Endless Road Trip Marfa: Living It Up at Cochineal
While Marfa is a small town, its identity as an artists enclave and hip Southwest tourist destination cultivates a demand for finer dining. I’m not talking stuffy, classic dining (I don’t think anything close to that really exists in these small South Texas towns) but creative, modern, upscale restaurants? There’s a couple in the area but Cochineal is the one I’d heard the most buzz about. So I figured hey, when’s the next time we’ll be in Marfa, let’s splurge a little bit.
A thirty seat dining room, forty odd seat courtyard, open kitchen, and a vegetable garden supplying the freshest baby greens and vegetables – all came into being by 2008 and the restaurant opened on May 22.
The food served at Cochineal is much as Ruth Reichl wrote about Restaurant Etats-Unis for theNY Times in 1993. We are still home cooks, still cooking simple food, still changing the menu daily, still paying attention to the inherent qualities of the raw ingredients. We are still in love with the wines of the world and maintain a list of some 250 bottles in a wide range of prices.
We have also have the continuing joy of watching a wonderful staff of very young and very native Marfans grow into an appreciation of what food can become and into an awareness of how skilled and competent they can become.
Cochineal isn’t a big space, but it’s really stylish and sexy. They have a great, dusty little outdoor seating area in their front courtyard, or you can sit in the sleek yet rustic indoor space (where we enjoyed our meal). The menu at Cochineal is comprised of small plates, large plates, and a couple desserts. It changes daily, and once they run out of something, they are OUT. We got a 6:00pm reservation because, as Aerosmith would say, I don’t wanna miss a thing.
What does a multi-course dinner at one of the best restaurants in West Texas look like? Feast your eyes on this.
For course one, Rob and I split the peking style quail with a crispy and sticky skin stuffed with fermented carrots, pineapple, and fried rice. We also got the house-baked bread with Marfa yeasts to share between the table. Oh, and duh, I got a cocktail! A vodka gimlet which was ultra fresh and tasty.
Our server had warned that the quail small plate was especially small (hey, what do you expect, it’s quail) so we got a second small plate – Classic Texas wedge salad with baby iceberg lettuce and all the fixins. This description doesn’t sound like anything fancy, but holy BLUE CHEESE this salad was soooo good. It was drowning in real, homemade blue dressing, thick salty squares of bacon, fresh lettuce and tomato… just so simply delicious. I ended up dipping some of my bread in the dressing, no shame in this game.
Our main course was the New England Style Bouillabaisse with loch ative trout, tiger prawns, potatoes, peas, carrots, shallots and sweet, sweet garlic. Mmm that garlic was sweet, sweet for sure. I’m not sure what a loch ative trout is but it was really nice. I almost regretted sharing this one because while it was an entrée it wasn’t huge… and it was just so good that I could have eaten a ton more. Whoever says you can’t get quality seafood in Texas is wrong. You just have to know where to order.
Now, dates can be a kind of polarizing ingredient. I love dates so this sounded good to me regardless, but I’d read online that people just RAVE about it so I knew we had to get it no matter what. This is Toshi’s baked to order date pudding with rum carmel sauce and freshly whipped cream. It truly is made to order and so sticky and sweet and, umm I hate to use the word “sinful” because I feel like I’m in a Dove chocolate commercial or something, but it was very indulgent. Again, I kind of wish I didn’t split this one with my friends. Definitely, definitely worth the order and the slight wait.
Sure, you CAN eat in diners and fast food all throughout your Southwestern roadtrip, but I believe it’s worth every penny to stop and have a memorable meal at a place you probably won’t be visiting again any time soon. When you’re in Marfa, I implore you, check out Cochineal! I loved everything about our drinks, meal, service, ambiance, I could go on… but do yourself a favor and make a reservation ahead of time!