April 21, 2017
by jennifer rubell | September 1, 2009 | Food & Drink
There's just something about a real restaurant that's open 24 hours a day. Not your average diner or sandwich joint, but a proper place to get a proper meal at 4 in the morning. If it survives (and that’s not necessarily easy to do), it becomes an institution, a place where rock stars head straight from the studio while recording their latest album, where models and moguls hang out after a night of partying, where jet-lagged travelers go for an outrageously early breakfast and run into the city's best chefs just getting off their shifts. It becomes a hub, a magical space where previously separate worlds collide. It changes the city it exists in, and defines that city’s late-night essence.
That's what Au Pied de Cochon did when it debuted in Paris in 1947. Opened by Clément Blanc—a butcher at the Les Halles wholesale meat market who specialized in pigs—the original location was conceived of as a casual restaurant for Blanc's workers after they got off their early-morning shifts. The menu focused on lesser-known cuts of pork, straight from Blanc's stall at Les Halles, such as the restaurant's namesake dish, pigs’ feet (plus ears and tails, too); rich, cheesy French onion soup (which the French think is the ultimate hangover preventer); oysters; and other classic brasserie fare. Of course it was a casual restaurant Paris-style, which meant plenty of marble, towering platters of seafood, crisp white tablecloths and servers in Parisian black and white, plus a strong dose of pig-themed whimsy, from murals to vases to table legs in the shape of pigs’ feet. In the beginning, a real baby pig named Oscar even lived in a pen in front of the restaurant. (He retired in the ’80s after a complaint from restaurant patron and animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot.)
Quickly, Paris’ cultural cognoscenti caught on to Au Pied de Cochon's working-class charm and late-night hours and made it their own clubhouse. Revelers winding up their night slurped oysters next to meat haulers and off-duty butchers. Patrons from all walks of life passed out on banquettes. Street musicians came to play for tips. Movie stars, socialites, moguls, writers, politicians and mere mortals all ended up there. Serge Gainsbourg was a regular. Salvador Dalí came with his wife. Maria Callas, Josephine Baker and Charles de Gaulle went. It was a rollicking, wild, wonderful world that became a defining cultural institution, and is still the best possible place to be at 4 AM in Paris.
And now in Miami, too. Carlo Bicaci, an Italian native who has lived in Miami for 25 years, with decades of experience in hotels and restaurants, has brought Au Pied de Cochon to South Beach. The pig-themed vases are there. Plenty of marble? Check. Massive seafood display with topnotch oysters piled high? Yup, that too. And the blessing of Clément Blanc's sons, who now run the original Paris restaurant? More than that—they're partners.
Bicaci has already opened Au Pied de Cochons in Atlanta and Mexico City, and the formula seems to work. When asked which Mexican celebrities had been to that city's branch, Bicaci couldn't think of one who hadn’t. As he puts it, “People called my office begging for a reservation. At one in the morning, you couldn't get in.” Again, it was politicians, socialites, actors and actresses, singers, boxers… anyone who was anyone in Mexico City, and from anywhere else too. Salma Hayek, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mike Tyson, Thalía, Cheyenne, Celia Cruz and about a million others all showed up for a meal. History had repeated itself. The city found a place that defined it.
Now it's our turn.
The interior designer of the Paris restaurant has masterminded the 6,000-square-foot Miami location too, in a classic Art Deco building near Joe's Stone Crab. It's done in an art nouveau style, with brass chandeliers, gilt-framed mirrors, large banquettes and paintings that tell the story of life as it relates to wine, women, food and pigs. Villeroy & Boch china is on the tables. The wine is served in Riedel stemware. The napkins are monogrammed. The servers have long black aprons, just like in Paris. And the celebrities already have Bicaci's number on speed dial.
Miami's Au Pied de Cochon will serve some of the classics from the mother ship, including those namesake pigs’ trotters; buttery, garlicky snails; the legendary onion soup; big platters of seafood from the raw bar; and steak tartare prepared tableside. But it will also appeal to our lighter, healthier local style, including a South Beach Breakfast with enough low-fat, healthy options to make a true Frenchman sneer.
And there will be soufflé! Does that count as low-fat? At 4 AM, who cares?
photographs by gary james