Cochon caowod

Crispy oysters with grilled beef heart at Le Petit Cochon.

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I welcomed the news last week that Le Petit Cochon still had seats for its inaugural five-course Offal Dinner, scheduled for tomorrow night, June 23rd, in collaboration with Jones Family Farms. (Hopefully they still do when you're reading this; call to find out.) For $95 (plus tax, tip, and optional wine pairing) you can enjoy chef Derek Ronspies’ inimitable way with dilled beef heart ragout and lamb testicles, along with other unmentionables. Ronspies is a nose-to-tail pro; he will undoubtedly do right by this meal, as by the other two Offal Dinners he has scheduled into the fall.

The other news issuing last week from Le Petit Cochon was its launch of happy hour: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 5pm to 6pm, $7 glasses of wine, $5 drafts, and a lineup of $7 cocktails and $5 snacks (including Cochon’s signature chompable, pork belly corn dogs.)

Highbrow gastronomy meets populist crowdpleaser—in one mixed-message of a week. What is Le Petit Cochon going for here?

It’s true that this is a restaurant that was born of mixed messages. A young chef with an irreverent streak and a blue vocabulary, Derek Ronspies opened Le Petit Cochon as a tribute to the nose-to-tail dining he loves. Dishes like offal crepinette and smoked octopus with tapenade vin enshrined formal continental technique done consistently and solidly; the kind that draws sophisticates.

The same menu also featured items like the Olsen Farms “Phat Ass” pork chop (with D Rock’s Pimpin’ Grits) and Ye Ole Pig Face Fritter, clearly designed to appeal to a more youthful, more casual crowd.

In the two-plus years of the restaurant’s life, located in the leafy second floor space of a Fremont building, Ronspies has fluctuated between constituencies. For a time he changed the name to Cochon, adding a burger, streamlining the menu to a more gastropub style, and declaiming on the back of it, “We are not here for the grim, pretentious diner….we are here to have fun, cook badass food, and listen to great music.”

Before long Le Petit Cochon was back as the name—but the burger remained. “I think people are coming in because there’s a burger on the menu,” Ronspies told me recently. “If you’re trying to sell hearts and testicles you have to have something for the everyday person.” Business increased when he went gastropub (also when he went with Open Table)—but, he hastens to add, he’s still changing the menu every day. And people are still buying that $34 pork chop.

The problems, he told me, are filling the place on weekdays, and overcoming a one-two punch of location liability. “In hindsight, Ballard might have been better,” he muses. “And there’s the upstairs problem.”

So that explains happy hour. But the offal dinner? “I love that stuff,” he said. “For some reason I have a sixth sense of how to cook it.” 

Really, he does. 

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