I find it incredibly uncomfortable to say something negative about a restaurant having as favorable a reputation as Cochineal. For most highly esteemed restaurant owners (as the owners of Cochineal are) the food they serve is personal, and means something more than a product sold for profits. Knowing this has made writing this post particularly difficult. But I also feel no one will respect your opinion that something is good, if you cannot frankly state when something else is not. So, I have to say I was mostly disappointed by Cochineal. Prior to eating there, I read many reviews raving about the food, stating it was excellent, even spectacular. That is not at all what my husband and I experienced.
While we enjoyed the modern, yet inviting, setting and feel the wait staff was welcoming and friendly, our entrees were uninspired, ordinary and plainly lacked finesse. Essentially, we received standard steakhouse fare in a modern arthouse setting. Many things may explain this, including that it was February in Marfa and we were the first diners of the night, but if you are going to charge $30 for an entrée, it should be something special regardless of the time of year or the time of day.
My Mr. ordered the Wood Grilled Rack of Lamb served with Rosemary Sauce on Cannellini Bean Puree with Grilled Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce. The well underdone lamb chops, as well as the grilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce, were indicative of both poor execution and lack of imagination. The rosemary sauce listed on the menu was a complete no show on the plate. Perhaps, this missing element would have elevated the dish, but we will never know. The bean puree was gummy and bland; and therefore was left mostly uneaten. Coincidentally, the night before at Café Cenizo at the Gage Hotel, our jumbo shrimp appetizer included a white bean puree and I had a lamb entrée. We could not help but make a comparison, but really there wasn’t one. Both the white bean puree and lamb chops were exceptionally better at Café Cenizo. (If you are interested, I have posted my thoughts on Café Cenizo. See Café Cenizo post dated March 4, 2010)
I had the Black Pepper Crusted USDA Ribeye Steak with Herbed Butter and a Classic Caesar Salad which was highly recommended by our server. Although the steak was prepared perfectly to order, it was thin and lacked flavor, the pepper sparse. The herbed butter, rather than being on the steak enhancing the flavor, it was melted on the plate and into the Caesar Salad. At this point most people would wish that they had ordered something else. But there were only five choices total on the menu (yes, five); leaving a crispy skinned roasted boneless young chicken served on sautéed spinach and rosemary mashed potatoes; sautéed baramundi with lemon buerre blanc and toasted almonds served with shredded Brussels sprouts on French green lentils; and a wood grilled loin of pork with Dijon mustard source served with Japanese white rice (white rice – really?) with garlicky broccolini. Most of this I can make on a weekend night at home – not exactly what one would expect from a place this pricey.
Unfortunately, the entrees were not the only disappointment of the evening. Shortly after we were seated, we were presented with the wine list, as is customary. The wine list was extensive and probably had some wonderful, reasonably priced (by that I mean in the $50-$60 range) offerings, but there was no one there to educate us or make a meaningful suggestion; we were essentially directed to the Wines by the Glass, of which they had four, one each of White, Rose, Red and Sparkling. And the winner was….the Red…a feeble Bordeaux. At every fine dining establishment I have ever been to, the wait staff has been trained extensively on the wine offerings and pairings. Cochineal might be known for its wine list, but I found it unbearably patronizing that no one at Cochineal would graciously assist us in deciphering the list and ease us into a choice suited to the meal, our individual taste and comfortable price point. You have a four page, single spaced wine list and have no one to confidently make a recommendation. At these prices, service should include more than the expected attentiveness and a friendly smile.
I will say that the bookends of the meal were good. The starter – the appetizer of crab cakes on roasted red pepper with lemony mayonnaise was heavy on the crab with a breading light and golden; the flavor of the mayonnaise was bright with citrus notes, accenting the crab cakes nicely. Our dessert was the delicious Rich Flourless Callebaut Chocolate Souffle with a Warm Chocolate Center, complimented by the wonderfully rich, perfectly brewed coffee. If there was a highlight, the coffee and dessert was it. So at least we ended the meal on a high note.
It is interesting to me that the relatively inexpensive street food from a walk up food truck out in the open in the center of town, served far and away superior tasting food to the pedestrian food served at the hard to find (the restaurant is tucked away off the street and the wood sign in front is so worn rendering it practically unreadable), sleek and expensive Cochineal. Too bad Food Shark doesn’t serve dinner. One of the gallery managers said that she likes having dinner at the new Marfa Table. Maybe next time – since we will not be going back to Cochineal.