has succeeded in Paris's Les Halles neighborhood for 65 years and continues to sizzle in Mexico City after a dozen years. The pricey French brasserie's 2009 run in South Beach lasted exactly seven months. So eyebrows raised when La Gloutonnerie, another expensive French brasserie with a popular sister branch in Mexico City, moved into Cochon's former haunt — a gracefully curved, Henry Hohauser-designed art deco building south of Fifth Street.
There are differences between the two ventures, of course. Perhaps the most discouraging one for the current owners is that Cochon didn't have to contend with Estiatorio Milos, an alluringly haute Mediterranean competitor directly across the street. Still, like its predecessor, La Gloutonnerie is putting out authentic French fare — quite delicious, really — and hoping for the best.
The biggest variance between the venues is décor: Gloutonnerie is a far and masculine cry from the bright-red leather booths, brass chandeliers, and gilt-framed mirrors that defined the Nouveau-inspired Cochon. In its stead are sedately handsome rooms warmed with wood tables, dark wood window blinds, gray wainscoting, globe light fixtures, and neatly framed black-and-white photographs hanging perfectly straight. A brightly backlit wall of wine bottles glows by the restaurant's entrance; just around the bend, a full-service bar and ice-laden seafood showcase remain opposite each other as in the old days — except the area has been extended to include a display of imported cheese and charcuterie available as starters or for take-out.
The cuisine of executive chef Christian Testa is steeped in tradition, with only an occasional nod to modern sensibilities. Cold appetizer selections include foie gras terrine périgourdine, with homemade fig chutney and fennel bread ($26); Cinco Jotas Jabugo ham — purebred pork royalty ($38); Wagyu carpaccio ($22); and, from the bargain bin, an $18 shrimp carpaccio. The last is luscious, the crustacean flattened thin but fat with fetching flavor from a mojo of citrus juice, yellow peaches, shallots, crushed pink peppercorns, and thyme.
A quartet of warm starters, or hors d'œuvres chauds, brings black cod brandade with polenta and truffle oil ($14), escargots de bourgogne ($12 per half-dozen, $16 per dozen), scallops roasted with foie gras in a Bordeaux wine reduction ($24), and coquille Saint-Jacques (lobster-scallop gratin, $21). That all might seem extravagantly expensive, but when the enormous portioning is taken into account, most items are a pretty good value.
In fact, it's the portions, not the prices, that I take issue with. Unless you're a professional competitive eater, that lobster-scallop gratin — with two large scallop shells (one dramatically chipped) of über-rich, paneer-drenched, bread-crumb-crowned shellfish — will leave you too sated to make it even halfway through your entrée.
This is especially true if you've shamelessly stuffed yourself with a predinner assortment of warm, house-baked breads served with both butter and an addictive liver spread. Yet even those who resist the allure of the minibaguette, wheat baguette, Gruyère bun, raisin-walnut bread, and more will feel sluggishly appeased as main courses land on the table.
The savvy thing to do would be to split the starter, which means a couple gets to sample only one appetizer. There's nothing wrong with that — especially when, as with the coquille Saint-Jacques, it proves so captivatingly tasty. But diners are nowadays accustomed to indulging in multiple plates before dinner or as the meal itself, thus accruing multiple flavors. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.
Salads and tartares are likewise large enough to split. (Actually, let's just acknowledge that everything here is sized to share.) The former group features a burrata/tomato medley; dill shrimp with fennel crisps, orange sections, and asparagus tips; a Breton mix of organic lettuce with crabmeat, palm hearts, green beans, and snow peas; and lobster tossed with organic greens, avocado, vegetables, and "lobster salt" ($15 to $18).
The trio of tartares is yellowfin tuna, the classic steak, and aller-retour, or steak that's been quickly seared on the grill ($16 to $18).
From raw meat to the raw bar: Diners can choose from Blue Point, Fanny Bay, and Kumamoto oysters ($3 to $4 per), along with clams, shrimp, Alaskan king crab, and the like.
Soups include the obligatory Lyonnaise onion soup, as well as more intriguing choices such as cream of clam with marjoram-scented shrimp (the "Normandie"), which I ordered one night while seated at the bar. The bartender explained that "it's been changed a little." Gloutonerrie's version isn't really a soup, but "something more similar to clams over broth." I asked if there was shrimp involved, and he said he thought so but wasn't sure.
Turns out there were no shrimp — or clams. I was brought a heavy cast-iron casserole of some three dozen mussels. Worse, the Normandie was priced on the menu at $12, yet the bartender neglected to mention that this "modified" version would cost $18. That's not right.
Main courses continue the theme of big portions and prices to match. Chateaubriand ($80), linguine with Maine lobster ($70), and branzino in salt crust ($60) are "plats pour deux personnes"; dishes for one person range from $33 to $48. Pricing at lunch is only nominally less expensive.
The extensive and serious wine list is stocked with plenty of luxury labels, with only a few whites offered in the $30 range and a couple of reds for $40.
Seafood entrées ($34 to $48) encompass sautéed turbot, grilled swordfish or yellowfin tuna, and a three-pound whole Maine lobster ($70). The lowest-end steak is a 12-ounce New York strip for $42. A 16-ounce cut of the same is $48, as is a ten-ounce tournedos Rossini (filet mignon with foie gras and truffle sauce). The best bang for the buck is probably a roasted organic half-chicken with herbs de provence for $25.
Your best bet, though, is a stunning rendition of joue de bœuf à la bourguignon ($33) — beef cheeks braised for five hours and served with a meaty glaze so deep it looks black. Nubs of bacon, potatoes, mushrooms, and carrots stud the sultry sauce.
I also relished a leg and thigh of duck confit ($35), whose meat was moist and tender and skin as crunchy as a corn chip. Plum sauce pooled on the plate wasn't overly sweet. Shiitake mushrooms, sweetly caramelized carrots, and a square of potato gratin rounded out the plate.
The turbot is terrific too. The large-flaked, mildly flavored fish is sautéed simply and sauced with a textbook beurre blanc that will convince you it's time for butter sauce to come back into vogue. Tomato tatin alongside boasts grape tomatoes slowly oven-baked until the full essence of the fruit is revealed.
A side of "fennel, spring onions, shallot, and potato confit" lacked spring onions, but disappointed more because I was expecting something better than boiled, hand-turned potatoes alongside shallots and fennel cooked in olive oil. As a small consolation, it's the sort of simple, rustic side plate of vegetables I have encountered at bistros in small French villages. Plus it's a generous portion (all à la carte sides are $9).
Black Forest cake is delectable. A somewhat narrow rectangle of dark chocolate cake is layered with whipped cream, glazed with chocolate fondant, and studded on top with liqueur-soaked cherries. A duo can divide this one too, but it's so good you'll probably want your own.
La Gloutonnerie is courting the customer in admirable fashion: The authentic French cuisine is pristinely prepared, service is mostly attentive, cocktails ($15) are assembled from all fresh ingredients, and the décor is cozy.
Will that be enough to spare Gloutonnerie from the fate of its foregoer in this finicky SoFi neighborhood?
Let's hope for the best.