- 732 E. Market St., Louisville, KY
- (502) 410-2888
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m-2:30 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5:30-11:30 p.m. The bar opens at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
- Official Web Site:
Maybe it’s the wire-caged light fixtures that fill the room with a romantic, golden glow. Maybe it’s the Gallic precision of the drapes that hang like vertical bow ties in the window. Maybe it’s the vertical stripes that define the banquette seats, or the dark, distressed look of the vertical planks under the bar.
There’s no one feature that defines La Coop: Bistro à Vins as quintessentially French; rather, it’s the accumulation of Brooklyn-based designer Lynh Nguyen’s carefully considered and brilliantly executed details. But for the lack of a Metro station down the block — and the English language being spoken all around — a diner at La Coop could easily imagine Paris all around.
Followers of the Louisville design scene will recognize Nguyen’s name: She was also the designer of another outstanding space: Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar.
And the connection between Doc Crow’s and La Coop doesn’t end there, of course: La Coop’s owners — Steven Ton, Michael Ton, Brett Davis and Chip Hamm — are also principals at Doc Crow’s. Add in the fact that the Ton brothers also own highly regarded Basa Modern Vietnamese, and it’s clear that La Coop is not your average, everyday start-up.
Add to the mix an excellent veteran chef, Bobby Benjamin, most recently of the Seelbach’s prestigious Oakroom, and you have the promise of an extraordinary restaurant.
And I am happy to report that La Coop delivers on that promise. The Green Building space that formerly housed 732 Social has been magically transformed. It still buzzes with metropolitan energy that spills out onto the sidewalk on busy evenings. The space has a new, softer grace, and new architectural details have noticeably tempered noise levels that once reached rock ’n’ roll levels. And the feel is as casual as casual can be, with diners dressed in everything from suits and cocktail dresses to shorts and denim.
Master sommelier Brett Davis has put together a beverage program that perfectly suits the bistro à vins theme, including still and sparkling wine cocktails ($8), seasonal wine-based aperitifs ($6), a list of spirit-based cocktails that favor interesting notes like ginger and lime ($9), a beer list that includes French and Belgian ales (as well as Le Roi de Bieres Petite — aka Bud Light), and a wine list that is at once affordable and generously representative of French regions and styles of winemaking (including fine $28 bottles from Gascony, and superb grower-produced Champagnes like Jean Vesselle’s “Oeil de Perdrix” Brut, $86). Ask a server — or Davis — for advice about wine pairings, and you’ll be in excellent hands.
Indeed, it seems likely that if you ask anyone about anything on the menu, you’ll be in excellent hands. Chef Benjamin’s menu is also perfectly aligned with the bistro philosophy: perfectly executed examples of casual French cuisine at strikingly affordable prices.
Some folks will be perfectly happy to assemble a meal from the list of starters. You could travel the world over and not find a better bowl of bouillabaisse ($7) — shrimp, mussels and clams in a house-made broth carrying the scents of saffron and seafood. You could pair that with a gem-like salad ($6) made from tender Bibb lettuce, prettily trimmed frisee, a filigree of pea shoots, bacon, a couple of memorable croutons (oh, how seldom is a crouton truly memorable?) and a perfectly poached egg that, when broken up, flows out in a golden gush, adding velvety heft to a scrupulously judged vinaigrette ($6). Those two dishes, and a glass of wine would make a fine meal.
But since the menu is full of temptations, you’ll order more. Or perhaps you’ll just find reasons to return over and over again — reasons like the constantly changing assortment of sweet and savory crepes. One night the savory version was filled with silky goat cheese and the melting flesh of a fresh peach ($7). Couple this with a slab of rustic country-style pate (studded with cubes of ham and chunks of pistachio, accompanied by a chutney that greets you with a sweet burst of flavor than pricks your tongue with a needle of heat, $7) and you have another fine light dinner.
There are plenty of lovely options like the tangy Bucheron Sevre Belle that spreads lusciously across a piece of Blue Dog Bread — and yields enormous pleasure when dribbled with some dark honey.
The list of main dishes is both canonic and affordable, ranging in price from $13 (moules frites) to $20 (steak frites).
And the dishes are impeccable. There’s a classic coq au vin made from chicken long soaked in red wine, dished up with pearl onions, mushrooms and carrots that are tender, crunchy and infused with flavor. And the cassoulet ($18) — once a regional Gascon dish that some now consider the culinary symbol of France — is a true triumph: cannellini beans cooked to a sublimely creamy texture, struck through with the flavor of fresh herbs, pork belly and aromatics, and crowned with crisp, golden duck confit — as succulent a piece of poultry as you’ll ever taste.
A cheese course — maybe that Bucheron — is the perfect way to end such a meal. But there are sweets, and on a recent visit the pistachio crème brulee was stunning.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.